(August 25, 2011)
Last week, the plight of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, briefly surfaced in the media when the Independent ran a story by Paul Cahalan, who, for several years, has covered Shaker Aamer’s story extensively for the Wandsworth Guardian, in Aamer’s home borough in London, where his wife and his four children live.
In Cahalan’s article, “Fears grow over Britain’s last inmate at Guantánamo Bay,” a source close to Shaker Aamer’s case, who did not wish to be identified, told him, “Mr. Aamer is an individual separated from his family for almost 10 years, living in intolerable conditions with no end in sight. He is a very intelligent man who can’t accept his detention as lawful or just.”
More significantly, the source added, “He has suffered brutal treatment, even torture, because of recent events and his condition appears to be declining. He is being held in one of the worst prison camps and has been on hunger strike for a couple of weeks. He is fearful that he is not receiving the medical treatment that he needs.”
Cahalan noted that Aamer’s lawyers in the UK, at Birnberg Peirce and Co., “did not comment on the claims,” but it is clear that they come from someone with knowledge of the conditions in which Shaker Aamer is held.
Cahalan also spoke to Saeed Siddique, Shaker Aamer’s father-in-law, who revealed for the first time that his wife and children “recently used an internet webcam to see their father for the first time in nearly 10 years. Mr Aamer’s youngest son, Faris, who is 10, had never laid eyes on him before.”
He added that seeing his father for the first time had made Faris “very happy” and the family was “looking at ways of highlighting Mr. Aamer’s plight” ahead of his tenth anniversary in US custody, in December. He also said that lawyers were “looking at getting an independent doctor to visit Mr. Aamer in Guantánamo.”
Now 43 years old, Shaker Aamer was seized in Afghanistan in December 2001 after traveling there with his family to run humanitarian aid projects, including running a girls’ school and various well-digging projects. He is reportedly an extremely charismatic individual, who exerted such an influence on his fellow prisoners, encouraging them to stand up for their rights, that the US authorities called him “the Professor,” and decided, erroneously, that he had to have some sort of connection to al-Qaeda. As a result, he was held in solitary confinement for several years, and, according to Aamer himself, was also subjected to beatings and sleep deprivation.
In fact, however, there is no case against Shaker Aamer, whose detention is theoretically based on claims that he was “helping the Taliban,” as he was told that he had been cleared for release by a military review board at Guantánamo in 2007, when President Bush was still in power. Since then, five other British residents have been freed, but Aamer continues to languish in Guantánamo, despite revelations that should have led to his release — a court order for the government to release information to his lawyers relating to his torture in a US prison at Bagram, Afghanistan, while British agents were present, an ongoing Metropolitan Police investigation into his claims (which, as reported a month ago, apparently involves attempts by the police to visit Guantánamo to interview other prisoners held at Bagram at the same time as Aamer), and his inclusion in a financial settlement reached by the British government with 15 former prisoners in November last year.
In a leading article, the Independent’s editors noted, “As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, so too does the 10th anniversary, in December, of Shaker Aamer’s incarceration in Guantánamo,” and added, pointedly, “All other Britons — full citizens and legal residents alike — have been returned to this country. Only Aamer remains, uncharged and untried. He is reported to be on hunger strike.”
The most crucial points were as follows:
Despite many official British requests, there is still no clarity from the US authorities about when he might be tried or released, or even about the accusations against him. If, as has been mooted, the allegations are that he was helping the Taliban, 10 years on, they belong to a bygone age. New efforts must be made to secure his return and end this sorry chapter in transatlantic relations.
That reference to allegations belonging to “a bygone age” struck me as the most powerful of the editors’ statements regarding the injustice of Shaker Aamer’s predicament, and I hope it will be picked up on and reiterated in other circumstances, involving some of the other 170 men still held, as most of them are also “uncharged and untried.” Nearly ten years on from the 9/11 attacks, and with Osama bin Laden killed back in May, it is time for the Bush administration’s false rhetoric about a “war on terror” that may last forever to be overturned finally, and for Guantánamo to be closed and for common sense, the Geneva Conventions and other international laws and treaties to make an overdue return.
For those in the UK, however, securing the return of Shaker Aamer remains a priority, and if readers would like to follow up on this latest news from Guantanamo, then a letter to William Hague, the foreign secretary, will help to remind the government that not everyone has forgotten about Shaker Aamer. Readers can email William Hague here or can write to him at the following address: The Foreign Secretary, William Hague MP, The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AH.