Yesterday, March 17, 2015, will, I hope, be remembered as a significant day in the long campaign to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who is still held despite being told by the US government in 2007 and 2009 that they no longer wanted to hold him.
The main focus of the day was a Parliamentary debate for Shaker, in the main chamber of the House of Commons, at which Tobias Ellwood, a Tory MP and a junior minister in the Foreign Office, speaking for the British government, supported the motion, “That this House calls on the US Government to release Shaker Aamer from his imprisonment in Guantánamo Bay and to allow him to return to his family in the UK,” and stated, “I hope I have made it clear that the UK Government are absolutely committed to securing the release of Mr Aamer. Today I would like to underline that commitment and join the House in calling for the US Government to approve the release of Shaker Aamer to the UK.”
The debate was something that campaigners and supportive MPs have been seeking for the last three years, since an e-petition was launched, eventually signed by over 117,000 people in the space of a year, which was supposed to guarantee the debate that finally took place yesterday. Back in 2013, after the e-petition closed, all that took place was a backbench debate in Westminster Hall, which, although worthwhile, was not what the campaign had set out to achieve. See here and here for the transcript of that debate. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we have been campaigning, since we launched in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, for all the prisoners held at Guantánamo to be freed, unless they are to be charged and tried, and we are pleased to note that, as part of a new review process, the Periodic Review Boards (PRBs), established in 2013, seven men who had long been regarded as “too dangerous to release” have had those decisions overturned, and have had their release recommended.
Six of these decisions were taken last year, but the latest decision, which was taken on February 12 but was not reported until today, was for Tariq al-Sawah, the last Egyptian in Guantánamo, to be released — which, we hope, will happen soon. I wrote about his PRB, on January 22, here, describing the 57-year old’s serious health problems, as well as the absurdity of continuing to hold someone regarded as having provided a wealth of useful information, and I find it entirely appropriate that the board has recommended his release.
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 »
Despite a promise from President Obama to “prioritise” Shaker Aamer’s case after a recent meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron, the US defense secretary Chuck Hagel has told reporters that Shaker’s file was “not on [his] desk.”
He reportedly said, “As far as I know, I have made a decision on everything that is ready to be made a decision on.” Mr. Hagel’s role is crucial, as, by law, he must sign off on any planned releases from the prison, after Congress has been given 30 days’ notice.
In a letter to David Cameron, Cori Crider, the Strategic Director of the human right organisation Reprieve, challenged the Prime Minister about what had taken place during his recent meeting with the US president. She wrote:
What assurances were you given regarding Shaker’s case by the President during your visit, beyond what the NSC spokesperson said publicly on Mr Obama’s behalf? Did the President provide any indication on when Shaker’s family can expect to see him returned to London? Did you ask the President to ensure that Shaker’s case was sent to Secretary Hagel for his consideration? And finally, in the light of Secretary Hagel’s comments, will you now press the Obama administration on providing a concrete timetable for Shaker’s return?
The first is at the University of Westminster on Wednesday February 11, when I’ll be discussing the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA torture programme with Philippe Sands QC, a law professor at UCL and a barrister at Matrix Chambers (and the author of Torture Team), and Carla Ferstman, the director of REDRESS, a human rights organisation that “helps torture survivors obtain justice and reparation,” and “works with survivors to help restore their dignity and to make torturers accountable.” The discussion will be chaired by Dr. Emma McClean, Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Westminster.
On December 30, five men were released from Guantánamo, bringing to 28 the number of men released from the prison in 2014, and reducing the prison’s population to 127. The five men were approved for release in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed shortly after taking office in January 2009, and three of them had previously been approved for release under President Bush.
The released prisoners — two Tunisians and three Yemenis — were not returned to their home countries, but were given new homes in Kazakhstan. As the New York Times described it, “Officials declined to disclose the security assurances reached between the United States and Kazakhstan,” but a senior Obama administration official stated that the five “are ‘free men’ for all intents and purposes after the transfer.”
The Obama administration is to be commended for its efforts, although, of the 127 men still held, 59 were also approved for release in 2009 by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, and there can be no rest for campaigners until these men are also freed. 52 of them are Yemenis, whose release was prohibited by President Obama and by Congress in 2010 after it was revealed that a failed airline bomb plot in December 2009 had been hatched in Yemen. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m pleased to announce that a video of the legendary comedian Frankie Boyle being interviewed by his fellow comedian Sara Pascoe, and discussing the case of Shaker Aamer, is the third video to be made available by the We Stand With Shaker campaign, of which I am the co-director, with Joanne MacInnes, following on from the official campaign video (featuring my band The Four Fathers playing “Song for Shaker Aamer”, the campaign song I wrote), and the Human Rights Day video, featuring Juliet Stevenson reading from Shaker’s Declaration of No Human Rights, written in Guantánamo, and David Morrissey also providing commentary.
