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 »

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 »

Keep Up the Fast For Shaker Aamer, As Foreign Office and State Department Say Release Delayed Until Late This Week or Early Next Week

Andy Worthington's band The Four Fathers ask, "Where is Shaker Aamer?" on the evening of October 27, 2015. From L to R: Richard Clare, Louis Sills-Clare, Bren Horstead and Andy Worthington.

Join the Fast For Shaker here!

After all the expectation that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, would be returned to the UK on Sunday, at the end of the 30-day notification period required by Congress (following the announcement on September 25 that he would be freed), it has been a disappointing few days, with only rumours and vague reassurances to indicate that his release is imminent.

Today, for example, the Daily Mail reported that Shaker “is expected to return to the UK within days” — adding that he is “due to leave the infamous camp later this week or early next according to sources in the UK and US.”

A source in Whitehall told the Mail, “He will be out within days. We’re working on the practical details of how it will happen.” Read the rest of this entry »

Clive Stafford Smith’s Fast For Shaker Aamer Hunger Strike Diary

Andy Worthington points out, to President Obama and David Cameron, that the 30-day notification period required by Congress before any Guantanamo prisoner can be released has now come to an end in Shaker Aamer's case, and he should immediately be returned to the UK. Today, October 25, was supposed to be the day that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, was released and flown back to the UK to be reunited with his family, who he has not seen for over 14 years.

Shaker is still held, despite being approved for release eight years ago, under George W. Bush (and again under President Obama in January 2010), although campaigners for his release, his lawyers, and, of course, his family and Shaker himself, are hoping it will take place in the next couple of days.

Sustained campaigns — and significant pressure from MPs — finally led, a month ago, to a promise by President Obama that Shaker would be freed, and today is the end of the 30-day notification period demanded by Congress before any Guantánamo prisoner can be released.

And yet, Shaker is still not home — and, as the Mail on Sunday reported today, “The release of the last Briton held at notorious US detention centre Guantánamo Bay has been delayed. Shaker … saw his hopes of finally being reunited with his family this weekend dashed thanks to a political visit to the base … [T]he visit of three Republican senators, on a ‘fact-finding’ mission to the base, once again delayed his long-awaited flight to freedom.” Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo’s Tainted Evidence: US Government Publicly Concedes Its Case Against Ex-Prisoner Facing Trial in Morocco Collapsed in 2011

Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), in a photo included in the classified US military documents (the Detainee Assessment Briefs) released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.In an important concession, the US government has publicly admitted that the information it drew on to describe former Guantánamo prisoner Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri) as a threat was profoundly unreliable, and that it ceased to accept it as reliable back in 2011.

Chekkouri was repatriated to his home country of Morocco from Guantánamo on September 16, and, as his lawyers at the London-based legal charity Reprieve described it in a press release, just issued, “His transfer was subject to diplomatic assurances between Morocco and the US, which included agreements that there was no basis to charge him; that Morocco would not prosecute him; and that he would be detained no longer than 72 hours. However, after his arrival in Morocco Mr. Chekkouri was taken to Salé prison near Rabat, where he continues to be held in violation of the assurances.”

At a court hearing tomorrow (October 22), the Moroccan investigating magistrate “will determine whether Mr. Chekkouri should be set free,” as Reprieve described it, adding, “It is believed that the Moroccan authorities are detaining Mr. Chekkouri on the basis of the same allegations that the US government has now withdrawn against him.” Read the rest of this entry »

Fast For Shaker Supporters Encourage Shaker Aamer to End Hunger Strike, Maintain Pressure to Get Him Home By October 25

Cori Crider of Reprieve, photographed as part of the Fast For Shaker on October 15, 2015, shortly after returning from Guantanamo, where she and her legal team had spent six hours with Shaker Aamer.As people around the world continue to undertake 24-hour fasts in solidarity with Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo — as part of the Fast For Shaker campaign I launched last week with the activist Joanne MacInnes, with whom I set up the influential We Stand With Shaker campaign last year — there has been some very positive news from Cori Crider, one of Shaker’s lawyers at the London-based legal charity Reprieve, who told me when we met at the weekend that, on her visit to Guantánamo last week, Shaker had been persuaded to break his strike, and to drink a calorie-rich mango smoothie, because he was so moved by the pledges of campaigners to fast on his behalf, so that he can look after himself prior to his release from Guantánamo and his return to his family in London. I am not entirely sure that he has completely given up his hunger strike, but the fact that he has been so moved by campaigners that he has been taking in sustenance is great news indeed.

Shaker’s return to the UK should take place by October 25 — at the end of the 30-day notification period that the US Congress insists on, which campaigners have been marking ever since it was announced on September 25 that President Obama had told British Prime Minister David Cameron that Shaker is be freed.

The second aim of the rolling Fast For Shaker was to make sure that the administration kept to its word, and on that front it is, of course, worthwhile for people to keep fasting, and to keep pledging to fast. Shaker was first told that the US no longer wanted to hold him eight years ago, and was told this again six years ago under President Obama, after a high-level, inter-agency review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, also concluded that he should no longer be held. Read the rest of this entry »

Fast For Shaker: Press Launch of New Campaign in Solidarity with Shaker Aamer, on a Hunger Strike in Guantánamo, London, Thursday 15th October

The poster for the new Fast for Shaker campaign, launched by We Stand With Shaker.I’m in a hurry, so please see below for the press release for tomorrow’s launch, in London, of We Stand With Shaker‘s new initiative, Fast For Shaker. This morning, I was at a meeting of the All-Party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group with MPs David Davis, Andrew Mitchell, Andy Slaughter, Tania Mathias and others, plus lots of campaigners.

