The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Truth, Lies and Distortions in the Coverage of Shaker Aamer, Soon to be Freed from Guantánamo

Shaker Aamer, photographed at Guantanamo in 2012.In the week since it was announced that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, is to be released, to be returned to his family in the UK, there has been a huge sigh of relief from the many, many people who campaigned for his release — supporters of the long-standing Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, which I have been involved with for many years, attending protests and speaking at events, of We Stand With Shaker, the campaign I established with Joanne MacInnes last November, which drew huge support for photos of celebrities and MPs standing with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker, and supporters of the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, established last November by John McDonnell MP, a persistent supporter of worthy causes and fighter against injustice, who, with Caroline Lucas (our sole Green MP), Jeremy Corbyn and Shaker’s constituency MP, Jane Ellison, has been the most consistent MP supporting Shaker’s cause.

My article celebrating the news of Shaker’s forthcoming release was liked and shared by over 1,500 people on Facebook. Posted on the Close Guantánamo page, it has reached over 21,000 people; on the We Stand With Shaker page it has reached over 11,000 people. Thank you to everyone who has supported the various campaigns to secure Shaker’s release, including the MPs who traveled to Washington D.C. in May to call for his release, meeting with Senators and Obama administration officials — David Davis and Andrew Mitchell of the Conservatives, and Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Slaughter of the Labour Party.

Now, of course, Jeremy is the leader of the Labour Party, and John McDonnell is the shadow chancellor — a wonderful development for those who care about tackling injustice. Jeremy was elected on an anti-austerity platform, and because of his honesty and decency, and all of the above was apparent in his speech as leader to the Labour Party Conference, when he specifically thanked Shaker’s supporters, and in particular the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign: Read the rest of this entry »

As the Death of Three-Year Old Syrian Refugee Aylan Kurdi Appals All Decent People, Please Sign the E-Petition Asking the UK Government to Accept More Refugees

Aylan Kurdi, the three-year old Syrian boy whose body washed up on Bodrum beach in Turkey. The photo, understandably, went viral and has led to calls for greater support for refugees in Europe, and particularly in the UK, which, by far, has failed to match German generosity.Please sign and share this e-petition to the British government, calling for more asylum seekers to be accepted into the country, as the UK tries to turn its back on this huge humanitarian crisis.

Amazingly, it has gone from 27,000 signatures last night to over 112,000 signatures this morning, making it eligible for a Parliamentary debate. Please keep signing and sharing it, however, so that the government knows the depth of feeling in this country. UPDATE 4pm: It has now reached 200,000 signatures.


I’m not posting the photo above of the dead body of three-year old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi for sensationalist reasons, but simply because, when it went viral yesterday, it did so because millions of people identified with it, whether they were parents or not.

I am a parent. My son is 15 years old, but I remember vividly when he was three, and when I saw, yesterday, the photo of Aylan’s lifeless body washed up on Bodrum beach in Turkey, I felt his loss viscerally.

I was at that beach just two weeks ago, aware that refugees from Syria were trying to make their way to Europe via the Greek islands, and aware that some of them were dying in search of a new life. Read the rest of this entry »

Over 90 Celebrities and MPs Sign Open Letter to President Obama Calling for Shaker Aamer’s Release from Guantánamo on US Independence Day

The launch of the We Stand With Shaker campaign outside the Houses of Parliament on November 24, 2014, featuring, from L to R: Roger Waters, Clive Stafford Smith, Andy Worthington, Joanne MacInnes and Caroline Lucas.I’m delighted to report that, today, US Independence Day (July 4), the following open letter to President Obama, calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, was published by the Guardian, on its website, which has seven million readers worldwide, and picked up on by the Daily Mail, Sky News and ITV News. Also see this Guardian article (a version of which was published in the newspaper), accompanying the publication of the letter.

I wrote the letter for the We Stand With Shaker campaign , which I founded, with the activist Joanne MacInnes, in November, and Jo has spent the last few weeks assiduously securing signatures. Celebrity supporters include Sir Patrick Stewart OBE, Ralph Fiennes, Russell Brand, Roger Waters, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Richard E. Grant, Mark Rylance, Juliet Stevenson, David Morrissey, Frankie Boyle, Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Michael Brearley.

Late yesterday afternoon, we secured the support of Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, who joined dozens of other MPs, including two former Attorney Generals, Keir Starmer and Dominic Grieve, and the six MPs who lead the cross-party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group: the co-chairs, John McDonnell (Lab.) and David Davis (Con.), and the four officers of the group: Andrew Mitchell (Con.), Jeremy Corbyn (Lab.), Caroline Lucas (Green) and Andy Slaughter (Lab.). Read the rest of this entry »

800 Years of Magna Carta: The Stench of Hypocrisy Regarding Habeas Corpus for Shaker Aamer and Other Guantánamo Prisoners

The giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer, which is at the heart of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, at the Not the Global Law Summit opposite Parliament  on February 2015, a lawyer-led protest against the Global Law Summit, a corporate monstrosity that purported to celebrate Magna Carta prior to the Runnymede anniversary on June 15, 2015 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Sometimes the stench of hypocrisy is so overpowering that one wonders how those mired in it can avoid gagging while they deliver their outrageous lies.

That was the case today in Runnymede, west of London, where, 800 years ago today, the barons of England forced King John to sign Magna Carta (the Grand Charter), a document that arose out of their anger at being made to pay for the king’s foreign wars, and which, significantly, limited his power.

