From Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer Speaks, As His Lawyers Urge Cameron to Ask Obama for His Return at the G8


Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, needs your help. Please write to the British Prime Minister David Cameron, via Twitter, or via the 10 Downing Street website, asking him to urgently raise Shaker’s case with President Obama when they meet at the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland next week.

Despite being cleared for release under President Bush in 2007, and again under President Obama in January 2010, when a sober and responsible inter-agency task force of government officials and representatives of the intelligence agencies included him in its recommendations to release 156 of the 240 prisoners held at the time, he is still imprisoned, and still in solitary confinement, and is on a hunger strike, along with the majority of the 166 men still held. Even according to the US authorities, whose figures have failed to match those given by the prisoners themselves, 104 prisoners are taking part in the hunger strike, and 43 of those men are being force-fed. The prisoners state that the true total of those taking part in the hunger strike is around 130.

Of the 156 prisoners cleared for release by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, 86 remain. The rest were freed — mostly in 2009 and 2010, before restrictions on the release of prisoners were raised by President Obama himself and by Congress. Obama banned the release of any cleared Yemenis after a failed bomb plot in December 2009, which had been hatched in Yemen, and Congress has also passed onerous restrictions on his ability to free prisoners — a ban on the release of prisoners to any country where even a single individual has allegedly engaged in “recidivism” (returning to the battlefield), and a demand that the secretary of defense must certify that, if released to a country that is not banned, a prisoner will not, in future, engage in terrorism.

This, of course, is an impossible demand, but there is a waiver in the legislation that allows him to bypass Congress and release prisoners if he regards it as being “in the national security interests of the United States.”

President Obama needs to use that waiver now, and David Cameron needs to tell him that the continued imprisonment of Shaker Aamer is a disgrace that tarnishes the reputations of both the US and the UK as countries that claim to respect the rule of law. See below for a letter to David Cameron written by Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, whose lawyers represent 15 Guantánamo prisoners, including Shaker, and below that is a new article written by Shaker, published in the Guardian yesterday, and dictated to Clive Stafford Smith by phone on June 10.

Clive Stafford Smith’s letter to David Cameron regarding Shaker Aamer

Dear Prime Minister,

I write as the US lawyer for Shaker Aamer, who as you may know is a UK resident with a British wife and British children who continues to be held in Guantánamo Bay, despite having been cleared for release.

I am sure you are aware of his plight as your Government — including the Foreign and Defence Secretaries — has repeatedly raised his case, and the UK’s desire to see him returned home to Britain, with the US. However, to summarise, he has been held at Guantánamo since early 2002, and in all that time has never been charged with any crime, let alone tried. Furthermore, he has been cleared for release — the result of a complex, multi-agency assessment by US authorities — under both the Bush and Obama administrations.

I write to you as Prime Minister as it appears clear that, despite the repeated efforts in good faith made by the Foreign and Defence Secretaries, the US is still refusing to release Mr. Aamer. I would therefore ask that you, personally, raise this with President Obama at the next possible opportunity, in order to demonstrate the strength of feeling in the UK regarding this case.

Ultimately, it is President Obama that has the power to release Mr. Aamer. He could sign the necessary waivers tomorrow to allow him to be released to the UK. Recent media reports have raised the possibility that the US has not taken Britain’s requests on this issue seriously — a direct appeal from our Prime Minister to the US President would surely put that beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Finally, I would like to remind you that time is pressing. The ongoing hunger-strike, and the heavy-handed tactics being used by the prison authorities in an attempt to break it, mean that the well-being of Mr. Aamer — and his fellow inmates — is worse than ever. I would therefore ask that you raise his case with Mr. Obama as soon as is possible.

If you have any questions about the case I would of course be happy to provide further information.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Yours sincerely,

Clive A. Stafford Smith
Director, Reprieve

My fight for justice in Guantánamo
By Shaker Aamer, The Guardian, June 14, 2013

Killing innocent people for an idea, whether on London’s streets or from the skies of Pakistan, is always wrong

Here I am in Guantánamo Bay. I was meant to be a Muslim extremist, one of the “worst of the worst”, according to the former United States defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Indeed, because I am still here and 613 detainees have left, you might think that I am the worst of the worst of the worst — although perhaps the fact that I was cleared for release six years ago would give you pause for thought.

