Celebrating Eight Years Since the Release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the Last British Resident in the Prison


Shaker Aamer and Andy Worthington in July 2016.

Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.


Eight years ago today, I was awoken in the morning, while it was still dark, by a phone call from my friend and colleague Joanne MacInnes, telling me that she was at Biggin Hill airport, where Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, was arriving by plane, a free man after nearly 14 years in US custody, almost all of it spent without charge or trial at Guantánamo, where he was regularly held in solitary confinement, and where he railed relentlessly against the injustice of his imprisonment.

It was the cumulation of over nine years, on my part, of writing about and campaigning for Shaker’s release, which began in 2006 when I was researching my book The Guantánamo Files, in which I told, for the first time, the stories of around 450 of the 779 men held at Guantánamo by the US military since the prison opened in January 2002, and noted that Shaker was an “enormously charismatic figure”, who, as a result, was regarded with great suspicion by the authorities.

After I completed the manuscript for the book in May 2007, one of the first events about Guantánamo that I attended was ‘Shaker Aamer, A South London Man in Guantánamo: The Children Speak’, held in south London on June 29, 2007, at which Shaker’s daughter Johina, then nine years old, spoke, as did Marium Begg, the daughter of Shaker’s friend Moazzam Begg, also held in Guantánamo, who had been released in January 2005.

In the months and years that followed, I worked assiduously for the release of Shaker and the other five British residents still held at Guantánamo, celebrating as, in turn, they were all released, in March 2007, in December 2007, and in February 2009, when Shaker assumed the dubious status of being the last British resident still imprisoned. In October 2009, ‘Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo’, a documentary film that I co-directed with the film-maker Polly Nash, was released, which featured Shaker’s story, and in 2010 I toured extensively with the film, often accompanied by another former prisoner, Omar Deghayes, whose in-depth testimony stood firmly at the heart of the film’s power.

As governments and home secretaries came and went, the campaigning continued, with an e-petition to the British government launched in April 2012. This required 100,000 signatures to be collected over the course of the following twelve months to make it eligible for a Parliamentary debate, and, as a result, Muslim campaigners up and down the country spent their Saturdays setting up stalls and collecting signatures, helping the petition to reach its target, but leading only to a frustratingly inconclusive backbench debate in Parliament on April 24, 2013.

Throughout this time, I had also become involved with the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, who held regular vigils outside Parliament calling for his release, and at a Parliamentary meeting on December 10, 2013, Human Rights Day, hosted by John McDonnell MP, a staunch supporter of the campaign, and also attended by other MPs, while Shaker’s lawyer Clive Stafford Smith and myself were competing to create campaign ideas, I countered Clive’s suggestion that what was needed was for a brave campaigner to navigate the River Thames outside MI6’s headquarters in a small boat filled with fake blood, by suggesting another idea: for a giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer that would pop up, like the elephant in the room, haunting government ministers wherever they went.

In practical terms, of course, this would have led to instant arrest, but fortunately one person in the audience, Joanne MacInnes, mentioned at the start of this article, was so enthused by the idea that she approached me afterwards and offered to pay to have an inflatable figure made. It then took some time fo us to work out what to do with it, but as another autumn came around, and the Parliamentary aspect of the campaign took off, with John McDonnell, encouraged by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, establishing an All-Party Parliamentary Group for Shaker, Jo and I decided to use the inflatable figure as the centrepiece of a separate campaign, We Stand With Shaker, encouraging politicians and celebrities to have photos taken with the figure to raise Shaker’s profile.

I’m not sure that campaigners ever know if a gimmick will pay off, or fall flat on its face, but in Shaker’s case the inflatable figure evidently struck a chord, as, accompanied by Jo’s tenacious persuasiveness, public figures began queuing up to be photographed. Over the next eleven months, until Shaker was freed, MPs and celebrities featured in a grand total of 100 photos, some of which are posted below.

Top row: Roger Waters, Joanne MacInnes and Andy Worthington at launch of We Stand With Shaker, Clive Stafford Smith, Caroline Lucas MP and Diane Abbott MP. Bottom row: Benjamin Zephaniah, Frankie Boyle, the late Bruce Kent and Dominic Grieve MP.
Top row: The late Jeremy Hardy, Helena Kennedy, John Pilger and John McDonnell MP. Bottom row: Ken Loach, Juliet Stevenson, Mark Thomas and Mark Rylance.
Top row: Mike Leigh, Maxine Peake and Vanessa Redgrave. Bottom row: Peter Oborne, Sara Pascoe and Rhys Ifans. On the right: Shaker Aamer with Shaker Aamer on January 9, 2016 outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square.

Throughout the last year of Shaker’s imprisonment, pressure for his release came from an extraordinary number of directions. When we launched We Stand With Shaker, on November 24, 2014, with the support of Roger Waters, Peter Oborne, then an influential journalist at the Daily Telegraph, wrote an article, published on the same day, calling for his release, in which he stated, “His continued incarceration in Guantánamo Bay is — by any standards of justice and decency — a stinking scandal.”