Its most famous clause — Clause 39 — introduced habeas corpus to the world — the right not to be imprisoned without a fair trial. It states, “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned … except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land,” and its lasting significance is generally considered with Clause 40 as well, which states, “To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay justice.” Read the rest of this entry »

UK Election: Tory Victory A Disaster for the People of Britain and the Democratic Process

Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron at the Cenotaph on May 8 for a VE Day memorial, marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. To my mind, it actually looks like they're commemorating the death of the UK - apppropriately, given the Tories' plans for the next five years (Photo: AFP). Some of the worst nights of my life have taken place in early May — Margaret Thatcher’s first election victory on May 3, 1979 (when I was too young to even vote), and the 2010 election, on May 6, 2010, which brought a Tory-led coalition government, led by David Cameron, to power.

There were other dreadful nights, on or around May — the Tory victories on June 9, 1983, June 11, 1987 and April 9, 1992 — and after the anti-Tory euphoria of Tony Blair’s victory wore off, following New Labour’s landslide victory on May 1, 1997, the reality of a New Labour Britain was of course a huge disappointment, as the party embarked on its own neo-liberal trajectory, and the country became host to a housing price casino that was a poor substitute for an actual functioning economy — and, in 2003, also became the home of an illegal warmonger.

As a result, the rest of New Labour’s victories — on June 7, 2001 and May 5, 2005 — were also disappointing, as the party failed to remember what it was supposed to be, and continued, instead, as a general betrayer of its founding values. On those occasions, however, the disappointment in a Labour victory was, pragmatically, offset by slim gratitude that at least the Tories weren’t back in. Read the rest of this entry »

Obama to Release Ten Guantánamo Prisoners Including Shaker Aamer, Says Washington Post

Shaker Aamer's sons outside the Houses of Parliament on March 17, 2015, before a Parliamentary debate about his father's case (Photo: Andy Worthington).The media is suddenly buzzing with the suggestion, first aired in the Washington Post, that all the men approved for release in Guantánamo — 57 out of the 122 men still held — will be freed by the end of the year, and, if Congress proves obstructive, the Obama administration might close the facility before the end of Obama’s presidency by unilaterally moving the remaining prisoners to the US mainland.

Realistically, however, it might be wisest to view these suggestions as the administration stating its best-case scenario.

It is certainly true that the release of prisoners is likely to resume soon, with willingness on the part of the administration, and with the new defense secretary, Ashton Carter, imminently to be presented with a number of cases to sign off on. According to US law, implemented in the last few years, Congress must be notified of intended releases 30 days before they happen, but this is not a process that involves significant roadblocks. Read the rest of this entry »

We Stand With Shaker Aamer: 70th Celebrity Photo Published, As Campaign to Free Him from Guantánamo Continues

Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes of We Stand With Shaker with music legend Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd) at the launch of the campaign outside the Houses of Parliament on November 24, 2014 (Photo: Stefano Massimo).Today, the We Stand With Shaker campaign, launched last November by the campaigning freelance journalist Andy Worthington and the activist Joanne MacInnes to call for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, published the 70th photo of a high-profile supporter standing with the giant inflatable figure of Shaker that is at the heart of the campaign.

The 70th photo was of the journalist Yvonne Ridley, who joins a roll-call of MPs — from across the political spectrum — as well as actors, comedians, writers, directors, musicians, and activists who have stood with Shaker outside Parliament, and at a variety of locations across London, since the campaign began.

The inflatable figure has proven to be one of those campaigning tools that captures people’s imagination, and our launch — attended by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve, comedian Jeremy Hardy, activist Peter Tatchell and the MPs John McDonnell (Labour, Hayes and Harlington) and Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion) — was swiftly followed by high-level support from the Daily Mail, which ran a front-page story condemning Shaker’s ongoing imprisonment, almost eight years after he was first approved for release by the US authorities, and then followed up with support for the campaign and for our open letter to David Cameron, which MPs and our celebrity supporters signed in significant numbers. Read the rest of this entry »

284 British Imams and Community Leaders Call for Shaker Aamer’s Release from Guantánamo

Imam Suliman Gani standing with the giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer that is at the heart of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, launched in November 2014.As I first mentioned in an article last week, there’s a Parliamentary debate tomorrow for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, when MPs, from amongst the 38 members of the recently established Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, will be seeking assurances from the government that Shaker’s long and unjustifiable imprisonment will soon be brought to an end. See the list of members of the Parliamentary Group here.

I’ll be speaking, as a long-time activist and the co-founder of We Stand With Shaker, at a rally organised by John McDonnell MP at 12.30 in Committee Room 11 of the House of Commons, and earlier, at 11am, Shaker’s sons, and his father-in-law and brother-in-law, will be handing in an Amnesty International petition, signed by over 32,000 people, to 10 Downing Street.

On the eve of the debate, I wanted to make sure that I publicised a letter to David Cameron — and Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband — from 284 imams, community leaders and activists within the Muslim community — calling for Shaker’s “urgent release.” Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: 13 Years in Guantánamo – Protest for Shaker Aamer Outside 10 Downing Street, February 14, 2015

Campaigners call for the release from Guantanamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, opposite 10 Downing Street on February 14, 2015, the 13th anniversary of his arrival at the prison (Photo: Andy Worthington).See my photo set on Flickr here!

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 »

We Stand With Shaker: Open Letter to David Cameron Calls for Release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo and His Return to the UK

The launch of the We Stand With Shaker campaign outside the Houses of Parliament on November 24, 2014, featuring, from L to R: Roger Waters, Clive Stafford Smith, Andy Worthington, Joanne MacInnes and Caroline Lucas.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 »

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Andy Worthington

Campaigning investigative journalist and commentator, author, filmmaker, photographer, singer-songwriter and Guantánamo expert
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