Why Has Shaker Aamer Been Held At Guantanamo For So Very Long?

Democracy Now | October 23, 2015

In an interview with Democracy Now, Clive Stafford Smith, Shaker Aamer's attorney, was asked to elaborate on the point Shaker Aamer has made that his prolonged detention at Guantanamo — even though he has been cleared for release since 2007, — has been in part due to the fact that he witnessed the torture of the man whose torture-extracted testimony was cited by the Bush regime as justification for the devastating war on Iraq.

Partial transcript:

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to turn to the statement Shaker Aamer made to London’s Met Police detectives who were investigating British involvement in torture. The 2013 statement was only recently released. In it, Aamer said, quote, "I was a witness to the torture of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi in Bagram. His case seems to me to be particularly important, and my witnessing of it particularly relevant to my ongoing detention. He was there being abused at the same time I was. He was there being abused when the British came there. Clearly the fact that I was a witness to all this does not make the U.S. want to let me free, for fear that I may be a witness to one of the most colossal mistakes of all those made in the last 11 years." So could you talk about this, when this happened, his witnessing of this torture, and how much you think that’s been responsible for his ongoing detention?

CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: Well, sure. And when you look at the dates, Shaykh al-Libi was one of the very early people who was detained. He was detained in November 2001. And the U.S. thought he was a big-time al-Qaeda person at the time, thought he was number three. And gosh, how many number threes have we had? He was actually not a member of al-Qaeda. He quite opposed it. And indeed, bin Laden tried to close down, successfully, the camp that he was running to try to combat—Shaykh al-Libi was trying to combat Gaddafi. Anyway, the U.S. had the wrong end of the stick. And there was a big old fight over how quickly we could get intelligence out of these people. And unfortunately, the CIA won that battle.

And what is crucial about Shaker is he was in one of those cages in Bagram Air Force Base. He had been taken in to see Ibn Shaykh al-Libi, but Shaker was one of the first five prisoners in Bagram. And so the two of them had seen each other. Shaker saw him. And then Shaker witnessed the incredibly notorious moment when a coffin was brought in by the—apparently by the CIA people, to get al-Libi, who they put in the coffin, took him out, took him to a ship, then took him over to Egypt and had him tortured.

Now, when you think about it, if I torture you, which I’m not going to do, even though I haven’t had enough coffee this morning—if I torture you and I get you to confess that you’re a wicked, evil person, that’s too bad for you. But if I torture you and I get you to say something that changes the international affairs and results in 100,000 and more people being killed in Iraq, and then results in the Middle East being tipped into chaos, that is a massive story. And when you look at the Senate torture report, that story appears in footnote 868 in one sentence, and there’s no real reference to that. And these are the things that if we’re going to learn the lessons of history, we kind of have to know what that history is.

AMY GOODMAN: But explain what you’re saying, what the information he gave over, under torture, resulted in.

CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: So, al-Libi, when he’s being stuck with electric cattle prods, says, "Yeah, Saddam Hussein’s been working with al-Qaeda on weapons of mass destruction, on"—

AMY GOODMAN: Even though they were enemies, al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: Well, I mean, but people would believe all this drivel.


CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: And as a result, even though I think there were people in the intelligence services at the time who said, "Ah, you know, this is just kind of silly," unfortunately, there was such a pressure to come up with a reason to go attack Saddam that the president himself relied on that. Now, when you think about the terrible things that are so embarrassing to our political leaders, the idea that you would rely on a torture statement that is now proven to be categorically false in persuading the world to go to war, you know, that’s about as bad as it gets, isn’t it?

This interview was originally aired by Democracy Now on October 21, 2015.