February 14, 2015 was the 13th anniversary of the arrival at Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who, disgracefully, is still held, despite being approved for release by the US authorities twice, in 2007 and 2009.
To mark the occasion, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, with support from other groups including We Stand With Shaker (the group co-founded in November by Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes), the London Guantánamo Campaign, Reprieve and various Amnesty International groups held a lively protest opposite 10 Downing Street, with a number of speakers including Joy Hurcombe, the chair of SSAC, Katie Taylor of Reprieve, the journalists Yvonne Ridley and Victoria Brittain, the peace activist Bruce Kent, Andy Worthington and Shaykh Suliman Ghani, a teacher and broadcaster, and a friend of Shaker’s family. The speakers were ably coordinated by the campaigner David Harrold.
It was a great turnout, as I hope the photos show, and the particular focus of the event — just across the road — was David Cameron, the British Prime Minister. The British government claims that it is doing all it can to secure Shaker’s release, but that ultimately his fate is the in the hands of his US captors, but that is simply untrue. David Cameron could secure his return if he made it enough of a priority, which he should be doing, as Shaker is a legal British resident, with permanent leave to remain, and if any other legal resident found themselves imprisoned without charge or trial for years, and tortured, it is a safe bet to say that they would already have been released. Read the rest of this entry »
UPDATE December 18: Please note that the signatory list has been updated with 16 new names, including Bill Nighy, Ken Loach, David Hare, Jeanette Winterson, Andrew Motion, Carol Ann Duffy, Susie Orbach and MPs Sir Alan Duncan and Diane Abbott. UPDATE January 20: More names were added in the New Year, including the novelist Mark Haddon (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) and many more writers, actors, MPs and other celebrities.
Today (December 15), the We Stand With Shaker campaign that I launched with campaigner Joanne MacInnes three weeks ago secured a ringing endorsement from the Daily Mail — which highlighted Shaker’s plight in a front-page story and editorial on Friday — with the publication, in today’s edition of the Daily Mail, of an open letter to David Cameron, which I wrote, calling for the PM “to pick up the phone to President Obama, and to bring Shaker Aamer home.” The letter was also published on the We Stand With Shaker website.
The open letter is signed by dozens of actors, comedians, politicians, writers and other prominent individuals, including music legend Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd) and Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, who both attended the launch on November 24, the comedian Frankie Boyle, the journalist Jemima Khan, actress Juliet Stevenson, actor Mark Rylance, singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, and Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty International UK.
More signatories will be published in the Daily Mail tomorrow — and I will be updating the list here and on the We Stand With Shaker website accordingly.
The full letter is below. Please feel free to share it widely! There is a real momentum to the campaign at the moment, with lots of TV coverage today, and a profile of the campaign in the Guardian‘s G2 supplement. Read the rest of this entry »
Today (November 29), We Stand With Shaker, the new campaign to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, got a big boost when campaign coordinator Joanne MacInnes and I were invited onto George Galloway’s Sputnik show on RT to discuss the campaign with George — and his co-host Gayatri. Please also follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and watch the campaign video here.
We were on the first half of the show, which was about 13 minutes in total, and as well as giving us the opportunity to promote the campaign and to tell Shaker’s story to a global audience, the interview also featured clips of music legend Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd) and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell speaking at the launch on Monday.
I do hope you have time to watch the show, which is posted below via YouTube:
This is how George described the program on the RT website: Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve just written my first article for Al-Jazeera America, “Why is Shaker Aamer still at Gitmo?” and I’m very much hoping that you have the time to read it, and to share it on Facebook and Twitter.
In my article, I run through the history of the prison’s labyrinthine review processes and the reasons why the release of prisoners has become a shameful game of political football, and I look at the particular reasons why both the US and UK governments are not being honest about Shaker’s case.
I think this provides a succinct and powerful overview of why Shaker has not yet been released — and of what Guantánamo is and remains, and why it will always be a legal, moral and ethical abomination until it is shut down for good. Read the rest of this entry »
Nine human rights groups in the UK are boycotting the official British inquiry into the treatment of “detainees” in the “war on terror” and the UK’s involvement in rendition, “grievously undermining the controversial inquiry,” as the Guardian described it.
The nine groups, who have written a critical letter to Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, stating that they “do not propose to play a substantive role in the conduct of [the] inquiry,” are Amnesty International, the AIRE Centre (Advice on Individual Rights in Europe), Cage (formerly Cageprisoners), Freedom from Torture (formerly the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture), JUSTICE, Liberty, Redress, Reprieve and Rights Watch (UK).
Britain’s treatment of prisoners and its involvement in rendition was a matter of concern to Conservative MP William Hague when he was the shadow foreign secretary, prior to the Tories forming a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats in May 2010. Hague seemed genuinely appalled by what had taken place since 9/11 — a litany of broken laws and human rights abuses, including, most noticeably, the torture of Binyam Mohamed, whose case had reached the High Court in 2008, causing embarrassment to both the UK and US governments. Read the rest of this entry »
Last Wednesday, in Amman, Jordan, 12 years of British hysteria about terrorism was thoroughly undermined when the radical cleric Abu Qatada, who was returned to Jordan from the UK in July 2013, was acquitted of terrorism charges and freed.