Two weeks later, on December 11, 2014, the Daily Mail also endorsed the campaign for Shaker’s release, devoting the whole of its front page to an article with the headline, “Held in a hell-hole for 13 years without trial”, along with a two-page article inside, and an editorial, ‘Stain of shame on the land of Magna Carta’, calling for Shaker’s release, and stating that he “may be a bad man. Or he may be innocent. Yet NOTHING justifies holding him in a concrete hell for 13 years without trial.”

In March 2015, the long-delayed Parliamentary debate, which should have taken place two years before, finally took place, with, memorably, Tobias Ellwood, a junior minister in the Foreign Office, speaking for the British government, and supporting a 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 promising that the government was “absolutely committed” to securing his release

In May 2015, another extraordinary intervention took place when four MPs — the Tories David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and the Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Slaughter — visited the US, meeting with Senators including John McCain and Dianne Feinstein to call for Shaker’s release, and for US Independence Day on July 4, an open letter to President Obama, which I wrote, was signed by over 90 politicians and celebrities, including Boris Johnson, then the Mayor of London.

The last push for Shaker’s release came after he was told that he would be freed on September 25, but not trusting the US government to be true to its word, Jo and I, encouraged by Clive, came up with another initiative, Fast for Shaker, which we launched on October 15, and which involved numerous people fasting in solidarity with Shaker, who had embarked on a hunger strike — one of many he had undertaken throughout his imprisonment — to make sure that the Biden administration didn’t conveniently forget its promise to free him.

The day of Shaker’s release was the busiest day of my life, as I undertook dozens of media interviews — some by phone, others in a succession of TV and radio studios — but the best day by far came a few weeks later, when Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, who by now, of course, were, respectively, the leader of the Labour Party and the Shadow Chancellor, held a welcoming party for him in the Houses of Parliament, which was where I met him for the very first time, and where he told me that it was a story I had written years before that had helped him to be freed from solitary confinement in a particularly harsh prison block at Guantánamo.

Since then, and after a round of media interviews, Shaker has largely avoided publicity, and has quietly got on with rebuilding his life, particularly through having had to get to know his children, who had become teenagers during his long absence. However, he has often responded to requests for support, as my campaigning work has continued, in which I have relentlessly pressed on with calls for the release of prisoners and the eventual closure of the prison.

I’ve been particularly thinking about Shaker on this anniversary, because, last Sunday, I was invited to take part in an event in Conway Hall, in London, entitled, ‘Grassroots Protest: Activism From Below’, in which I discussed the We Stand With Shaker campaign — and the wider campaign to get Guantánamo closed — with the inspiring Leila Hassan, part of the Race Today Collective in the 1970s and ’80s, who I had never met before. It was a great pleasure to meet Leila, who spoke compellingly about her involvement in the National Black People’s Day of Action in 1981, which took place in response to the New Cross Fire, in which 13 young black people died, and which, as the Guardian explained in an interview with her in 2020, “is considered to be a turning point in black British identity.”

Andy Worthington speaking at ‘Grassroots Protest: Activism From Below’, at Conway Hall in London on October 22, 2023.

The whole event was very powerful, with the spectre of genocide hanging over it as the death toll mounted in Gaza, prompting some very deep and urgent questions about the dangerous right-wing trends in modern life, and the role of protest in challenge it. I was also obliged to reflect on the sad truth that, if the campaign for Shaker Aamer were to happen now, it is unlikely that it would receive cross-party support, or that the right-wing media would support it, demonstrating quite how far we have drifted towards intolerance over the last eight years, and how worrying it that Islamophobia is once more on the rise, even more alarmingly, in some ways, than it was in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. I hope that some or all of the video of the event will be available in some form in the near future so that these views can reach a wider audience, and also to make a stand against the new repression sweeping through our institutions and our media, where critical voices are being suddenly and savagely suppressed.

Thanks, as always for your interest in this work, and please see below for the version of my ’Song for Shaker Aamer’ that I played in Washington, D.C in January 2016, celebrating Shaker’s release. There’s also a studio recording with my band The Four Fathers here.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer (of an ongoing photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London’), film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (see the ongoing photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison 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 you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.50).

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and, in 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to try to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody.

Since 2019, Andy has become increasingly involved in environmental activism, recognizing that climate change poses an unprecedented threat to life on earth, and that the window for change — requiring a severe reduction in the emission of all greenhouse gases, and the dismantling of our suicidal global capitalist system — is rapidly shrinking, as tipping points are reached that are occurring much quicker than even pessimistic climate scientists expected. You can read his articles about the climate crisis here.

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, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions 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.

11 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, remembering the long campaign to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantanamo, who was finally released eight years ago, on October 30, 2015.

