Hopes rise for Guantanamo’s last UK inmate
Scotland Yard detectives are set to fly to Cuba to interview the last UK resident still held in Guantanamo Bay over claims that he was tortured in the presence of British secret service agents.
News of the development in the case of Shaker Aamer, detained for nearly 11 years by the US despite never having been charged with any offence, came as his children spoke to national media for the first time about their family’s plight.
Mr Aamer asserts that he was tortured, including having his head repeatedly bashed against a wall, by US investigators in the presence of British spies at Bagram, Afghanistan. He also says the British agents were aware of his torture in Guantanamo, which involved beatings and long periods in solitary confinement. This treatment continues, he says, despite at least three visits from British secret service personnel.
He will be interviewed in the next couple of weeks, The Independent on Sunday has learnt, by a team from the Metropolitan Police, who will also question him in relation to the claims by a former detainee, Binyam Mohamed, that he too was tortured.
Mr Aamer, a UK resident born in Saudi Arabia, says he took his British wife and family to Afghanistan to do charity work in 2001. He sent his family back home just before US forces invaded the country in the same year. He was picked up by locals who sold him to the US for a reported sum of $5,000 (£2,560) in November 2001 and was transferred to Guantanamo in February 2002. The US claims he is a security threat, despite military tribunals having twice cleared him for transfer out of the Cuban camp.
Barack Obama vowed to close the camp at Guantanamo within a year after becoming President in 2008, but has found progress hampered by Congress. But a known clemency period immediately after an election has rekindled hopes for a renewed focus on Mr Aamer’s case.
In the meantime, Mr Aamer’s wife and four children wait for his return. At their south London home, the family say that for years the children were told their father was “helping at school” to explain his absence. The children have no memories of their father, but they speak to him on Skype every few months, with the help of the Red Cross.
Faris, the youngest, a shy 10-year-old, has never met his dad. He says when he spoke to his father for the first time, he thought “he was very funny”. The children have written letters to President Obama in the hope that their voices would be heard after his re-election. “My dad is still in prison, and even though he has been cleared for release he’s been tortured,” Michael, 13, wrote. “I find it very difficult without my dad. I can feel how hard it is for my mum.” Mr Aamer’s daughter, Johina, 15, added: “Why don’t you imagine being locked up for 11 years of your life and possibly more years to come. Try imagining being treated like a circus animal in a cage and being taken away from your home and everyone you love.”
News of Mr Aamer’s planned interview with police came as lawyers prepared to file a motion saying his indefinite detention without being produced in court amounts to torture. Irene Nembhard, of Birnberg Peirce and Partners, said: “That is established in international law. The Brits should be saying that his detention amounts to torture and if he is not released they should make a complaint under the United Nations Convention against Torture. It is patently clear British diplomacy has failed. Consequently, they have to think of something else to do.”
A Foreign Office spokesman said it could not comment on on-going legal proceedings, but the case remained a high priority. “We want him released and returned to the UK as a matter of urgency”, he said. “However, any decision regarding Mr Aamer’s release ultimately remains in the hands of the US government.”