February 9, 2012
February 14 marks the 10th anniversary of the arrival at Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, who is now the last British resident in the prison, but was once one of 15 British citizens and residents held at Guantánamo. Shaker’s story is one that I have told and retold over the years, including in the documentary film, "Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo," which I co-directed with Polly Nash, and it is distressing, for his British wife, and his four British children (the youngest of whom has never seen his father, because he was born after his capture) to have to endure another anniversary without Shaker, an eloquent man of great compassion, who has spent ten years demanding that he and his fellow prisoners be treated as human beings, and not as "enemy combatants" without rights, which is what they essentially remain, despite some general improvement in their living conditions under President Obama.
Throughout this period in which I have been studying Shaker’s story (for the last six years), it has been clear that there was no good reason for Shaker Aamer to be held. He was told in spring 2007 that he had been cleared for release by the Bush administration, and in August 2007 Gordon Brown, taking over from Tony Blair as Prime Minister, requested his return along with the other British residents.
Nevertheless, he was not freed, and with a new President in the US and a new government in the UK it was not initially known what his status was as the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo approached. However, two recent discoveries have ensured that, on the 10th anniversary of Shaker’s arrival at Guantánamo, there are no obstacles to his immediate release, however much representatives of the US or UK governments may pretend otherwise.
Firstly, it was revealed, on December 1, in a letter to Congress from four British MPs — Jeremy Corbyn, John Leech, Caroline Lucas and Michael Meacher — that Shaker had been "cleared for transfer out of Guantánamo" as a result of the review of all the remaining prisoners’ cases that was conducted throughout 2009 by the Guantánamo Review Task Force, established by President Obama when he came into office. The document that contained that information also informed him, "The US government intends to transfer you as soon as possible." This had been presumed, but it had never been spelled out explicitly before.
The enormously significant confirmation that Shaker has been "cleared for transfer out of Guantánamo" for at least two years was followed by the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, which contained another important lifeline for Shaker. This is not generally well known, because the NDAA is an otherwise dispiriting piece of legislation, in which lawmakers authorised mandatory military custody for anyone accused of being a terrorist with ties to al-Qaeda, and also insisted that Guantánamo prisoners cannot be released if there is a risk of them ever posing a threat to the US, and cannot be released to any country in which a single ex-prisoner has been accused of engaging in activities against the US.
However, as my colleague Tom Wilner, who was Counsel of Record for the Guantánamo prisoners in their cases before the Supreme Court in 2004 and 2008, explained in a recent article for the new "Close Guantánamo" campaign (which I also posted here), the NDAA also contains a provision allowing the administration to bypass the Congressional obstructions regarding the release of prisoners from Guantánamo. As he explained, Section 1028 of the NDAA explicitly allows the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to waive the requirement to satisfy the onerous conditions imposed by Congress if the administration want sot release prisoners. As Tom proceeded to explain:
Those waiver provisions clearly give the Administration both the legal authority and the practical ability to transfer detainees from Guantánamo to their home countries. The question is no longer whether the Administration has the authority to transfer detainees home but whether it has the political courage to do so.
The obvious prisoner to be released first would be Shaker Aamer, because his home is the UK, which has been the staunchest of allies in the "war on terror," and remains one of America’s closest allies. In the hope of bringing all excuses to an end — both from the UK and from US, which "will not risk releasing Shaker Aamer" before the Presidential election in November, because, according to an official who spoke anonymously to the Observer, "We’ve taken enough hits from the right; we can’t risk any more" — there are three protests in the UK on Saturday (in London), on Sunday (in Reading) and on Tuesday (also in London), where campaigners will be raising these points in the hope of exerting pressure on both governments, and, I hope, will also begin to establish a campaign on both sides of the Atlantic to bring Shaker’s unacceptable imprisonment to an end, and to also provide hope that some of the other 88 prisoners cleared for release but still held will also be released.
The details are below:
Saturday February 11, 12 noon: Free Shaker Aamer March and Meeting in Battersea. Assemble outside Northcote Road Baptist Church, Northcote Road, London, SW11 6DB.
This event is organised by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, which urges supporters to "Join the Guantánamo Chain Gang," and explains, "By February 2012, British Resident Shaker Aamer will have spent ten long years of torture and abuse in Guantánamo, despite being cleared for release in 2007. Join the Guantánamo Chain Gang walk through Shaker’s home area of Clapham Junction & Battersea. We will wear orange prison jumpsuits, chains and hoods and very slowly walk through the area chained together, ending up at Battersea Islamic Culture & Education Centre."
At 2.15 pm, the meeting will begin at the Islamic Centre, chaired by David Harrold, where a representative of the legal action charity Reprieve, freelance investigative journalist Andy Worthington and Joy Hurcombe, the chair of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, will speak. Shaker’s MP, Jane Ellison, has also been invited, and it is hoped that there will also be a screening afterwards of "You Don’t Like the Truth: 4 Days Inside Guantánamo," the documentary film about former child prisoner Omar Khadr which I reviewed on TV here.
For further information, contact Ray Silk of the SSAC on 07756 493877 or email.
Sunday, February 12, 2012, 2 pm: Free Shaker Aamer Protest, Reading. In the town centre, outside Marks & Spencer, Broad Street, Reading.
This event has been organised by Reading Save Shaker Aamer Campaign. See the Facebook page, and for further information phone 07816 665629 or email.
Tuesday February 14, 2 pm: Free Shaker Aamer Protest, US Embassy, 24 Grosvenor Square, London, W1A 2LQ.
To mark the 10th anniversary of Shaker Aamer’s arrival at Guantánamo, campaigners for his release will march round Grosvenor Square and wlll hand in cards and petitions for President Obama, which will say, "Dear President Obama, we would love you to release British resident Shaker Aamer, held without justice in Guantánamo for ten years to this day, cleared but not free. Bring him home now. End his torture and abuse — give him back his life."
Kate Hudson, the chair of CND, and Joy Hurcombe, the chair of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign have confirmed they will speak outside the US Embassy, and other speakers are expected.
For further information, contact Ray Silk of the SSAC on 07756 493877 or email.
If you’re in London or Reading, please come along and show your support!
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, "The Complete Guantánamo Files," a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, "Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo" (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new "Close Guantánamo campaign," and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.