Clive Stafford Smith Confirms That Shaker Aamer Could Be Released from Guantánamo in June


A giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantanamo, which was brought along by supporters to the day of action on Guantanamo in Trafalgar Square on May 23, 2014, as part of a global day of action on Guantanamo. The figure later became the centrepiece of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, launched in November 2014 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Back in April, the Washington Post suggested that ten prisoners were in line to be freed from Guantánamo in June, and that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, “may be resettled as early as this summer.” A Saudi national, Shaker was granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK, where his wife, a British national, and his four children live, including his youngest son, born on the day he arrived at Guantánamo in February 2002.

The suggestion that he might be released soon gave hope to his supporters, who have been campaigning for years for his release  — and, more generally, for those who are appalled that anyone should be held in Guantánamo year after year without charge or trial, and after twice being approved for release by high-level US government review processes, in 2007 and 2009, as is the case with Shaker, a vocal critic of the US “war on terror,” who has always fought for the prisoners’ rights throughout his 13 years in US custody.

The suggestion that he might be released soon also gave impetus to the delegation of MPs that visited Washington, D.C. last week, meeting Senators including John McCain and Dianne Feinstein, and stressing the urgent need for a timetable for Shaker’s release — see, for example, the strong words of Andrew Mitchell MP, as reported in the Daily Mail just two days ago.

“We have been unable to shake off the depressing notion that the US administration is indifferent to the request of the British Government … for the reasonable release of one of our residents, a request made specifically by the Prime Minister,” Mitchell said, adding, “We’ve shed blood and treasure in two controversial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And for our Prime Minister and us to be treated this way by America is insulting to their oldest ally. It is doing increasing damage to the Anglo-American relationship and is a thorn in the side of our friendship. Is it not a slap in the face from our oldest ally and staunchest friend?”

Now, however, we hear from Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of the legal action charity Reprieve, and Shaker’s lawyer for many years, that Shaker may indeed be freed within weeks. Speaking to Victoria Derbyshire of the BBC, he said, “I have heard from various sources, which are very reliable I hope, that he is to be released in June.”

He added, “But of course we’ve had promises before and the worst thing one can do is, both for Shaker and for his wife and children, to promise something that may not happen. But there’s no good reason why it wouldn’t happen.”

As the BBC explained, Stafford Smith said that President Obama’s pledge to close Guantánamo is “the primary reason behind Mr. Aamer’s likely release,” adding, “And he can’t do that unless he gets rid of the 57 people who have been cleared at least — and Shaker has been cleared for eight years now.”

Stafford Smith also said that “it’s also down to the incredibly good work by so many people, like Andrew Mitchell who visited the US with three other MPs. I have a letter here with me from Shaker where he’s incredibly grateful for that. So many people have done so many great things to help him and I think that’s had a great impact.”

The BBC mentioned US allegations that Shaker Aamer “had led a unit of Taliban fighters and had met former al-Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden,” although Shaker himself has always “maintained he was in Afghanistan with his family doing charity work,” and in response Stafford Smith said, “In Shaker’s case, the proof in the pudding is that he was cleared by the Bush administration and cleared by the Obama administration. So if they clear him and all six of the national security agencies say he should be released, then it’s quite hard to make the argument that he’s guilty of something.”

He added, “The world is insane. I go to Guantánamo and see a place where still half of the prisoners who are there have been cleared for release. What other prison is there in the world where 50% of the prisoners are told you’re free to go but you can’t go?”

Andrew Mitchell also spoke to Victoria Derbyshire, telling her, when asked about the US visit he undertook with David Davis, Andy Slaughter and Jeremy Corbyn, “We’re hopeful we advanced the case. We spoke to a number of senior senators who were as perplexed as we are about why it was taking so long for him to be released for transfer back to the United Kingdom.”

He added, in a variation of what he told the Daily Mail, “Our prime minister asked for him to be transferred earlier this year on his visit to the United States and it is incomprehensible that the United States would treat its oldest ally and staunchest friend in this very cavalier way.”

