Shaker Aamer, Freed from Guantánamo, Is Reunited With His Family


Andy Worthington's band The Four Fathers welcome Shaker Aamer back home from Guantanamo.Now that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident held in the US prison at Guantánamo, is back home in the UK, we are beginning to hear some information about his health, and his reunion with his family. Shaker arrived at Biggin Hill Airport on Friday and was then taken to a secret location — a clinic — for a medical evaluation after years of medical neglect in Guantánamo, where, on Saturday, he was reunited with his family, his wife and his four children, who are all British citizens. A Saudi by birth, Shaker was granted residency in the UK in 1996.

The Mail on Sunday had the first story of Shaker being reunited with his family, noting that, on Saturday, he “finally embraced the teenaged son he had never seen yesterday in a tearful meeting on his first full day of freedom in 14 years.” Faris, Shaker’s youngest child, was born on February 14, 2002, the day Shaker arrived at Guantánamo, and the meeting, as the MoS explained, “came at a London clinic” where Shaker, who has four children with his British wife, “is being treated for a catalogue of physical and psychological illnesses.” Faris was joined by Johina, who turned 18 last week, and Michael, 16, and Saif, 15.

The Mail on Sunday also explained that, as Shaker arrived back in the UK, “more details emerged about the arrangements being made for his new life — and his continuing fears for his safety.” The article stated that a “private London Hospital owned by an American firm — the Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) — refused to treat him at the last minute,” that Shaker “was so worried about being poisoned by his American captors that he didn’t dare eat or drink anything during his private jet flight home,” and that a “£1 million compensation package has already been agreed with the UK government” after his long ordeal of nearly 14 years held without charge or trial and subjected to torture and abuse, and years of solitary confinement.

The MoS also noted that a Metropolitan Police investigation into his claims of British complicity in his torture, which were first aired in a UK court in 2009, “has been closed down, but could be restarted now that he is free.”

The newspaper also claimed that Shaker “will be closely monitored by British security services though there are unlikely to be restrictions on his freedom of movement” — although to my mind the second half of that claim rather tends to contradict the first. I doubt, actually, that Shaker will be subjected to significant close monitoring, above and beyond the casually sweeping monitoring of communication that, I have no doubt, is already in place for anyone of interest to the British government, but nor do I expect him to do anything untoward, because he has persistently demonstrated in his comments from Guantánamo that he has no interest in any sort of violence.

A key member of Shaker’s medical team, it has now been publicly revealed, is consultant neurologist and human rights campaigner Dr. David Nicholl, from Hagley, near Birmingham, who is the main source of information about Shaker in these early days of his freedom. Dr. Nicholl told the MoS that Shaker’s medical team also “involves another four specialists.”

The first doctor to see Shaker on his return, Dr. Nicholl also explained how “plans for his care were thrown into chaos when the private hospital where he had been due to be treated in seclusion abruptly withdrew its co-operation only four days before his return.”

“The medical staff in this country were fantastic,” he said, “and there was no question of them not being able to meet his needs. Then on Monday the decision was suddenly taken to pull out, saying it wasn’t the right place for him.”

He said he concluded that “the decision not to accept Mr. Aamer had been taken by HCA in the US,” as the MoS described it. “Everybody in the UK was happy,” he said. “Nothing had changed with his clinical status. Somebody made this decision.”

A spokesman for HCA denied this claim, claiming that it had been a medical decision rather than a political one, but did not, evidently, provide further explanation.

Dr. Nicholl also raid that Shaker now had “very serious problems trusting doctors after what happened to him at Gitmo,” where, as the MoS put it, “Doctors supervised force feeding when he was on hunger strike, and medical staff forcibly took his blood,” and where he “was also given five times the normal dose of the controversial anti-malarial drug Mefloquine on arrival at Guantánamo in 2002.”

The newspaper added, “The US military stopped using it after it was linked to psychotic episodes in which soldiers who had been given it went on the rampage,” adding, “There is no risk of malaria in Cuba.”

Dr. Nicholl also explained that Shaker is “suffering from severe, intense headaches, sciatica and back pain, and was undergoing a battery of tests,” which “included a range of toxicological tests to confirm he had not been poisoned.” He said that Shaker’s distrust of US personnel was such that he “did not eat or drink anything after boarding the plane at Guantánamo. He was still fearful that they might spike it with something, even at this very late stage.”

