The change of presidency in the US and the order to close Guantanamo by Barack Obama has provided an opportunity that many of those in the UK have sought for a long time – the opportunity to bring home the remaining British residents still detained at the camp. Shaker Aamer is one of three men who can be released to the UK and with a British wife and four British children, his case for repatriation is all the more important. His wife and children, living in the UK, have now been waiting seven years for him to be released or charged with a crime. No charges have been brought, he has been cleared for release and yet this father of four remains in the detention camps.
Former Guantanamo guard Terry C Holdbrooks commented on Shaker,
“He’s a wonderful character- unbelievably intelligent, very polite, very well-mannered, great etiquette… no matter whom the guard was he was working with- whether it was a very ignorant uncaring American with no recognition for his situation… He was a wonderful person- I absolutely enjoyed spending time with him.”
Cageprisoners appeals to the public to write letters to the British government encouraging them to call for the immediate repatriation of Shaker.
Shaker Aamer is a long-term British resident, originally from Saudi Arabia, who has spent close to seven years in Guantánamo – without charge or trial. Shaker had been in the UK since the early 90s where he worked as a translator at a legal firm and eventually met his wife. In the summer of 2001, Shaker began looking for a suitable Muslim country where he might bring some social benefit to people less fortunate than himself. Ever the keen community worker, Shaker visited Afghanistan in June 2001 with his wife and three children to undertake voluntary work. During his stay he shared a Kabul house with Moazzam Begg– the British detainee who was released from Guantánamo Bay in early 2005 – and worked with him on projects to support a girls’ school and of building wells.
Shortly after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, Shaker it is believed, like hundreds of others, was sold for a bounty of $5000 by tribal warlords eager to receive the lucrative rewards offered for foreign Muslims by the US military.
As a captive, Shaker suffered particularly vicious torture in the Dark Prison in Kabul. When he arrived in Guantánamo Bay, he became a respected spokesman for the prisoners and was dubbed ‘The Professor’ by the US military. During the prison-wide hunger strike in July 2005, he became a leader on the prisoners’ council and successfully negotiated a settlement with the military before any of the prisoners died. The authorities agreed to respect the Geneva Conventions and treat prisoners who have been neither charged nor convicted of any crime in a humane manner. However, the administration reneged on their promise shortly after and Shaker was returned to isolation and was forcibly made to ingest liquid food with tubes through his nostrils.
Like most of the Guantanamo detainees Shaker is accused of nebulous ‘links’ to al-Qaida without any evidence being presented against him. He has not even been designated for trial by the courts known as ‘military commissions’ – described by leading jurists as a ’mockery of justice’ that derives ‘from the jumps of the kangaroo’– and it is widely believed that he only remains in custody due to his vociferous advocacy for prisoners’ rights in Guantánamo. As a result, Shaker has spent much of his time in solitary confinement in Camp Echo, a facility that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has described as ‘extremely harsh’.
Shaker’s wife and children are all born and bred British Citizens. Shaker has never seen his youngest child – who is nearly eight years old. The complete isolation has taken a severe toll on Shaker’s mental health and placed incredible strain on his family. Letters from him have not been received since 2006 when he noted:
“I am dying here every day, mentally and physically. This is happening to all of us. We have been ignored, locked up in the middle of the ocean for many years… I have problems many problems from the filthy yellow water…I have lung problems from the chemicals they spread all over the floor…I am already arthritic at 40 because I sleep on a steel bed, and they use freezing air conditioning as part of the interrogation process. I have ruined eyes from the permanent, 24-hour fluorescent lights. I have tinnitus in my ears from the perpetual noise…I have ulcers and almost permanent constipation from the food. I have been made paranoid, so I can trust nobody, not even my lawyer. I was over 250 lbs. I dropped to 130lbs in the hunger strike. I want to make it easy on everyone, I want no feeding, no forced tubes, no ‘help’, no ‘intensive assisted feeding.’”
On August 7, 2007 the United Kingdom government requested the release of Shaker Aamer and four other men who had been legal British residents without being British citizens, since they had been granted leave to remain in the UK prior to their incarceration. Three of those men have been released; the other is Binyam Mohammed. But nothing has happened in Shaker’s case since. The latest information on Shaker in Guantanamo is that he is in a tiny glass cell and has just come off a hunger-strike. He is believed to have lost almost half his body weight as a result. Although US president Obama has ordered the closure of the Guantanamo prison there is no guarantee that Shaker Aamer will be sent home to his family. It is time that the US authorities released him and let him rejoin them.
Take action for Shaker Aamer
Write to the UK authorities:
· Demand that the government takes immediate action and makes representations at the highest levels to secure Shaker’s release from Guantanamo.
· Urge the government to consider the British citizenship of Shaker’s family in assessing representations in his case.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown
10 Downing Street, London, SW1A 2AG
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs David Miliband
King Charles Street, London, SW1A 2AA
Also we encourage you to write to your MP regarding Shaker’s case.
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs David Miliband
King Charles Street,
Dear Mr Miliband,
I write to you to express grave concern with regards to the plight of British resident Shaker Aamer. Originally from Saudi Arabia, Aamer came to Britain safe in the knowledge- shared by many immigrants- that the laws and opportunities of the land would not be withheld from him as a result of his ethnicity. True to his expectations, he gained work as a translator in the early 90’s, and settled down, marrying his British wife and fathering his children. He has now been held in Guantanamo without charge for over seven years, an unknown stranger to his youngest child.
A devout Muslim and keen believer in helping those less fortunate than himself, Shaker visited Afghanistan with his family in June 2001 to assist in the managing of a girls’ school, also participating in the digging of wells to alleviate the suffering of the Afghan population. With the attacks on 9/11, the “War on Terror” began and Aamer was amongst those sold into US captivity by the warlords eager to receive the promised bounty placed on the head of every foreigner. Incarcerated in the Dark Prison of Kabul, Aamer was subject to torture and abuse before being rendered to Guantanamo Bay.
Far from the distorted views circulated against him, Aamer was noted amongst the guards at the facility for his intelligence and politeness. He was crucial in liaising between other prisoners and the authorities in ending a hunger strike, in return for a promise for treatment to be in line with the Geneva Conventions. Unfortunately, the authorities reneged on their side of the agreement, and Aamer was sent to the isolation cells in Camp Echo, where he is subject to force-feeding. In his most recent correspondence in 2006, he shared the realities of his condition: arthritis from the cold steel bed he is forced to sleep on, eyes strained and weary from perpetual bright lighting, and ulcers from the poor diet. His treatment has reduced him to a shadow of his former mental and physical self, having lost over half his body weight and meeting his own lawyer with paranoia. And he will inevitably deteriorate if nothing is done to alleviate his situation.
That is why I write to you, Mr Miliband, knowing that it is your responsibility as foreign secretary to press the American government for the release of Shaker Aamer. Though he has been held without charge and his family are British citizens, the government’s response has not yet been sufficient to see his repatriation. However, I know that your predecessor had made efforts to secure his release, and I hope that your desire to see justice implemented will see this positive trend gain in pace and prominence under your term