Then I was in Kensington for an interview on London Live, about the launch of Fast For Shaker, which I hope is online somewhere. More info later. For now, here’s the press release. if you’re in London, please come along! Otherwise, keep signing up for the fast, and send in photos!

Celebrities, MPs and Campaigners Start Rolling 24-Hour Fast in Solidarity with Shaker Aamer, on a Hunger Strike in Guantánamo

MPs David Davis, John McDonnell, Caroline Lucas, Andy Slaughter, Tania Mathias, Tom Brake Attend, Plus Shaker’s Father-In-Law Saeed Siddique, representatives of Reprieve, Actor David Morrissey and Comedian Sara Pascoe Read the rest of this entry »

How Laurie Anderson Brought Guantánamo to New York

Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve with a giant, real-time projection of his client, former Guantanamo prisoner Mohammed el-Gharani, at 'Habeas Corpus," an exhibition by Laurie Anderson in New York on October 2, 2015.I’ve been very busy lately — mainly with the launch of Fast For Shaker, a new campaign for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo — and didn’t have the time until now to write about a fascinating project by the artist Laurie Anderson, who staged an event, in New York — “Habeas Corpus” — where she beamed in, live, a giant 3D projection of former Guantánamo child prisoner Mohammed el-Gharani.

Mohammed was one of at least 23 juveniles held at Guantánamo, although only three were officially acknowledged. See Al-Jazeera’s important new documentary, Growing up Guantánamo, for more about this — it focuses on Asadullah Rahman, an Afghan who was just ten when he was seized and sent to Guantánamo with two other Afghan boys.

At Guantánamo, where Mohammed was held between 2002 and 2009, he was subjected to torture, as the US denied his true age (14 or just 15 when he was seized) and tried to tie him in to all manner of ridiculous plots — like an invented al-Qaeda cell in London, which he was supposed to have been part of, even though he was only 11 at the time, and had never left Saudi Arabia, where he was born to parents from Chad. I first wrote about him in my book The Guantánamo Files, in 2007, and then wrote a profile of him in April 2008, Guantánamo’s forgotten child: the sad story of Mohammed El-Gharani, covered a judge granting his habeas corpus petition in January 2009, and his release in June 2009, followed by further complications relating to his return to Chad, despite his parents living in Saudi Arabia — see Mohammed speaking to Al-Jazeera here, for example, and this report from an investigator with his lawyers at Reprieve in December 2009, and please, if you have time, read the long interview with him, by the journalist Jérôme Tubiana, which was published in the London Review of Books in December 2011. Read the rest of this entry »

Fast For Shaker: New Campaign Launched – Please Join Celebrities and MPs Fasting in Solidarity with Shaker Aamer, on a Hunger Strike in Guantánamo

Andy Worthington pledging support for the new Fast For Shaker campaign.Since getting the news last weekend that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, has embarked on a hunger strike and fears that he won’t make it out of Guantánamo alive, despite being told on September 25 that he will be freed soon, Joanne MacInnes and I, the co-founders and co-directors of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, have been working like crazy to get a new campaign going.

And with the wonderful support of web designer Tuqire Hussain, we are now delighted to launch Fast For Shaker, a new website and campaign in which we’re asking celebrities, MPs, campaigners and concerned citizens to embark on a hunger strike of their own, for a day — or more, if you wish — in solidarity with Shaker, starting on Thursday October 15, when the campaign is officially launched.

Please Pledge a Fast (and share on Facebook and Twitter after doing so), send in a photo of yourself on the day of your fast, with a poster downloadable here, to join our Supporters Photos, check out the Calendar here, and check out the celebrity list here. Please also read the Fasting Guidelines. Read the rest of this entry »

Former Guantánamo Prisoner Betrayed by Morocco: Are Diplomatic Assurances Worthless?

Guantanamo prisoner Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), repatriated to Morocco  on September 16, 2015 (Photo collage by Reprieve).I’ve been so busy with the news of the planned release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, that I have a few other stories to catch up on, one being the case of Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), a Moroccan who was repatriated on September 16, but is now imprisoned and awaiting a trial, in defiance of the diplomatic assurances agreed between the US and Moroccan governments prior to his release.

Immediately after his release, as I wrote about here, Younous was imprisoned incommunicado, in an unknown location. His brother was then allowed to speak to him, and he “said he sounded OK and in good spirits.” However, on September 20, AFP reported that “he was under investigation on suspicion of terror-related offences and would appear before a public prosecutor,” noting that, in Morocco, terror suspects “can be held without charge for 48 hours, which is renewable once,” and Younous “could therefore appear in court on Monday [September 21].”

By September 21, he had has been “placed in ‘provisional detention’ in Morocco’s notorious Salé prison without bail.” He had been allowed to meet with a local lawyer, but the news was not good. Reprieve noted that he was “facing the possibility of charges of ‘attempts to disrupt the security of the country,’” which Cori Crider, his lawyer in London, described as “utterly baseless.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. 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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