He also said that Shaker recognised that “the psychological impact of what he’s been through is going to be at least as big as the physical one. He really has been to hell and back.”

However, he added, Shaker “has still got a fantastic sense of humour and a beaming smile,” although he “looks a lot older than he does in the familiar pictures. That might just be helpful, because it means it’s going to be easier to do what he most needs — to live quietly with his family beneath the publicity radar.”

Dr. Nicholl also said that when Shaker arrived, he had almost no luggage, just “a small red carry-on holdall containing all his worldly goods from 14 years of imprisonment.” The baggage tag, he added, “had ‘Prisoner 239’ on it,” his prison number in Guantánamo, by which was known throughout his imprisonment, “rather than his name.” As Dr. Nicholl explained, “So far as the Americans were concerned, that’s who he was, right to the end.”

In contrast, “when he boarded his [British] flight home, the captain shook his hand and said: ‘Welcome aboard, Mr Aamer.’”

Gareth Peirce also spoke briefly to the MoS, stating, “He’s got three priorities. His wife, his children, and his medical condition. That is all I can say.”

The Mail on Sunday also noted how Shaker’s participation in a civil claim for damages against the British government in 2010, along with all the released prisoners, was “partly settled” in a deal “brokered by former Cabinet minister Ken Clarke” in 2010, adding, “Under the terms of the settlement, 16 British citizens and residents held at Guantánamo Bay between 2002 and 2010 [including Shaker] agreed to drop their torture claims against the UK government in return for payments of up to £1 million each.”

The Mail on Sunday also noted that a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police said they would “consider any further evidence” relating to Shaker’s “specific allegation that British secret agents were complicit in his torture while he was being held by the Americans in Afghanistan and Guantánamo,” claims central to his 2009 court case, and to an investigation by the Metropolitan Police that led to officers traveling to Guantánamo to interview him — in particular about his claim that, as the MoS put it, “a British officer from MI5 or MI6 was present when he was interrogated and when his head was being banged ‘against a wall’” by US operatives.

Shaker’s US lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of Reprieve, said that Shaker “was not interested in money and not looking to persecute anyone for what had happened to him.” He also said that Shaker “would have known he was about to be freed when he was asked to change from his orange jumpsuit into a white one.” As he explained, “That is the moment most prisoners finally smell freedom. Then it becomes real that they are going home.”

Stourbridge News had more on Dr. Nicholl’s role, noting that he was “one of the first people” Shaker wanted to meet, because he “had done almost everything he could conceive, from running marathons to going on hunger strike, to try and keep Mr. Aamer’s plight in the public eye.”

Dr. Nicholl said he was “still in a state of shock” after meeting Shaker. he explained that he will likely “have psychological demons that will last for years,” but added, “He’s a really nice guy; he’s got a lovely sense of humour, he’s very determined and he’s so grateful for all the work that everyone’s done.”

He added, “I feel my job is done. I wanted him to be in a position that he could present himself as a witness to the police not as a terror suspect. Whatever people think about Shaker Aamer no person should be in prison for 13 years without charge. We have a right to a fair trial; it’s a fundamental policy of democracy.”

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, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), 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).

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 six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and 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, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

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5 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, providing an update on Shaker Aamer’s first days back in the UK, mainly via the Mail on Sunday and mainly via Dr. David Nicholl, the neurologist and human rights campaigner who has been working to free Shaker for even longer then me, and is now heading his medical team. Some poignant comments about Shaker – how he “has still got a fantastic sense of humour and a beaming smile,” although he “looks a lot older than he does in the familiar pictures.” Great to know that Shaker is in such good hands!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Javier Rodriguez wrote:

    Thanks for sharing! You’re right – it is good to know that Shaker is in such good hands.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Javier. Good to hear from you.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    David Nicholl wrote:

    Great Victoria Derbyshire piece at 1h 7min 20 seconds (to reiterate there will be no running commentary on ongoing medical issues….so do NOT ask)

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Well, I’m hoping, David, that everyone here will respect that. It’s the less principled end of the tabloid/paparazzi market that I think we have to worry about. Good to hear from you. I was delighted when I heard about your responsibility for Shaker’s care. Looking forward to meeting him in due course.

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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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