As I sit alone in my cell, I learn about acts of terrorism that take place around the world. Because the censors here do not let us have the news any more as a punishment for being on hunger strike, I have only heard the bare bones of what happened in Woolwich but, even without knowing all the facts, it is easy for me to condemn it. Just yesterday I was talking to another detainee about the murder of Lee Rigby. Neither of us could understand how anyone could think such an act was consistent with Islam. I condemn it regardless of the men’s motive. I don’t know what they thought might be achieved by it. Perhaps they were just mentally ill.

The same is true of the attack on the Boston Marathon in April. Maybe those who killed the innocent thought somehow that their attack was going to strike a blow against those who were fighting Muslims in Afghanistan or Iraq, or the Americans who were killing innocent children with drones in Pakistan and Yemen. But their actions were just plain wrong. You do not kill innocent people on the streets of London or Boston and say that is a jihad for justice.

It is important to recognise that the Americans do evil things as well. They say their motivation is to fight terrorism, and fighting terror is something I wholeheartedly support. But while their intentions may be good, their actions are also very wrong — when they kill a small child with a drone missile in Pakistan, or when they lock people up without trial in Guantánamo Bay. These actions are very unwise, too. They anger people who might before have been reasonable, so that more of them turn to extremism. They feed terrorism, just as once the denial of legal rights to those suspected of being Irish terrorists drew disaffected people to the IRA banner.

I was very pleased to hear this week that the prime minister, David Cameron, read the letter my daughter, Johina, sent him. I hope one day soon I will be back in the UK and I will be able to talk with politicians about how to reduce extremism — whether it is Muslims who misinterpret the Holy Qur’an, or members of the English Defence League who misinterpret Muslims.

We cannot establish justice by committing injustice. Evil begets evil.

But at the same time, goodwill brings goodwill. Misguided people will always commit misguided acts, but we do not need to live as if it might happen to each of us every day. Yet the US is still living the 9/11 nightmare. Guards on my block here in Guantánamo, who were just eight years old at the time of the attacks, now treat me as if I blew up the World Trade Centre. Why have we passed this nightmare to the next generation? They have been taught to hate. This is driving the world away from reconciliation. Our children are being taught to live in the past, not the future.

No matter who we are, we must bear in mind what we are fighting for. Right now, I am on a hunger strike for justice. To me, it is worth suffering for that goal, and I will continue my personal struggle one way or another till justice prevails. I am deeply grateful to those in Britain and the US who support us: I am particularly grateful to Jane Ellison, my MP. Maybe some people think that a Conservative MP would have no sympathy for someone like me, but she sees past the prejudice. And so do I. Our prophet teaches us that if we do not thank others, we do not thank our God.

When we combat terrorism, we are in a struggle to maintain our principles — ideas that terrorists and EDL members have apparently long forgotten. We must always ensure that we do not make our principles, and our respect for others, the first victims in the fight.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and 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. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

5 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    The Guardian also published another article about Shaker, featuring other excerpts from the phone call on June 10. I found Shaker’s hope rather inspiring: “I am hopeful. I know things are going to happen. The British need to be encouraged that these coming days things are more important now than for the past 11 years. I very much hope to be home by July.”

  2. Anna says...

    For as long as I live, Shaker will a shining example of exceptional courage in the face of extreme oppression. After all, he again and again is putting himself in additional danger by defending those of his brothers who need his support.
    To paraphrase an old saying about patriotism: it is easy to love your fellow human beings, it is much harder to die for them, but the hardest is to suffer for them.
    I do hope that we’ll soon see the day when we’ll be able to tell him this as a free man, and may until then our admiration for this exceptional man comfort his children and their mother.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, extremely well put, Anna. Thank you. I also admire him immensely – the contrast between his humanity and concern for others, and the cruelty and twisted rationale of those responsible for holding him is truly immense.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Good news, as it is confirmed that David Cameron – for the first time – raised Shaker Aamer’s case with Barack Obama:

  5. Close Guantánamo: We Still Have Three Urgent Demands for President Obama by Andy Worthington | Dandelion Salad says...

    […] charity whose lawyers (including Crider) represent 15 men still held at Guantánamo, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident at the […]

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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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