On Human Rights Day, A Call to Release Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo


Today is the 60th anniversary of Human Rights Day, declared by the United Nations in 1950 to mark the adoption by the UN of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — essentially, the founding document of the human rights movement — on December 10, 1948.

To mark the occasion, and, I think, to highlight American and British hypocrisy regarding Article 5 (“No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”) and Article 9 (“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile”), the journalist and playwright Victoria Brittain has written an article for the Guardian about Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who has, like almost everyone seized in the “War on Terror,” been “subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” and remains held at Guantánamo, despite being cleared for release by a military review board in 2007, and despite the fact that he has never been charged with any offense.

This is a situation shared by the majority of the remaining 174 prisoners, which can clearly be described as “arbitrary arrest” followed by nine long years of abusive treatment (including torture), illegal interrogations, and an indifference on the part of the US authorities to any form of due process. I believe that this also contravenes Article 10 of the UDHR (“Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him”) and Article 11(1) (“Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence”), on the basis that Shaker, and all the other prisoners, have not been held as prisoners of war, according to the Geneva Conventions, and remain consigned to a legal twilight zone, which remains in force despite the fact that, two and a half years ago, the Supreme Court granted the prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights. Of the 174 men still held, just 57 have had their habas petitions ruled on by a US court, and although 38 of these were won by the prisoners, just 25 of those men have been released.

In recent weeks, I have written extensively about Shaker’s case, particularly in my articles, As the UK Government Announces Compensation for Ex-Guantánamo Prisoners, Is the Return of Shaker Aamer Part of the Deal? and The UK Government’s Guantánamo Guilt, and the Urgent Need for Shaker Aamer’s Return, and I hope that, as well as reading Victoria’s article, readers will also — if possible — come to “A Day for Shaker Aamer” in Battersea tomorrow, and/or write to foreign secretary Wiliam Hague, their MPs, and Daniel Fried, President Obama’s Special Envoy on Guantánamo ((although I would cut the section mentioning that the US government can, if it wishes, “charge him promptly and give him a fair trial”), to demand his immediate return to his British wife and family. Readers can also encourage their MPs to sign an Early Day Motion submitted by Caroline Lucas, our only Green MP, and can order free pre-printed postcards from the indefatigable activist Maryam Hassan (of the Justice for Aafia Coalition) to send to Wiiliam Hague and to Shaker himself in Guantánamo.

Ken Clarke’s Guantánamo credibility test
By Victoria Brittain, The Guardian, December 10, 2010

Ken Clarke, as lord chancellor and justice secretary, is facing a significant test of credibility within a long and successful career — at the bar, in politics and in business — in the current power struggle with the United States over the return from Guantánamo Bay of British resident Shaker Aamer to his family in London.

Clarke, as he informed parliament, did what the Labour government signally failed to do in personally meeting the former Guantánamo Bay prisoners, both British citizens and residents, after the claimants requested a ministerial meeting during the negotiations over their recent settlement. Hearing from every one of the men how the return of Aamer to his wife and children mattered to them more than any financial settlement, and what the loss of shared years of a child’s life meant to them, changed the tone. Clarke appears to be the first minister to have taken in the enormity of the wrong done to these men and to have been affected by what they had to say.

In the last nine years, personal letters to prime ministers Blair and Brown, and even to Sarah Brown, handed in by delegations to Downing Street, including Aamer’s daughter, and earlier by other prisoners’ children, never met a human response. It requires an unusually independent and confident politician to offer such a response. The justice secretary, famous for his stalwart refusal to take his party’s line against joining the European Union, is certainly one such person. It is now known in fact, from the US end, that the previous British government made only sporadic and token efforts to get Aamer home to his family, although they claimed in recent years that they were doing all they could.

Aamer is not just another unknown prisoner. He was the spokesman and negotiator for the other prisoners with the US authorities in [a major] hunger strike [in the summer of 2005]. After the US side broke the agreement he went on other hunger strikes, was in solitary confinement for years, and was witness to the dark episode of the mysterious deaths of Salah Ahmed al-Salami of Yemen, and Mani Shaman al-Utaybi and Yasser Talal al-Zahrani of Saudi Arabia in Guantánamo in June 2006. US claims that they were suicides were discredited both by autopsies when the bodies were returned home, and by a long investigation by Harper’s Magazine based on interviews with a [number of former] guard[s].

There is no mystery about why the Americans have been so reluctant to see him free to speak of what he knows. Even as the negotiations were going on with the former prisoners in London, a telephone call, lasting two hours, was arranged by the US for Aamer from Guantánamo — not with his wife and children in London who have not spoken to him in nearly a decade, but with a brother in Saudi Arabia. If he were to be returned there he would likely disappear indefinitely into a “rehabilitation programme”, his British family would probably never see him again, and he would be highly unlikely to talk publicly about what he knows.

