In the Wandsworth Guardian, tenacious reporter Paul Cahalan has, for many years, covered the story of the former Battersea resident Shaker Aamer, who is still held in Guantánamo, despite being cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration in 2007.
As has been revealed in the last few days, Shaker is included in the compensation payments made by the British government to all the British ctizens and residents held in Guantánamo (which, unconvincingly, are described by the government as a financial settlement, even though they constitute a clear admission of guilt), and, in an effort to find out more about the basis of the payments, and about the fate of Shaker Aamer, Cahalan spoke to Moazzam Begg, former Guantánamo prisoner and director of Cageprisoners.
As Cahalan put it — and as I also explained in a recent article — Begg explained to him that the former Guantánamo prisoners “offered to forego any compensation” in return for the release of Shaker Aamer.
“Ken Clarke, [the justice secretary], met with the prisoners and talked to us,” Begg explained. “We told him very, very clearly Shaker was our main concern in all of this above any financial compensation. We were even ready to forego that if that was the choice on offer — Shaker’s freedom or a settlement. But that was not on offer. All of us in the discussions made it very clear we all want Shaker back and that is more important to us than any monetary compensation. That was the view of us unanimously.”
Begg proceeded to explain that, although Shaker Aamer is included in the settlement deal, he believes that he can only accept the deal on his release from Guantánamo.
“The government has shown it wants to settle these cases, but one of the outstanding things is there is no settlement until Shaker has settled,” Begg said. He added, “We have come to agreement” (referring to the 15 released prisoners), but “it is a different matter with Shaker. He is still in Guantánamo. We have to hear what he has to say and then he would be in a position to decide if he wanted to settle himself. No one can do that on his behalf. We maintain he should have returned years ago, the case isn’t settled and cannot be settled until he is returned.”
Begg added, “The government got Binyam Mohamed [another British resident, subjected to “extraordinary rendition” and torture, with British knowledge] back to the UK [in February 2009], and he was accused of being involved in a dirty bomb [plot]. Shaker has never even been designated for charges. Binyam has no family in the UK, Shaker has a British wife and children.”
Cahalan proceeded to describe how, despite being cleared for release, Shaker Aamer’s ongoing detention has involved both the British and American government blaming each other, as I have also explained previously.
“We have had extensive discussions with the government at which [Shaker’s] family was present and the government told us the ball is in the US court,” Begg explained, adding, “But if the British push hard enough they will get him back, I have no doubt in my mind. Ministers would not give us a timetable for release but they are a new government and should be given the benefit of doubt — but the clock is ticking.”
As Paul Cahalan also explained, Shaker Aamer’s case against the British government is “potentially more damaging than other detainees” because he “alleges MI5 interrogators were present when he was mistreated in Afghanistan.” This allegation is being investigated by the Metropolitan Police, after it was revealed in a court case in the UK last December, and as a result, although the government’s financial settlement has brought to an end a civil claim for damages filed by seven former prisoners, including Moazzam Begg, which had already resulted in the release of damaging revelations about the activities of former Prime Minister Tony Blair and former foreign secretary Jack Straw, the next step envisaged by the government — a carefully controlled judicial inquiry into British complicity in torture abroad — cannot begin until the Metropolitan Police inquiry has concluded, for which Shaker Aamer’s presence is undoubtedly required, as he is the victim of the alleged wrongdoing.
In concluding comments to Paul Cahalan, Moazzam Begg said that he was “relieved” that the government had “finally arrived at a settlement offer,” but added that if ministers wanted to “turn over the page on Guantánamo,” they urgently need to secure Shaker Aamer’s release.
“I’m glad it’s over, it could have dragged on for years on end,” he said, adding, “I probably would have pulled out.” As he also explained, however, “We [the former prisoners] don’t want to talk about the claims and settlements. We are all here and free. We want to talk about the person who is still in prison — Shaker Aamer. We want to make sure that issue is very much kept alive.”