You can watch a clip of Clive Stafford Smith speaking here, and, while preparing to publish this article, I also heard from former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg that he too had heard similar news about Shaker’s imminent release. “This is what it was told last week too,” he wrote on Twitter, adding, “I pray it’s true.”

Speaking personally, as someone who has been writing about Shaker for nine years, and speaking on behalf of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, which I co-founded in November with Joanne MacInnes, and as a long-time supporter of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, I also fervently hope that it’s true.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers). He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, the co-director of “We Stand With Shaker,” calling for the immediate release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — 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).

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10 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, looking at the extremely promising news that Shaker Aamer could be freed from ‪‎Guantanamo‬ next month, and returned to his family in the UK. Following claims reported by the Washington Post in April, and last week’s visit to Washington by MPs, Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve told the BBC that he has heard, from reliable sources, that Shaker will be freed in June. Let us hope so!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Carol Anne Grayson wrote:

    This is very promising indeed, all prayers for Shaker…

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Marion Heads wrote:

    Let’s hope that this comes to pass and Shaker finally comes home – my thoughts are with his family, friends, supporters and those who work tirelessly for not only Shaker but all the brave men in Guantanamo

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Carol and Marion. Great to hear from you both. We certainly do seem to be inching closer to the day of Shaker’s long, long, long overdue release.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Peter B. Collins wrote:

    it’s about bloody time!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    It certainly is, Peter​. As I mentioned recently, I was looking back at my earliest articles about Shaker – they were in 2007! This was a day at which his daughter spoke:
    And this was my article about Gordon Brown asking for the return of the British residents, when he took over from Tony Blair, who refused to ask for their return:

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    And this is Clive’s hilarious response to a letter from a military official at Guantanamo claiming that Shaker’s lawyers had smuggled underwear into the prison for Shaker and another client:

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote:

    Finally! Disgusting it took so long! Thank you, Andy.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Dejanka​. It should be noted that there’s no definite timeline for Shaker’s release or any kind of official confirmation that he will indeed be freed. As the Morning Star reported this morning, “a Reprieve spokeswoman told the Star that Mr Stafford Smith ‘did caveat what he said quite heavily — there have been positive noises and we are optimistic, but there’s no confirmation or timeline or anything like that.'”

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    The Daily Mail today features a column by Andy Slaughter, one of the MPs who visited the US last week to call for Shaker’s release:

    In the introduction to Andy’s article, the Mail notes that Shaker wrote, in his latest letter, “I was shocked to see how much these MPs really care, really engage and ask the smart questions. I love these good people, not only for asking to release me, but for their effort to close Guantanamo, and how much they are against it.”

    Here’s an excerpt from Andy’s column:

    He [Shaker] was cleared for transfer to Saudi Arabia. Why then not to the UK? Perhaps the US authorities think life will be too soft here and opportunities for talking about his experience greater. But if they genuinely suspect he is a risk and needs either de-radicalising or to be monitored or controlled, the UK has a much better track record than Saudi or many other countries. None of the 15 Guantanamo inmates so far returned here has been involved in seditious acts.

    Seeking answers to our questions, we found them reflected back at us. None of the eminent and well-connected Democrat Senators – Feinstein, Leahy, Durbin and Manchin – could offer any explanation. However, this made them all enthusiastic to raise Shaker’s case with Obama and his Defense Secretary, in whose gift the transfer currently lies.

    The second reason for our visit was to lobby directly John McCain. No friend of Obama and a hardliner on the so-called ‘war on terror’, he was nevertheless entirely sympathetic and I think persuaded. Whether this stems from his affection for the US-UK alliance or his own experience of torture and imprisonment by the Viet Cong, McCain promised to take up Shaker’s case. The importance of which is that it gives Obama cover against an increasingly dominant and shrill Republican Congress.

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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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