The new coalition government moved the issue high up its agenda, so that Aamer’s future recently dominated discussions between the foreign minister, William Hague, and Hillary Clinton. The momentum for this change had come from the former Guantánamo prisoners in the UK, who insisted that convincing evidence of real government pressure for Aamer’s return to Britain was key to any settlement with the British government. The details of the settlement made with the 16 men, who included several residents as well as the British citizens, remain confidential. However, for the men, the most important aspect of this case is the wrongful detention the US and Britain subjected so many Muslim men to as part of the “war on terror”. Ongoing contacts, not the subject of any confidentiality, now indicate a new level of government effort by Britain on behalf of Aamer.

Once David Cameron’s government announced simultaneously the intention to negotiate a settlement, and to hold a public inquiry, two consequences flowed. The harsh realities of civil litigation meant that those who were eligible for legal aid would have that withdrawn by the Legal Services Commission, the possibility of continuing a protracted case with the option of a court hearing being thus ended.

The men nevertheless got significant parts of what the civil proceedings were intended to achieve. The demand for a public inquiry was a vital aspect of a number of the men’s claims under the Human Rights Act — Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna kidnapped by the US in the Gambia with the connivance of the UK, for instance. The government announcement of a judge-led public inquiry was made simultaneously with its intention to negotiate. We do not know how much will be in public. While the whole shameful story of Guantánamo may never be told, the coalition government is still party to the fight to keep secret material out of the courts, and keeping Aamer from talking has been an integral part of the US-UK history of the hidden account. What we do know is that the former prisoners’ evidence will be critical to the UK inquiry and that one key witness for Judge Gibson will be Aamer, who can testify to the presence of British intelligence agents at his own ill-treatment.

The battle with the US over Aamer’s return highlights a hugely sensitive area: the Obama administration’s failure to close the camp; the failure to persuade its allies to help; the massive fallout of broken families across many countries as a result of so many innocent men being held and tortured; and for those released with no stain on their character, the glaring lack of any public acknowledgment or apology for the great wrongs done by the US, and condoned by allies like Britain. The UK government’s settlement tacitly admits the credibility of the men’s claims. The outstanding part, this last man’s return, needs a further sustained push from Clarke and his cabinet colleagues if these men — and the millions watching — are not to feel that they have been cheated again.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

11 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Ruth Gilburt wrote:

    sharing again Andy…this MUST happen soon…

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Can you come along to Battersea tomorrow, Ruth? It would be great to see you there …
    ‎”A Day for Shaker Aamer” – Battersea, tomorrow (Dec. 11):

  3. Tweets that mention On Human Rights Day, A Call to Release Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo | Andy Worthington -- Topsy.com says...

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andy Worthington and TenPercent, earwicga. earwicga said: RT @TenPercent: On Human Rights Day, A Call to Release Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo http://bit.ly/etf7VQ […]

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Richard Parker wrote:

    Andy – I’m amazed to see that you still think the craven UK government might have any influence whatsoever on the American war machine. If you want to be Don Quixote, good luck; I will still be behind you.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    That’s me, tilting at windmills … Actually, what’s interesting about Shaker’s case, Richard, is that the UK government is going to run into real credibility problems — and vocal opposition — regarding its financial settlement, the Metropolitan Police inquiry into Shaker’s allegations of torture, and its much vaunted judicial inquiry to “draw a line” under British complicity in torture if it doesn’t get Shaker back. If it wasn’t for this, I’d agree wholeheartedly …

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Jorge Guillermo Gajardo Rojas wrote:

    Is an anacronism a military prison in latinoamerican territory in XXI century, owned by a country who say that is the champion of democracy and freedom.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Ruth Gilburt wrote:

    Was there this afternoon and received a very warm welcome…couldn’t stay for all the speakers but thought – hope local MP really does do some good (even if she is a Tory) and Anas Altikriti was very articulate and impassioned.
    …and the campaign goes on….

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf Artist wrote:

    Good Job on Press TV! 🙂
    ‎”Strongest protection for us is our values.” — good point you made.
    I totally agree.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jorge, Tashi and Ruth.
    Well, Ruth, you beat me to it. I didn’t actually get to Battersea Arts Centre for “A Day for Shaker Aamer” until 4.15, but it was an impressive event, and lots of people stayed for the screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo,” followed by Q&A with myself, Omar Deghayes, Moazzam Begg and Polly Nash.
    And Tashi, glad you liked the Press TV show — “The Agenda,” with Yvonne Ridley, discussing torture and the British government’s financial settlement with the former Guantanamo prisoners — and with Shaker Aamer.

  10. Hungering for justice / Waging Nonviolence - People-Powered News and Analysis says...

    […] September of 2011, the BBC received a letter from Shaker Aamer and eight other Guantanamo prisoners, who stated their commitment to hunger striking. Aamer, a […]

  11. Hungering for justice - Waging Nonviolence | Waging Nonviolence says...

    […] September of 2011, the BBC received a letter from Shaker Aamer and eight other Guantanamo prisoners, who stated their commitment to hunger striking. Aamer, a […]

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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