By Andy Worthington, June 8, 2015
Regular readers of "Close Guantánamo" will be aware of the case of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident still held in the prison at Guantánamo Bay. Shaker, a Saudi national who was given indefinite leave to remain in the UK, has a British wife and four British children, and is still held despite being approved for release under President Bush in 2007 and under President Obama in 2010.
I wrote about Shaker's case soon after the "Close Guantánamo" campaign and website was established, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo in January 2012. To mark the 10th anniversary of Shaker's arrival at Guantánamo, on February 14, 2012, I wrote an article entitled, 10 Years in Guantánamo: British Resident Shaker Aamer, Cleared for Release But Still Held.
One of his lawyers, Ramzi Kassem, then made available notes of his meetings with Shaker, which we published as two articles in April 2012, and again in October 2012, at Shaker's request. In October 2013, we published an exclusive article about Shaker's request for an independent medical evaluation, and also published Ramzi Kassem's supporting statement, and in April 2014, after that medical evaluation had been allowed, we followed up with an article about Shaker's ultimately unsuccessful request for a judge to order his release because of the findings by the expert, Dr. Emily Keram, that Shaker was suffering from a host of physical and psychological problems.
In November 2014, we also covered the launch of a new campaign, We Stand With Shaker, co-founded by Andy Worthington -- with the activist Joanne MacInnes. The centerpiece of the campaign is a giant inflatable figure of Shaker, which proved to be one of those gimmicks that grabs the public's attention. Over 70 MPs and celebrities (including writers, actors, musicians and comedians) have, to date, stood with the giant inflatable figure, and the campaign has been picked up on, and supported by prominent British media outlets including the Daily Mail.
In March, the newly-convened cross-party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group secured the government's backing for a motion calling for Shaker's release and return to the UK, and last month four MPs visited Washington D.C to repeat that call, meeting with Senators including John McCain and Dianne Feinstein, and Obama administration officials.
Despite being well-received, the MPs evidently felt that not enough has been done to secure Shaker's release, and so, in today's New York Times, they have a hard-hitting op-ed published, entitled "Obama’s Slap in Britain’s Face," in which they write that, although they are "unlikely political bedfellows from the left and right of British politics," who "agree on almost nothing," they are united in their demand for Shaker's immediate release and return to the U.K.
The MPs noted in particular that, although they heard during their visit that "Congress has prevented transfers," it was clear that, "under current legislation, Mr. Obama could give notice to Congress and then transfer Mr. Aamer 30 days later, as the British government has requested." The MPs also noted that they heard that there may be "security considerations" regarding Shaker's release, to which they responded, "Any suggestion that Britain does not have the legal structures, the security and intelligence skills, or the care capacity to address any issues with Mr. Aamer is deeply insulting."
Noting also that "[t]here is simply no reason, domestic or international, for the United States to keep Mr. Aamer in custody," the MPs concluded, "It is difficult for us to shake off the depressing notion that the Obama administration is indifferent to the repeated requests of the British government," adding that this is "a slap in the face for America’s staunchest friend."
Here at "Close Guantánamo," we wholeheartedly agree with the MPs, and hope that their op-ed leads to action to confirm, as we have been hearing suggested over the last few months, that Shaker will be freed soon. Below, we're posting the MPs' op-ed in its entirety.
Two weeks ago, we went to Washington to argue for the immediate release of Shaker Aamer, a detainee at Guantánamo Bay. Mr. Aamer’s wife and four children live in London but he has yet to meet his youngest child, Faris, who is now 13.
We are unlikely political bedfellows from the left and right of British politics. The four of us agree on almost nothing, with this exception: Mr. Aamer, a British permanent resident, must be freed and transferred to British soil immediately.
Mr. Aamer was picked up by the Northern Alliance in November 2001 in Afghanistan, where he was doing charity work, and sold for a bounty. He was taken to the notorious Bagram Prison, where he was brutally tortured, before being sent to Guantánamo in February 2002. In 2007, under President George W. Bush’s administration, he was cleared for release. In 2010, under President Obama, he was cleared for release again -- after an arduous process requiring unanimous agreement by six agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Departments of State and Defense.
We should never have had to make the trip to Washington. Earlier this year, during his visit to the United States, Prime Minister David Cameron asked Mr. Obama to release Mr. Aamer. The president promised to pursue the matter. On March 17, the House of Commons passed an unusual unanimous motion calling for Mr. Aamer’s immediate release and transfer to Britain. Since that time little, if anything, has been done by the United States.
We heard during our visit that "Congress has prevented transfers"; yet, under current legislation, Mr. Obama could give notice to Congress and then transfer Mr. Aamer 30 days later, as the British government has requested. We heard that there may be "security considerations." Any suggestion that Britain does not have the legal structures, the security and intelligence skills, or the care capacity to address any issues with Mr. Aamer is deeply insulting.
We are, after all, America’s most trusted ally, and have stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States, expending our blood and treasure, in two controversial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our troops are deployed together in our joint determination to defeat fundamentalist terrorism. Our government, from the prime minister on down, would not press this case with such determination if we believed that Mr. Aamer would put either our allies or our own citizens at risk.
We came to Washington to meet with Obama administration officials and senators to express the British Parliament’s anger that after twice being cleared for transfer, Mr. Aamer is nevertheless facing his 14th year of detention. We were astonished to find a similar degree of incomprehension among the senators we met from both parties. Though we appreciated their concern, their lack of knowledge about Mr. Aamer’s case indicates a troubling failure by the White House to communicate the importance of it.
Our impressions were confirmed during meetings with the president’s special envoys for the closure of Guantánamo. Although almost five months have passed since Mr. Cameron’s request to Mr. Obama, the Defense Department’s special envoy, Paul M. Lewis, and the State Department’s acting special envoy, Charles Trumbull, were unable to adequately answer our questions regarding a timeline for Mr. Aamer’s transfer.
This is a particularly unforgivable omission in Mr. Aamer’s case because he has never been charged with anything, has been twice cleared for transfer, and is suffering from ill health. Over a decade in Guantánamo would be a long punishment for any crime, if one had actually been committed. Fifteen other British detainees have recently been returned to us and none have been guilty of recidivism. Indeed, while our request for Mr. Aamer’s return has not yet been granted, the American government has seen fit to pay for the transfer of other detainees to Kazakhstan and Uruguay -- neither of which has a security or care structure equal to Britain’s. There is simply no reason, domestic or international, for the United States to keep Mr. Aamer in custody.
It is difficult for us to shake off the depressing notion that the Obama administration is indifferent to the repeated requests of the British government. It is a slap in the face for America’s staunchest friend.
These things matter in the war against terrorism. All four of us are senior members of Parliament who represent minority and Muslim communities in our constituencies. The scourge of terrorism will never be defeated unless we can win the hearts and minds of those who might be receptive to the terrorists’ message. And respect for justice and for the rule of law is essential in that battle.