Abu Qatada (real name Omar Mahmoud Othman) was arrested in October 2002 — as were a handful of other foreign nationals — and imprisoned without charge or trial in Belmarsh Prison, under terrorism legislation passed in 2001. In 2005, the system of indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial was replaced with control orders, a form of house arrest, and Abu Qatada was released from Belmarsh, but after the London terrorist attacks in July 2005, he and other men were rounded up and imprisoned once more.
This time around the intention was to deport the men imprisoned without charge or trial, but although a secret terrorism court — the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) — ruled that he could be deported in February 2007, that decision was overturned by the appeals court in April 2008. Read the rest of this entry »
STOP PRESS December 8: I just heard from Joy Hurcombe, the chair of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, that Clive Stafford Smith will also be speaking at the Parliamentary meeting on Tuesday.
If you’re in London, or anywhere near, and you care about the ongoing injustices of Guantánamo, then please come to a Parliamentary meeting for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo Bay, on Tuesday December 10, which is Human Rights Day. Established by the UN in 1950, Human Rights Day marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was approved on December 10, 1948.
Please also sign the international petition calling for his release, on the Care 2 Petition site.
Shaker, whose voice was recently recorded at Guantánamo by a CBS news crew, is one of 82 prisoners in Guantánamo who have long been cleared for release but are still held, and his continued imprisonment remains thoroughly unacceptable, because, although Congress has raised obstacles to the release of prisoners to countries they regard as dangerous, there is no conceivable way that the UK — America’s staunchest ally in the “war on terror” — could be regarded as an unsafe destination. Furthermore, the release yesterday of two Algerian prisoners who did not want to be repatriated, because they fear for their safety in their home country, which has a dubious human rights record, is not only a deeply troubling outcome for them, but also adds insult to injury where Shaker is concerned.
On the 65th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Parliamentary meeting, organised by John McDonnell MP, one of the few genuinely principled MPs in Parliament, is entitled, “Why is Shaker Aamer still in Guantanamo? What about his human rights?” and is taking place from 7-9pm in Committee Room 10 in the House of Commons, London WC1A 0AA. Read the rest of this entry »
Burning Effigies of Tories at the Bonfire of Cuts in Lewisham, a set on Flickr.
On November 5, 2013 — Bonfire Night — I photographed effigies of members of the cabinet of the Tory-led coalition government — including David Cameron, George Osborne and others, as well as key Lib Dems and Labour politicians — as they were burned by activists in a brazier in the centre of Lewisham, in south east London. The caricatures were drawn by a member of the political group People Before Profit.
The activists in Lewisham were part of a day of action across the UK, in which numerous protestors held Bonfires of Austerity, initiated by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, an anti-austerity coalition of activists, union members and MPs, to protest about the wretched Tory-led coalition government’s continued assault on the very fabric of the state, and on the most vulnerable members of society — particularly, the poor, the ill, the unemployed and the disabled.
The borough of Lewisham, where I live, is famous for successfully resisting the government’s plans to severely downgrade services at the local hospital, and on Bonfire Night activists marched from Catford to an open space in the centre of Lewisham (by the main roundabout, and affectionately known as “the grassy knoll”), where they burned effigies of David Cameron, George Osborne, Theresa May, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and Boris Johnson. The protestors also burned effigies of the Lib Dems Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, key members of the disastrous coalition government, and Labour’s Gordon Brown and Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor. Read the rest of this entry »
What will it take to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay? Cleared for release in 2007 under President Bush, and again in 2010 under President Obama, he languishes still in Guantánamo, separated from his British wife and his four British children, because President Obama cannot be bothered to muster the political will to send him home to his family, and the British government may also be to blame, despite claims to the contrary, and despite a request for his return that was made to Barack Obama by David Cameron at a meeting in June.
On Wednesday, Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent 15 prisoners still held at Guantánamo, including Shaker Aamer, issued a press release announcing that, in the latest attempt to put pressure on the British government, he has “filed a complaint against the UK security services over their continuing involvement in his detention without charge or trial.”
Shaker has submitted his complaint to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which “investigates complaints about the conduct of the UK’s intelligence agencies,” although it is “also highly secretive and provides a one-sided process in which the citizen hears at best very little — and usually nothing at all — about the case put against them.” In his complaint, Shaker states, “The actions of the [UK] security services have prevented [my] release due to defamatory statements that have no basis in honest fact.” Read the rest of this entry »
In a desperate message from Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, told one of his lawyers by phone, “The administration is getting ever more angry and doing everything they can to break our hunger strike. Honestly, I wish I was dead.”
Shaker, who was cleared for release from the prison under President Bush in 2007 and under President Obama in 2009, was speaking to Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, and his words were reported in the Observer, which also noted his claims that “the US authorities are systematically making the regime more hardline to try to defuse the strike, which now involves almost two-thirds of the detainees.”
As the Observer explained:
Techniques include making cells “freezing cold” to accentuate the discomfort of those on hunger strike and the introduction of “metal-tipped” feeding tubes, which Aamer said were forced into inmates’ stomachs twice a day and caused detainees to vomit over themselves.
The 46-year-old from London tells of one detainee who was admitted to hospital 10 days ago after a nurse had pushed the tube into his lungs rather than his stomach, causing him later to cough up blood. Aamer also alleges that some nurses at Guantánamo Bay are refusing to wear their name tags in order to prevent detainees registering abuse complaints against staff. Read the rest of this entry »
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