    As part of this story, I discuss in particular the history of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, involving photos of MPs and celebrities standing with an inflatable figure of Shaker, which I ran with the activist Joanne MacInnes in the last year of Shaker’s imprisonment.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia Rivera Scott wrote:

    I had the memory of his release today in Facebook with the photo of his awesome smile! I am very happy to have been a small part of the campaign for his release. You are a hero, Andy. What you did is marked in a lot of hearts.
    Love the photo of you 2 together!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the lovely words, Natalia. It was an extraordinary time working for Shaker’s release, and especially that last campaign-filled year, and I was so proud of so many British people for supporting the calls for Shaker’s return to the UK. I used to say that the US government should have released him much sooner, if only to silence the Brits, who were by far and away the most vociferous nation when it came to opposing Guantanamo’s existence.

    After Shaker was freed, of course, it was impossible to keep up this kind of momentum, and while I’m proud of the work I did, with many others, to keep up the pressure on Obama in his last year in office, it’s sad to reflect on how so much of the positivity of that time has been drained away by the emergence or resurgence of the far-right, in the US under Trump, and in the UK because of Brexit, which has poisoned both our countries to an alarming extent, and which, of course, we’re now seeing reflected in their supposedly less extreme Democrat/Labour successors – ‘Genocide Joe’ Biden and the Zionist-loving Keir Starmer. These are, genuinely, very dark and dangerous times.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    What a great story, David, with a dark sub-text, of course – that Shaker needed to be seen by a trustworthy medical professional after 14 years of not being able to trust those who were responsible for his medical needs. How shameful that, eight years later, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the UN Rapporteur, found on her visit that nothing has changed: https://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2023/06/30/after-first-ever-guantanamo-visit-un-rapporteur-finds-dehumanized-traumatized-men-subjected-to-cruel-inhuman-and-degrading-treatment-that-may-rise-to-the-level-of-torture/

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    David Nicholl wrote:

    Even darker sub text, Andy. Plan A was to use a prominent private hospital in London for discretion. We had it all sorted with senior staff at said private hospital (which is part of a multinational hospital chain). 48h before Shaker was due to arrive (and I had no guarantee that it would be in that 48h), plan A went up in flames as the person I had been speaking to was off for half term. The next person up the food chain was the US owner of the multinational who did not want Shaker coming to their clinic, and they owned about 40% of private hospital beds in London. Hurriedly plan B had to be put into action whilst I was in a remote part of Northern Ireland with a dodgy mobile phone signal. Stressful+++ Plan B = discrete rented flat then whizzed him to a different clinic as an outpatient booked under a pseudonym. Why the hell we have him the pseudonym ‘Philip Marlowe’ (from Raymond Chandler ‘The Big Sleep’) I have no idea, but I got a very strange look from Shaker when the nurse went to take some blood: ‘Hello Mr Marlowe’.

    14 years of not being called by your real name by any health care professional (all detainees were called by their ISN number never their name) and first time you get to safety, you have a nurse calling you by the name of a fictional private detective?

    Weird but true!

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    What an extraordinary story, David. I hadn’t heard all of that before. With hindsight, Shaker was not only fortunate to have had you and Clive and others looking after him, he was also fortunate that this was in 2015 and not 2023. I can’t see that the successful efforts to get him back – in which numerous Tory MPs played a part – would even have happened in post-Brexit Britain, and I think it’s important for people to reflect on that to gauge quite how steep the descent of the Tory government into a moral abyss of hatred, racism and xenophobia has been over the last seven years.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia Rivera Scott wrote:

    Andy, I know. It’s discouraging and we are living in way more horrible times …

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    There’s definitely a battle for the very soul of the west happening right now, Natalia, in which the US appears to have been lost completely to the darkness, and many countries of the EU – and the miserable untethered UK – are also at risk of sliding into fascism. Gaza is a bellwether. If those who retain their humanity don’t definitively sever all support for any and all politicians and media editors who either support the genocide or think it’s still relevant to try to report ‘even-handedly’ (even though that persistently ends up endorsing Israel’s actions), collective punishment, genocide and ethnic cleansing will become normalised, with devastating repercussions for all ethnic minorities in western countries, and all refugees seeking asylum – and, in short order, I think, for everyone who supports or even expresses support for these demonised minorities.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Karina Friedemann wrote:

    God Bless You Bro!!! Unforgettable you.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your lovely supportive words, Karina, and for your generosity in supporting my work. Sorry I didn’t thank you before.

Leave a Reply

Back to the top

Back to home page

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).
Email Andy Worthington

CD: Love and War

The Four Fathers on Bandcamp

The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

Outside The Law DVD cover

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo


Posts & Comments

World Wide Web Consortium



Powered by WordPress

Designed by Josh King-Farlow

Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist:


In Touch

Follow me on Facebook

Become a fan on Facebook

Subscribe to me on YouTubeSubscribe to me on YouTube

The State of London

The State of London. 16 photos of London

Andy's Flickr photos



Tag Cloud

Abu Zubaydah Al-Qaeda Andy Worthington British prisoners Center for Constitutional Rights CIA torture prisons Close Guantanamo Donald Trump Four Fathers Guantanamo Housing crisis Hunger strikes London Military Commission NHS NHS privatisation Periodic Review Boards Photos President Obama Reprieve Shaker Aamer The Four Fathers Torture UK austerity UK protest US courts Video We Stand With Shaker WikiLeaks Yemenis in Guantanamo