MPs Visit US to Discuss the Release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo with John McCain and Dianne Feinstein

The delegation of British MPs who traveled to Washington, D.C. to call for the release of Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo at a meeting with Sen. John McCain on May 20, 2015. From L to R: Alka Pradhan of Reprieve, Andy Slaughter MP, Andrew Mitchell MP, Sen. John McCain, David Davis MP and Jeremy Corbyn MP.On Tuesday, in an open letter to President Obama and defense secretary Ashton Carter that I drafted, 13 rights groups, including Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker, as well as Amnesty international USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Reprieve and others, called for the release of 57 men from Guantánamo (out of the 122 men still in the prison), who are still held despite being approved for release, the majority for over five years.

One of the 57 is Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and one of the reasons I initiated the letter was to coincide with a visit to Washington, D.C. by a delegation of British MPs, from the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, which was established last November, and, in March, secured the support of the government for the following 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.”

The MPs who flew to the US for meetings to try to secure Shaker’s release are the Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn (a longtime colleague of the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group’s chair, John McDonnell) and Shadow Justice Minister Andy Slaughter, and the Conservative MPs David Davis (a former Shadow Home Secretary) and Andrew Mitchell (a former Chief Whip and former International Development Secretary). Read the rest of this entry »

Rights Groups Send An Open Letter to President Obama and Ashton Carter: Free the 57 Guantánamo Prisoners Approved for Release

A collaged image of President Obama and a guard tower at Guantanamo.Below is an open letter that has just been made available by 13 human rights organizations and lawyers’ groups calling for immediate action by President Obama and defense secretary Ashton Carter to secure the release of the 57 men still held at Guantánamo (out of the 122 men still held) who have been cleared for release — or approved for transfer, in the administration’s careful words. The signatories also call on the administration to try or release the other men, and to move towards the eventual closure of the prison, as President Obama first promised when he took office in January 2009.

The spur for the letter, which I initiated on behalf of Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker, is the second anniversary of President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, after Congress raised legislative obstacles, which he made in a major speech on national security issues on May 23, 2013.

Also of great relevance is the arrival in Washington, D.C. today of a British Parliamentary delegation calling for the release and return to the UK of one of the 57, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison. The four MPs involved are the Conservative MPs David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and the Labour MPs Andy Slaughter and Jeremy Corbyn, who are part of the cross-party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, and they will be meeting administration officials and Senators to try to secure a timeline for Shaker Aamer’s release. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers Release Free Song, ‘Tory Bullshit Blues’

The cover for the Four Fathers' album 'Love and War', to be released in the summer of 2015 (cover art by Bren Horstead).I’ve just made available a free song on Soundcloud, ‘Tory Bullshit Blues‘, by my band The Four Fathers, from our forthcoming album, ‘Love and War.’

With just five days to go until the General Election, and with reports that the Tories are leading in the polls, I wanted to make sure that I made my opinions clear about the last five years under the Tory-led coalition government, with its assault on the poor, the unemployed and the disabled — as well as my thoughts about UKIP, whose rise has been such a depressing spectacle.

The song is embedded below, and I hope you like it and share it if you do. Read the rest of this entry »

Cliff Sloan, Former Envoy for Guantánamo Closure, On Why Cleared Prisoners, Including Shaker Aamer, Must Be Freed

Campaigners with Witness Against Torture show their support for Shaker Aamer in an action outside the British Embassy in Washington D.C. in January 2015.Last Wednesday, the Washington Post reawakened discussions about the future of Guantánamo, in an article entitled “Facing threat in Congress, Pentagon races to resettle Guantánamo inmates.” As I described it in my analysis of the article, the Post aired “the suggestion … 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.”

I was at pains to point out that, “[r]ealistically … it might be wisest to view these suggestions as the administration stating its best-case scenario,” but I found it convincing that, “[a]s a first step, officials plan to send up to 10 prisoners overseas, possibly in June,” and that one of these prisoners is Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and I was reassured when a journalist friend explained that a source within the administration had told her that there was “cautious optimism” that these releases will indeed take place.

Following up on the story, Ian Woods of Sky News interviewed Cliff Sloan, the former State Department envoy for the closure of Guantánamo, who was appointed by President Obama in 2013. A veteran diplomat, Sloan left his job at the end of last year, but has continued to discuss Guantánamo, and the need for the prison’s closure, ever since. See his op-ed in the New York Times in January, for example. 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 »

The Full Text of the Parliamentary Debate for Shaker Aamer, the Last British Resident in Guantánamo (2/2)

Members of the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group at a meeting in February 2015. From L to R:  MPs Mike Wood, Andrew Mitchell, John McDonnell (chair), Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Slaughter. Between Jeremy and Andy is Imam Suliman Gani, a teacher and broadcaster and a friend of the Aamer family.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 »

The Full Text of the Parliamentary Debate for Shaker Aamer, the Last British Resident in Guantánamo (1/2)

John McDonnell MP, a tireless campaigner for Shaker Aamer and the chair of the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, at the launch of the We Stand With Shaker campaign outside Parliament on November 24, 2014, with, to his right, Joanne MacInnes and Jeremy Hardy, and, to his left, Peter Tatchell (Photo: Stefano Massimo).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.”

Below I’m cross-posting the transcript of the debate from Hansard. I’ve divided it into two parts, as it’s quite long, so the first part is below and the second will follow tomorrow.

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 »

UK Government Backs Parliamentary Motion to Secure Release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo

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).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 »

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 »

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Andy Worthington

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