Andy Worthington Calls for the Release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, Parliament Square

Andy Worthington | July 18, 2013

Please sign the international petition calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer!

Last Thursday, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign — dedicated to securing the release from Guantánamo of the last British resident in the prison — held its final vigil outside Parliament prior to MPs’ summer recess. The campaigners had been holding lunchtime vigils on weekdays since May, and I was delighted to turn up to show my support. Please see below for a three-minute video in which I explained why the vigil was taking place, which was recorded by a representative of the PCS union.

It is, of course, outrageous that Shaker is still held, as he was cleared for release under President  Bush in 2007, and again under President Obama in January 2010, along with 85 of the other 166 men still held. Opportunistic opposition to the release of prisoners by lawmakers in Congress, and shameful inaction on the part of President Obama are responsible for keeping these 86 men in Guantánamo.

Moreover, there are still no signs that any of the men will be released, even though they have been on a hunger strike to highlight their plight since February, and two months ago President Obama, responding to unparalleled criticism internationally and domestically, promised to resume releasing prisoners.

I can scarcely express my disappointment with President Obama, who should not have promised to resume releasing prisoners if he had no intention of doing so, and who will be remembered for his cowardice and hypocrisy unless he is true to his word. Furthermore, in the recently released “Final Dispositions” of President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force (dated January 22, 2010, but only made publicly available on June 17, 2013), it appears that campaigners’ and lawyers’ long-held fears that the US is intent on sending Shaker back to Saudi Arabia, the country of his birth, and not the UK, are true.

The entry for Shaker recommends, “Transfer to [redacted], subject to appropriate security measures, including [redacted],” and it appears that the space for the destination county is the right size for “Saudi Arabia” but not “United Kingdom.” This also corresponds to distressing rumors we have been hearing about for many years.

None of this lets the British government off the hook, as it remains imperative that ministers secure his release here, to be reunited with his British wife and British children, rather than in Saudi Arabia, where he may well be imprisoned and prohibited from being reunited with his family.

The obligation is on the British government, not just because Shaker was given indefinite leave to remain in the UK, and not just because of ministers’ failure to secure his release for the last eleven and half years, but also because the Metropolitan Police have been investigating Shaker’s claim, accepted by a British court in December 2009, that British agents were present while he was abused by US operatives in a prison in Afghanistan shortly after his capture.

When Parliament reconvenes, we will be pressing the government to make clear that they will accept nothing less than Shaker’s return to the UK — and that they will be actively pushing for it, and not accepting whatever nonsense the Americans have come up with.

I do wonder how much longer this disgraceful state of affairs can continue, but while it does, it makes a mockery of claims by either the US or the UK government that they are countries that respect the rule of law. Shaker, as a passionate and eloquent advocate for the rights of the prisoners, may embarrass both governments through his knowledge of what has taken place at Guantánamo and elsewhere in the “war on terror,” but they both need to understand that they will have to live with that.

Shaker Aamer needs to be released, and he needs to be released now.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison. This video and accompanying article originally appeared at andyworthington.co.uk.