Yesterday, just ten days after the announcement that Shaker Aamer is finally to be freed from Guantánamo and returned to his family, was quite a disturbing day for those of us who care about Shaker and his health, as the Mail on Sunday ran a seven-page feature on Shaker that centered on his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith’s report of his latest words from Guantánamo, via a recent phone call.
Shaker stated, as the Mail on Sunday put it, that “he is on a hunger strike in protest at an assault by guards, who, he says, forced him to give blood samples,” and that he is “still being subjected to brutal physical abuse” by the authorities, and he also expressed his fears that he will not make it out of Guantánamo alive. As he said in his own words: “I know there are people who do not want me ever to see the sun again. It means nothing that they have signed papers, as anything can happen before I get out. So if I die, it will be the full responsibility of the Americans.”
This is rather bleak, and it made those of us who worry about Shaker’s health very unsettled. In my conversations with people yesterday, we also reflected on how the news must have been very disturbing for Shaker’s family. However, it is not all darkness. In another key passage, not picked up by the headline writers, Shaker said, powerfully, in words that illuminate his passion for justice and the tenacity that so many of us have admired over the years, “I do not want to be a hero. I am less than a lot of people who suffered in this place. But all this time I stood for certain principles: for human rights, freedom of speech, and democracy. I cannot give up.” Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
On September 25, as the news broke that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, is to be released, the radio host Scott Horton got in touch to ask for a quick interview, and I was, of course, delighted to speak to him, as we have spoken numerous times over the years since he first interviewed me in 2007. Our 15-minute interview is here, as an MP3, and I hope you have time to listen to it, and to share it if you find it useful. You can also find it on Scott’s website here.
Scott asked me to run through Shaker’s story, so I explained how he is a charismatic, eloquent man who always resisted the injustices implemented by the Bush administration in its “war on terror,” and, as a result, came to be regarded as a dangerous individual.
However, although he has persistently caused trouble — righteous, indignant trouble — in US custody, his captors never had a case against him for any activities prior to his capture at the end of 2001 in Afghanistan, where, he has always maintained, he had traveled to provide humanitarian aid to the Afghan people. As a result, in 2007, under the Bush administration, he was told that the US no longer wanted to hold him, and in 2009 he was approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force established by President Obama shortly after taking office. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s eight months since the Labour MP John McDonnell MP, an indefatigable campaigner for justice, established the Shaker Aamer All-Party Parliamentary Group, to call for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who is still held, despite being approved for release by the US authorities twice — in 2007, under George W. Bush, and in 2009, under Barack Obama.
With support from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, which spent many years working to get the Parliamentary Group established, and also from We Stand With Shaker, the campaign group established by Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes, which was also launched eight months ago, the Parliamentary Group sent a delegation to Washington D.C. after the General Election in May. The four MPs involved — the Conservative MPs David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and the Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Slaughter — met with Senators, including John McCain and Dianne Feinstein, and Obama administration officials, in the hope of securing a timeline for Shaker’s release, although no date has been given, despite repeated rumors that it would be this summer, and despite a hard-hitting op-ed in the New York Times by the MPs, who wrote, “There is simply no reason, domestic or international, for the United States to keep Mr. Aamer in custody,” and also stated, “It is difficult for us to shake off the depressing notion that the Obama administration is indifferent to the repeated requests of the British government,” adding that this is “a slap in the face for America’s staunchest friend.”
Prior to this, in March, the Parliamentary Group also secured a hugely important debate in the House of Commons, which led to the government supporting the motion “call[ing] 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.” Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
On March 17, as I have been writing about over the last few days, a long-awaited — and long fought for — Parliamentary debate took place in the main chamber of the House of Commons, with MPs debating 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.”
I was there for the debate, in the public gallery behind bulletproof glass, along with around a hundred other supporters of Shaker Aamer, including representatives of We Stand With Shaker, which I co-founded with the activist Joanne MacInnes last November, and the long-running Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, with whom I have worked for many years.
I wrote a detailed article about the debate here, noting that Tobias Ellwood, a Tory MP and a junior minister in the Foreign Office, who was speaking for the British government, supported the motion, 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.” Read the rest of this entry »
On March 17, as regular readers will know, a long-awaited — and long fought for — Parliamentary debate took place in the main chamber of the House of Commons, with MPs debating 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.”
I wrote a detailed article about the debate here, noting that Tobias Ellwood, a Tory MP and a junior minister in the Foreign Office, who was speaking for the British government, supported the motion, 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.”
As I noted in my article yesterday, the transcript contains some stirring speeches about the importance of the law and the perpetually shocking injustice of Shaker’s continued imprisonment from a variety of speakers, including John McDonnell, David Davis, Andrew Mitchell, Sir Gerald Kaufman, Andy Slaughter, Tim Farron, Jeremy Corbyn, Caroline Lucas and Gareth Thomas (the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs), with other comments by Kate Hoey, Jim Cunningham, Neil Carmichael, Stephen Timms, Alistair Burt, Ian Murray, David Ward and Dennis Skinner. Others were present, but did not make comments, including Jane Ellison, Shaker’s constituency MP, who is a minister and therefore unable to comment. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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 »
In the run-up the the General Election in the UK, on 7 May, it is important that MPs recognise the importance of the case of Shaker Aamer, and act upon it — by attending a Parliamentary debate on 17 March, and by joining the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, recently established by John McDonnell MP, as well as other requests listed below in a letter I’m asking you to send to your MP — unless, of course, they are already a member of the group.
Shaker Aamer is the last British resident in Guantánamo, and is still held, despite being approved for release by the US authorities twice — in 2007 under President Bush and again in 2009 under President Obama. The British government has also been requesting his return since August 2007.
His continued imprisonment is therefore inexplicable — unless you recognise that certain forces (probably the security services in the US and the UK) are working to prevent his release not because he is dangerous but because he has always stood up for the rights of the prisoners held lawlessly in the “war on terror,” because he knows some of the dark secrets of the last 13 years of high-level US crimes, and because he has the ability to embarrass the governments on both sides of the Atlantic. Read the rest of this entry »
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