Frankie is a long-time supporter of Shaker. In December 2012 he donated the money he was awarded in a libel victory to Shaker’s legal costs, and last July, during a prison-wide hunger strike in Guantanamo, he embarked on a hunger strike in solidarity with Shaker.
We were delighted when he agreed to be interviewed for the campaign, and it was great to get Sara Pascoe on board to interview him. Unfortunately, I was playing a gig that day and couldn’t meet him myself, but it’s great to see the results of that meeting, admirably filmed and edited by Billy Dudley, the talented film student who made the promotional video for the campaign. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been offline for the last week, away from home with my family during this holiday period, staying in a house without wi-fi access. My apologies if you missed me, but I was also exhausted and run-down after the relentless work involved in the We Stand With Shaker campaign I launched with a colleague, Joanne MacInnes, on November 24, so I felt it was acceptable to have a short break.
The campaign we established was for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, calling in particular for David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, to drop the government’s official position — that the final decision about his fate rests in the hands of the Obama administration — and to demand his release and his return to the UK.
This is required of the PM under the government’s obligations to Mr. Aamer, a legal British resident who had been given indefinite leave to remain in the UK with his British wife and British children before his kidnap in Afghanistan (where he had traveled with his family to undertake humanitarian aid projects) and his rendition to Guantánamo in February 2002.
Mr. Aamer was cleared for release from Guantánamo under President Bush in 2007, and again under President Obama in 2009. In addition, the British government has been requesting his return since 2007. His continued imprisonment is, therefore, completely unacceptable — and inexplicable too, unless one accepts, as I think is necessary, that both the US and the UK governments, at the urging of their security services, would prefer to send him back to Saudi Arabia, the country of his birth, where he would be prevented from talking about what — as the foremost campaigner for the prisoners’ rights within Guantánamo — he knows about various crimes committed by his captors in the “war on terror.” Read the rest of this entry »
Today, the Daily Mail, which has thrown its weight behind We Stand With Shaker — the campaign to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, which I launched three weeks ago with my colleague Joanne MacInnes — published an article dealing with Shaker’s recent phone call to his family from the prison — shockingly, the first call he has been allowed to make in two and a half years. The article also included comments made by his father-in-law, Saeed Siddique, and by Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, who visited Shaker at Guantánamo last week.
The Mail began its coverage by describing the call — on an iPad provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross, who also facilitated the call — noting that the screen was “filled by a familiar round face with a white-flecked beard and deeply-etched lines,” but adding, “Though the man forced one of his big, trademark smiles, fear and misery were seared in his eyes.”
The family, the article explained, “bolstered his spirits with uplifting stories about their lives — how his children were faring well at school and growing up to make him proud,” although it added that they too — his wife, Zin, and their four children (the youngest of whom is 13, and has never met his father) “struggled to mask their sorrow.”
The very fact that he was allowed to call his family, however, must give hope that his release may be imminent. Although he was banned from talking to his family in 2012 — presumably, though this is not stated, as a punishment for his refusal to be cooperative and to cease his persistent resistance to the injustice of being held indefinitely without charge or trial — he “has been permitted to make two Skype calls to them in the past month.” Read the rest of this entry »
Great news regarding Guantánamo, as yesterday the Pentagon announced that six men, long cleared for release from the prison — four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian — have been resettled in Uruguay as refugees.
Back in March, President José Mujica of Uruguay — a former political prisoner — announced that he had been approached by the Obama administration regarding the resettlement of Guantánamo prisoners and had offered new homes to a number of men, cleared for release from the prison in 2009 by President Obama’s high-level Guantánamo Review Task Force, who could not be safely repatriated.
In May, President Mujica’s offer was confirmed, as I explained in an article entitled, “Uruguay’s President Mujica Confirms Offer of New Home for Six Guantánamo Prisoners,” but the releases were then delayed. The Obama administration ran into problems with Congress after releasing five Taliban prisoners in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, and, according to various reports, defense secretary Chuck Hagel dragged his heels when it came to notifying Congress of any proposed releases, as required by law. In addition President Mujica ran up against hostility from his political opponents — which was particularly difficult in an election year. Read the rest of this entry »
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