[Pnews] Guantanamo’s last Briton freed, but questions remain over 14-year detention

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Oct 30 12:03:44 EDT 2015

  Gitmo’s last Briton freed, but questions remain over 14-year detention

    Analysis: Shaker Aamer was never charged or put on trial; supporters
    say his torture claims demand an inquiry

October 30, 2015 5:45AM ET Updated 9:37AM ET
by Matt Williams 
<http://america.aljazeera.com/profiles/w/matt-williams.html> @mattywills 

During Shaker Aamer’s near decade-and-a-half of incarceration at 
Guantanamo Bay <http://www.reprieve.org.uk/case-study/shaker-aamer/> — 
which has finally ended, some eight years after he was originally 
recommended for release — the British resident was never put on trial 
for any crime, nor was he ever charged.

As such, the 46-year-old — who arrived in the U.K. on Friday after being 
flown from the controversial detention center — should not feel 
compelled to clear his name; no evidence has even been presented against 
him in any court and experts Al Jazeera spoke to believe no such 
evidence ever existed to warrant his lengthy detention.

Instead, the daunting task in front of him will be to rebuild a life 
snatched away from him in 2001, and re-familiarize himself with his 
wife, and children who have had to grow up without him — including one 
he has never met.

But his release is unlikely to provide a final full stop to his case. 
Serious questions remain over the circumstances of his detention and why 
he was for so long denied repatriation to the U.K. despite — if taken at 
face value — the long protestations of the British government of his 

Supporters of Aamer want an inquiry into his case and his release may 
throw a fresh spotlight on conditions at Guantanamo and CIA torture, in 
particular claims by Aamer that its use against a Libyan national 
— in the presence of U.K. secret service agents — resulted in the since 
discredited information linking Saddam Hussein with Al-Qaeda, used as 
justification for the Iraq war.

The U.K.’s Metropolitan Police told Al Jazeera that an investigation 
into allegations of torture is still open, but declined to give details. 
“There are ongoing inquiries,” a Scotland Yard spokesperson said, 
adding: “We are not going to confirm who we may or may not be speaking 
to as part of those inquiries.”

Lawyers for Aamer told Al Jazeera that police officers had visited 
Guantanamo and met with their client prior to his release. “He complied 
with a Met [Metropolitan Police] inquiry in Guantanamo and talked about 
British complicity in torture and he thinks that those involved were low 
down the chain — Shaker very much doesn’t want to see people go to 
jail,” said Clive Stafford Smith, Aamer’s lawyer and director of legal 
rights charity Reprieve.

“He does, however, want a truth and reconciliation inquiry and will push 
for that,” Stafford Smith added.

To date, successive British governments have appeared reluctant to see 
such public scrutiny of the role of its intelligence services in 
Guantanamo detentions. An inquiry launched by Prime Minister David 
Cameron in 2010 to investigate claims that the British MI5 and MI6 
intelligence agencies aided CIA renditions was shelved two years later 
<http://www.bbc.com/news/world-16614514> amid criticism that it lacked 
transparency. The previous government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown 
tried unsuccessfully to censor claims of British complicity in torture 
made by former Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohammad.

When asked about Aamer’s situation, a spokesperson for the British 
Foreign Office said that they could not comment on “any individual case 
of repatriation.” Procedures involving former Guantanamo detainees are 
made on a case-by-case basis, and it isn’t known if the U.K. authorities 
will hold Aamer on his return.

But a spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters Friday 
that there was no plans to further detain the Saudi-born U.K. resident 
on his return.

For Aamer, his immediate concerns will include adapting to life outside 
a cell after so long.

“When I do get back the first thing I want is a cup of coffee,” he 
recently told the BBC <http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-34592554> in a letter 
sent from Guantanamo.

But for many of Aamer’s supporters the first priority will be getting 
him much-needed medical care. His years behind bars and involvement in 
lengthy periods of hunger striking have left him physically and mentally 
frail. “Shaker really isn’t very well. We have set up a private clinic 
to check him out. He fears he has prostate cancer and has mental health 
issues he would like to deal with,” Stafford Smith said.

Then will come the challenge of rebuilding relationships with family 
members he has had no contact with for 14 years. “It is going to be hard 
on him. We are talking about four children the youngest of which wasn’t 
born until after he was incarcerated. He hasn’t had anyone call him 
‘daddy’ for 14 years,” Stafford Smith said.

Moazzam Begg understands some of what Aamer will have to go through, 
having himself been held at Guantanamo for three years before being 
repatriated to the U.K. in 2005.

“The challenges he faces are going to be very difficult and very 
different from my own experiences. I was there for three years, he has 
been there for 14,” said Begg. “He will need immediate medical care and 
lots and lots of time to rebuild his life. It will be almost impossible 
for him.”

Aamer was transferred to Guantanamo Bay in early 2002 after the U.S. 
invasion of Afghanistan, having been picked up months earlier by the 
Afghan Northern Alliance and handed over to the U.S.

Supporters have always maintained that he was volunteering for a charity 
at the time of his abduction. But leaked files 
<http://projects.nytimes.com/guantanamo/detainees/239-shaker-aamer> show 
that the U.S., initially at least and based on testimony by tortured 
prisoners, believed that he was a “close associate” of Osama bin Laden, 
with “connections to several other senior extremist members” of Al-Qaeda.

Aamer’s supporters say the alleged confession came after he was tortured 
at the Bagram air base by U.S. agents and in the presence of British 

“He has so much to say that will rock governments and make accountable 
both the American and British government,” Begg said.

Potentially the most damaging of Aamer’s claims is that he was present 
during the interrogation of Libyan Ibn Al Sheikh Al-Libi in late 2001. 
Libi gave testimony linking the Iraq government of Saddam Hussein to 
Al-Qaeda. He was later rendered to Egypt and tortured into giving a 
fuller account of how Iraq had been training Al-Qaeda to use chemical 
weapons. It was those details that went on to form part of the 
justification of the war in Iraq and if true, Aamer’s account could be 
deeply embarrassing for the U.S. and British intelligence services.

Stafford Smith described Libi as the “elephant in the room” when talking 
about Aamer’s 14-year detention. “If that was the reason why he wasn’t 
released for so long, then that is a big deal.”

Some experts have even suggested that members of the U.K. intelligence 
services lobbied against Aamer’s release, possibly for this reason. The 
British government denies this claim.

But even so, the official line from Downing Street — that it has long 
demanded Aamer’s repatriation and raised the issue at regular intervals 
with high-level U.S officials — has been questioned.

In 2013, New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall inquired into Aamer’s status with the 
U.S. Department of Defense. An email seen by Al Jazeera sent from 
Udall’s chief of staff Michael Collins to Medea Benjamin — co-founder of 
the advocacy group Code Pink — stated that Pentagon officials told the 
senator that the “U.K. is not exactly in a rush to get him.”

Richard Barrett, who led the U.N.’s Al-Qaeda monitoring team and is a 
former British secret service officer, said the hold-up seemed to be 
from the U.S. side.

“If you look at the U.K. government’s position, it has been consistent 
throughout: They want him home.”

Barrett said he did not believe that British intelligence officers were 
involved in torture, but that Aamer’s allegations should nonetheless be 

He added that there appeared to be “no evidence” on Aamer to warrant his 
detention, especially for so long.

Instead, he attributed Aamer’s years at Guantanamo to “extremely bad luck.”

“He was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Barrett said.

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