On January 2009, Obama said: "I don't want to be ambiguous about this. We are going to close Guantánamo." He hasn't, and British resident Shaker Aamer is still there.
28 May 2011
Demonstration outside Buckingham Palace when Obama was guest of the Queen
Amnesty International's UK Director Kate Allen wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron “calling on him to raise the case of the Guantánamo detainee Shaker Aamer when he meets US President Barack Obama”.
The last British resident in Guantánamo, with a British wife and four British children who live in Battersea, Shaker Aamer has been held without charge or trial in America’s notorious “War on Terror” prison for over nine years, despite being told that he had been approved for transfer in 2007.
In WikiLeaks’ recent release of classified military documents relating to almost all of the 779 prisoners who have been held at Guantánamo throughout its long history (171 of whom remain), the reasons for Shaker Aamer’s continued detention were revealed as the paranoid sham that they have always been.
Because of his principled stand regarding the prisoners’ rights, and because of his fluency in English, his charisma and his influence, Shaker Aamer has persistently been regarded as a threat by the US authorities, even though most of the supposed evidence against him in his file consists of statements made by some of the most notoriously unreliable witnesses in Guantánamo and the CIA’s network of secret prisons — namely, the “high-value detainee” and torture victim Abu Zubaydah, who “identified [him] as a member of al-Qaeda,” the Saudi Abd al-Hakim Bukhari, who had been imprisoned by al-Qaeda as a spy, before his transfer to Guantánamo, who claimed that he was “a special interpreter for UBL [Osama bin Laden] and the only person close to UBL who was fluent in English and Arabic,” and who also claimed that he “belonged to an al-Qaeda cell in London,” and the notorious Yemeni informant Yasim Basardah, who made false allegations against dozens of prisoners.
Basardah claimed that Shaker “was an important officer and was a close associate of UBL in Tora Bora,” the showdown that took place between al-Qaeda and the US military’s Afghan allies in December 2001. Basardah was also the source for the long-standing and ridiculous claim that Shaker Aamer’s family “received a monthly stipend” from Osama bin Laden.
As Amnesty International noted in its news release, foreign secretary William Hague and the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg “have both raised Aamer’s plight with members of the US administration in the last six months, and the British government maintains that it is doing all it can to secure his return.” On 31 March, William Hague raised Shaker’s case again, stating that he was pressing the US to return him “to put right some of the damage caused to Britain’s moral authority by allegations of complicity in torture and in rendition leading to torture,” and on April 27, Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt told the BBC that it was “frustrating” dealing with the US government about Shaker Aamer’s case.
“The best and the right thing we can do is to make sure we have contact at the highest level — that’s why the foreign secretary has raised it with Secretary Clinton,” Burt said, adding, “That’s why he will do so again, very shortly and will do so when Mrs. Clinton is in the United Kingdom for a more extended period of time in May.”
He also explained, “It’s why the Deputy Prime Minister is taking it up. We believe we are doing the very best that we can by trying to meet any objections the United States might have and putting the case for Shaker Aamer to return to the United Kingdom.”
As also noted in its news release, Amnesty International has been campaigning for Shaker Aamer to “receive a fair trial or be released back to his wife and children in the UK,” a process which I am pleased to have been part of, having begun an ongoing UK tour in February, mostly of student Amnesty groups, showing the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (which I co-directed with Polly Nash, and which features Shaker prominently), and encouraging viewers to send postcards to the US State Department, seeking Shaker’s release, as well as writing to William Hague.
I have also pointed out that Britain’s heel-dragging on this issue is both inexplicable and unacceptable, as the British government negotiated a compensation deal for Shaker, as well as 15 former prisoners, last year, which was announced in November, and which cannot, of course, be concluded in Shaker’s case while he remains in Guantánamo.
As I have also pointed out repeatedly, the inquiry into British complicity in torture abroad, which David Cameron announced last July, cannot proceed without Shaker’s presence, but only because he is a prime witness to some of the claims that the inquiry will have to address, but also because a Metropolitan Police inquiry into his claims that he was tortured in US custody in Afghanistan, prior to his transfer to Guantánamo, while British agents were present in the room, cannot, realistically, conclude without him, and, as the PM has acknowledged, the inquiry cannot begin while the Met’s investigations are ongoing.
Despite all this, however, as Amnesty notes, Shaker Aamer’s case “remains unresolved, with no timetable for either a trial or release.”
In her letter to David Cameron Kate Allen referred to the “unreasonably prolonged delay in either bringing Shaker Aamer to trial or in releasing him,” and also stated:
This visit is an ideal opportunity for David Cameron to say that enough is enough in the case of Shaker Aamer. The Prime Minister ought to make it absolutely clear that this country will not accept the indefinite detention without trial of one of its residents.
President Obama has recently lauded those in the Middle East who’ve taken to the streets ‘to demand their basic human rights’, yet he’s denying basic human rights to people like Shaker Aamer at Guantánamo.
Guantánamo has been a travesty of justice and the shoddy treatment of Shaker Aamer has been one of the worst cases at the camp. It’s time for Mr. Cameron to remind the President of his promise to close the camp but also ensure that the President gets the message that Shaker Aamer’s case must be resolved.
Note: Readers who wish to do more can find a letter here to William Hague (which I wrote in November), and campaigners can order postcards to William Hague and to Shaker in Guantánamo here. In addition, readers can also follow the links here to encourage their MPs to sign up to an Early Day Motion regarding the closure of Guantánamo and the return of Shaker Aamer that was introduced by our only Green MP, the excellent Caroline Lucas: Urge Your MP to Sign Caroline Lucas’ Early Day Motion Calling for the Return of Shaker Aamer and the Closure of Guantánamo.
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