Chef Held at Guantánamo Calls Shaker Aamer a “Beautiful, Great Man” But Warns of Difficulties Adapting to Freedom

Ahmed Errachidi on a poster at a protest in Birmingham in September 2005, outside Hiatt's, the manufacturers of the shackles used in Guantanamo (photo via Indymedia).The Guardian, yesterday, featured former Guantánamo prisoner Ahmed Errachidi speaking of his admiration for Shaker Aamer, the British resident released from the prison on October 30, but warning that it will be difficult for him to adapt to his freedom after nearly 14 years in US custody.

A Moroccan national and a chef, Errachidi, 49, had lived and worked in London for 18 years before he travelled to Pakistan and then Afghanistan in late 2001 in what appears to have been an ill-conceived combination of a business trip and a desire to aid the Afghan people. Seized and taken to Guantánamo, he was initially regarded as a significant prisoner. As Ben Quinn explained in an article for the Guardian, “he earned the nickname ‘The General’ by guards, after he was cast as the unofficial leader of more than 700 detainees — organising protests that included hunger strikes, a role he says occurred largely because he was one of the few English speakers.”

Oddly, Quinn failed to mention that Errachidi was bipolar, and suffered psychotic episodes at Guantánamo, sometimes during interrogations, and that it wasn’t until he was assigned Clive Stafford Smith as a lawyer that a claim that he was in a training camp was debunked, when Stafford Smith was able to secure the wage slips from a restaurant in Bond Street where Errachidi was actually working at the time. That was the key evidence that paved the way for his release in April 2007. Quinn also neglected to mention that, in 2013, his memoir, The General: The Ordinary Man Who Challenged Guantánamo, was published by Random House. Read the rest of this entry »

Eroding Hyperbole: The Steady Reclassification of Guantánamo’s “Forever Prisoners”

Mansoor-al-Zahari at Guantanamo, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Despite the relentless fearmongering of Republican supporters of Guantánamo, claims that the prison holds a significant number of people who pose a threat to the US continue to be eroded; primarily, in recent years, through the deliberations of Periodic Review Boards — panels consisting of representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who hear from the prisoners, their lawyers and their military representatives via video-link from Guantánamo, where the men are able to make a case for why they should be approved for release.

The men in question have, with some accuracy, been dubbed “forever prisoners” by the media. Originally numbering 71 men, they comprised two groups: 46 men assessed to be “too dangerous to release” by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009 to recommend whether the men he inherited from George W. Bush should be released or prosecuted. This third alarming option — “too dangerous to release” — was, as far as we know, dreamt up by the task force itself, for prisoners regarded as a threat but against whom insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.

Reading between the lines, this meant tainted evidence — in other words, men regarded as unprovably dangerous because the evidence against them was derived through the use of torture or other forms of abuse, making it fundamentally untrustworthy — or, in some (perhaps many) cases, a perceived attitude problem: prisoners who, though perhaps understandably aggrieved at being held without charge or trial for over a decade in abusive conditions, had threatened retaliation, however hollow those threats may have been, that were taken seriously by the authorities. Read the rest of this entry »

Responses to Shaker Aamer’s Release from Guantánamo – from MPs, and a Poignant and Powerful Article by Cori Crider of Reprieve

A birthday card is delivered to 10 Downing Street for Shaker Aamer's birthday on December 21, 2014, by MPs and other supporters. From L to R: Andy Worthington, the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Andy Slaughter MP, Peter Tatchell, Caroline Lucas MP, John McDonnell MP and John Leech MP (Photo: Stefano Massimo).Since Shaker Aamer returned to the UK from Guantánamo last Friday, much has been written — most of it, I’m glad to say, positive about a man so evidently wronged; held for nearly 14 years without charge or trial, and approved for release twice, under George W. Bush in 2007, and Barack Obama in 2009.

When Shaker returned — in part, I’m prepared to accept, because of the We Stand With Shaker campaign I conceived and ran with Joanne MacInnes — I wrote an article that was widely liked and shared and commented on, publicized the gracious comment Shaker made on his return, posted a photo of myself holding a “Welcome Home Shaker” card that reached over 20,000 people, and made a number of TV and radio appearances during a brief media frenzy that coincided with the long-overdue news of Shaker’s release.

