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Tell the UK government we need a deadline for the return of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo Featured

Written by Andy Worthington Friday, 17 December 2010
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Shaker Aamer and two of his children. Shaker Aamer and two of his children.

Andy Worthington points out that incessant pressure on the UK and US governments is required to secure Shaker Aamer's return.

 

From the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, based in the home borough of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo Bay, comes news of the latest information regarding Shaker's return from Guantánamo, via an exchange in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
 
Anas Sarwar, the Labour MP for Glasgow Central, asked, "Will the Foreign Secretary update the House on what recent discussions he has had with his US counterparts on the planned closure of Guantánamo Bay and the return of the remaining detainees to their home countries, including Shaker Aamer, who has been held for nine years without trial?"
 
In response, Foreign Secretary William Hague said, "I raised this with Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton on my last visit to Washington a few weeks ago, I think on 17 November -- I mentioned specifically the case of Shaker Aamer. My right hon. friend the Deputy Prime Minister [Nick Clegg] also raised that case with Secretary Clinton, when he met her in Astana in Kazakhstan a couple of weeks ago, so the US Administration are very clear about where we stand and, indeed, our overall position on the closure of Guantánamo Bay. That is going through a process of examination in the State Department and in other US Government Departments, but they are in no doubt of our request."
 
Following this exchange, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign asked, "So what's new? In July 2009 members of the public who had raised this issue with Foreign Secretary David Miliband received the following reply from the Home Office's Counter-Terrorism Office: 'The UK has already taken steps to help reduce the number of detainees at the detention facility and it is on this basis that we have requested the release and return of the former legal UK resident Mr. Shaker Aamer in August 2007. The US has so far declined to agree Mr. Aamer’s return to the UK in the light of security concerns they have in his case. We have made clear to the new administration that the UK’s request for his release and return to the UK still stands should their position change. We maintain dialogue with the US regarding his welfare and keep his family and legal representatives appraised of any developments.'"
 
It is indeed unaccaptable that the British government can secure nothing more than a statement from the US State Department that Shaker's case is "going through a process of examination." The time for examination is over, and the time for chartering a plane and flying Shaker back to the UK -- and to his wife and family -- is long overdue.
 
If William Hague wants to ensure that he and his government are not regarded as thoroughtly impotent when it comes to Transatlantic relations, he needs to set a deadline for Shaker Aamer's release with his counterparts in the State Department. It is not as though the British government does not have a number of levers. When ministers recently agreed a financial settlement with 15 former Guantánamo prisoners, to bring to a halt a civil claim for damages that promised to reveal disturbing information about the activities of both the British and the American governments, Shaker was also part of that agreement, even though he cannot conclude any relevant business while he is still imprisoned in Guantánamo
 
Similarly, the British government will look foolish if it cannot conclude a Metropolitan Police investigation into Shaker's claims that British agents were present in the room in a US prison in Afghanistan, before his transfer to Guantánamo, when he was subjected to violent abuse (as was revealed in a British court a year ago), and, more importantly, will be further discredited if ministers cannot launch the judicial inquiry into British complicity in torture abroad, which Prime Minister David Cameron announced in July, and which he wants to use to "draw a line" under the whole sordid affair. It cannot have escaped the attention of ministers that the conclusion of the police investigation and the launch of the judicial inquiry both depend on Shaker being present in the UK to provide evidence, and that, the longer the delay in his return, the more untrustworthy they appear.
 
Spelling out a number of responses to the seeming inability of the British government to secure Shaker Aamer's immediate return to the UK, the Save Shaker Aamer Camaign not only raised the pertinent question about setting a deadline, but also dealt with the troublesome issue of Saudi Arabia, Shaker's home country before he gained permanent leave to remain in the UK, and married and had a family. 
 
For years, there have been dark suspicions that it would suit both the British and American governments to return Shaker to the country of his birth, where he would not be at liberty to divulge the secrets he knows about Guantánamo, gained during his long years as the foremost advocate of the rights of prisoners held in the "War on Terror" to be treated as human beings. The Save Shaker Aamer Campaign asked, "Has Williiam Hague made it absolutely clear that it would be unacceptable to Britain for the US to send Shaker Aamer to Saudi Arabia?" which is a pertinent question, even though, as outlined above, the British government's credibility is eroded every day that Shaker remains in Guantánamo
 
The campaigners also asked, "If not, what possible basis can there be for supposing that anything will come of the current request?" This, too, is a valid question, and serves to emphaize how everyone concerned with securing Shaker's return to the UK needs to maintain the pressure on both the British and American governments.
 
So please, if you care about bringing this long injustice to an end, write to William Hague asking him to raise the questions above, and write to your MP asking them to raise Shaker's plight with William Hague personally. Please also encourage your MP to sign up to the Early Day Motion tabled by Green MP Caroline Lucas, which calls for Shaker's return and the closure of Guantánamo, and also asks the British government to offer new homes to other cleared prisoners -- like former British resident Ahmed Belbacha -- who cannot be repatriated because they face the face the risk of torture in their home countries.
 
Also, please write to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Daniel Fried, President Obama's Special Envoy on Guantánamo. The following text (slightly amended) is from a campaign for Shaker launched by Amnesty International:
Please release former UK resident Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo Bay to be with his family in the UK. President Obama has committed to close Guantánamo. Returning Shaker Aamer to the UK, a safe country that is willing to take him and where his family lives, would be real progress towards closure.
This is Hillary Clinton's address:
 
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
U.S. Department of State 
2201 C Street NW 
Washington, DC 20520
USA
 
This is Daniel Fried's address:
 
Special Envoy Daniel Fried
US Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington DC, 20520
USA
 
Readers can also order free pre-printed postcards from the indefatigable activist Maryam Hassan (of the Justice for Aafia Coalition) to send to Wiiliam Hague and to Shaker himself in Guantánamo.
 
Andy Worthington is a Senior Researcher for Cageprisoners. He is also the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America's Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press) and the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the new documentary, "Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.” Visit his website here.
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