It was so busy that I haven’t had time to thank the supporters who made such a big difference — John McDonnell MP, the Shadow Chancellor, who set up the All-Party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group and was its co-chair, the Conservative MP David Davis, the other co-chair, and his colleague Andrew Mitchell, Jeremy Corbyn (now the Leader of the Labour Party), and Andy Slaughter (the Labour MP for Hammersmith), who, with David Davis, visited Washington D.C. in May to call for Shaker’s release. Also noteworthy for her contribution over many years is Caroline Lucas, our sole Green MP. Read the rest of this entry »

Moroccan Released from Guantánamo Facing Kangaroo Court Trial Back Home As Wife Says She Is “Still Living a Nightmare”

Younus Chekhouri as a young man, before he was sent to Guantanamo (in 2002). What a disturbing farce. Seven weeks ago, on September 17, Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), a Moroccan prisoner at Guantánamo, approved for release since 2009, was repatriated, but as I explained at the time, from the beginning there were fears that the diplomatic assurances agreed by the US with Morocco were being ignored, as Younous was imprisoned on his return. 47 years old, he left Morocco at the age of 22, living in Pakistan, Yemen and Syria, and ending up in Afghanistan, where he worked for a charity that helped young Moroccans, and lived with his wife Abla.

As his lawyers, at Reprieve, described it at the time, he was “unanimously cleared for release by the six main US government security and intelligence agencies — including the CIA, FBI, and Departments of State and Defense — in 2009,” a decision that involved the conclusion that he “posed no threat whatsoever to either the US or its allies.”

Cori Crider, Reprieve’s strategic director and his lawyer, added, “There is no reason for the Moroccan authorities to prolong Younous’ detention after all he has suffered over 14 years.” Read the rest of this entry »

Mauritanian, Cleared for Release Since 2009, Finally Repatriated from Guantánamo

Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, in a screenshot from a video taken in Mauritania after his release from Guantanamo after over 13 years of imprisonment without charge or trial.The news about the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, has been so all-consuming that I’ve had no time to report about another prisoner release last week — of Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, a Mauritanian who, like 41 other men still held, was approved for release six years ago by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009.

112 men are still held at Guantánamo, and 12 other men have been approved for release since January 2014 by Periodic Review Boards, making 53 men altogether who have been approved for release but are still held.

Ahmed, 45, is a cultured man, seized by mistake in a house raid in Pakistan over 13 years ago, who wanted only to be reunited with his family. As three of his lawyers, John Holland, Anna Holland Edwards and Erica Grossman, stated in an article for Close Guantánamo, the website I co-founded with the US lawyer Tom Wilner, in June 2013: Read the rest of this entry »

‘Song for Shaker Aamer’ by Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers is ‘Protest Song of the Week’ on Kevin Gosztola’s Shadowproof

Shadowproof's article making The Four Fathers' "Song for Shaker Aamer" its "Protest Song of the Week."I’m honoured that the investigative journalist Kevin Gosztola has promoted “Song for Shaker Aamer,” played by my band The Four Fathers, as his “Protest Song of the Week” on Shadowproof, the website he set up three months ago, after FireDogLake, where he’d been working for several years, ceased operations.

It is wonderful to have a serious political website actively promoting protest music, as the gutting of politics from music is one of the more baleful developments in the dumbing-down of culture over the last two decades. Growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, politics permeated music. A common reference point was the social and political upheaval of the 1960s, and my adolescence also coincided with the politics of the punk and post-punk period, with particularly significant songs being the Clash’s “London Calling” and the Specials’ “Ghost Town.”

I’m delighted that “Song for Shaker Aamer” is being celebrated by Shadowproof. Check out the other “Protest Songs of the Week” here, including, recently, “Omar” by “riot folk” singer-songwriter Ryan Harvey, about the refugee crisis, and “Innocent Criminals” by the Palestinian hip-hop group DAM. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington’s TV and Radio Appearances Following the Release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo

A screenshot of Andy Worthington speaking by Skype to Joanna Gosling on the Victoria Derbyshire Show on BBC2 on October 30, 2015, the day Shaker Aamer was finally released from Guantanamo.Following Friday’s sudden news of the arrival back in the UK of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, there was an intense media frenzy, the likes of which I’ve never experienced. For several hours, the phone was ringing off the hook, I was conducting interview after interview — on the phone or by Skype — with Skype calls incoming while I was being interviewed, and the phone ringing incessantly, as I found myself unable to switch it off.

Below is a brief run-through of where my media appearances can be found. Apologies for the delay, but it’s taken me many hours to track everything down, and I simply didn’t have the time – or was, frankly, too exhausted and in need of distraction — to do so until now.

After making a brief statement to the Press Association (as featured in this Independent article), I spoke briefly by phone to Sky News (their coverage is here), and then took part in the Victoria Derbyshire Show on BBC2. The show has featured Shaker’s story twice in recent weeks. I appeared on it following the launch of Fast For Shaker, the campaign I set up with my colleague Joanne MacInnes as an off-shoot of our We Stand With Shaker campaign, and Shaker’s own words, read out by an actor, were featured in another show shortly after. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers Play New Version of ‘Song for Shaker Aamer’ Reflecting His Release from Guantánamo

Andy Worthington's band The Four Fathers play an updated version of 'Song for Shaker Aamer' in a screenshot from a video recorded on October 31, 2015, the day after Shaker's release from Guantanamo.Just a quick note to let you all know that, on Saturday, my band The Four Fathers were filmed playing a revised version of my “Song for Shaker Aamer,” to reflect Shaker’s release from Guantánamo on Friday.

Primarily, it was heartening for me to change the words of the chorus from the present to the past tense, but also not to have to sing, any more, that he was “stuck in a cell alone, although the US says it wants to let him go.”

Here’s the revised chorus:

Shaker Shaker
They chained your body but they could not chain your mind
You told truth to power
Even though you were behind the wire

The recorded version of the song (featuring Shaker’s voice, recorded in Guantánamo) is featured on our debut album, “Love and War,” and is available as a download — for 80p ($1.23), although you can pay more if you like. 25% of the takings will be donated to Shaker’s family.

The video recorded on Saturday is below, as featured on The Four Fathers’ YouTube channel (and please feel free to subscribe to us): Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer, Freed from Guantánamo, Is Reunited With His Family

Andy Worthington's band The Four Fathers welcome Shaker Aamer back home from Guantanamo.Now that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident held in the US prison at Guantánamo, is back home in the UK, we are beginning to hear some information about his health, and his reunion with his family. Shaker arrived at Biggin Hill Airport on Friday and was then taken to a secret location — a clinic — for a medical evaluation after years of medical neglect in Guantánamo, where, on Saturday, he was reunited with his family, his wife and his four children, who are all British citizens. A Saudi by birth, Shaker was granted residency in the UK in 1996.

The Mail on Sunday had the first story of Shaker being reunited with his family, noting that, on Saturday, he “finally embraced the teenaged son he had never seen yesterday in a tearful meeting on his first full day of freedom in 14 years.” Faris, Shaker’s youngest child, was born on February 14, 2002, the day Shaker arrived at Guantánamo, and the meeting, as the MoS explained, “came at a London clinic” where Shaker, who has four children with his British wife, “is being treated for a catalogue of physical and psychological illnesses.” Faris was joined by Johina, who turned 18 last week, and Michael, 16, and Saif, 15.

The Mail on Sunday also explained that, as Shaker arrived back in the UK, “more details emerged about the arrangements being made for his new life — and his continuing fears for his safety.” The article stated that a “private London Hospital owned by an American firm — the Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) — refused to treat him at the last minute,” that Shaker “was so worried about being poisoned by his American captors that he didn’t dare eat or drink anything during his private jet flight home,” and that a “£1 million compensation package has already been agreed with the UK government” after his long ordeal of nearly 14 years held without charge or trial and subjected to torture and abuse, and years of solitary confinement. Read the rest of this entry »

WORLD EXCLUSIVE: Roger Waters Writes About the Release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo

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).A friend of mine for several years now — and a great supporter of the campaign to get Shaker Aamer released from Guantánamo — the musician Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd, has written an article about Shaker’s release, which he has made available exclusively to me, on behalf of all those who have campaigned for Shaker’s release. Thank you, Roger!

A relentless campaigner against injustice, unlike far too many high-profile musicians, Roger became involved in the campaign to free Shaker after he was sent a letter from Shaker about a year and a half ago, via his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of Reprieve, in which Shaker had been quoting from Roger’s song “Hey You” (from the album “The Wall”). The song begins:

Hey you, out there in the cold
Getting lonely getting old
Can you feel me?
Hey you, standing in the aisles
With itchy feet and fading smiles
Can you feel me?
Hey you, don’t help them to bury the light
Don’t give in without a fight Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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