Posted: 22 November 2010
* Campaign launched for UK resident held without charge for nearly nine years
* Photograph available
Amnesty International is calling on the Foreign Secretary William Hague and US officials to take action to end the arbitrary detention for the UK’s last Guantánamo detainee, Shaker Aamer, a 43-year-old former UK resident from London who has been held without charge or trial at the US detention centre for nearly nine years.
In a new letter to the Foreign Secretary, Amnesty International’s UK Director Kate Allen has said that without “robust action” from the UK government she fears Mr Aamer will languish in detention indefinitely. The organisation is seeking Mr Aamer’s immediate release back to Britain unless he is given a fair trial, and campaigners are pressing the Foreign Secretary and the US authorities to agree a timetable for Aamer’s return to his family in the UK.
Last week Mr Hague said that he had reiterated to the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the UK government would like to see Aamer returned to the UK, and that this was under consideration by the US.
Amnesty supporters in the UK are writing to their MPs asking them to keep the matter on Mr Hague’s political agenda and, in a “two-pronged” lobbying move, Amnesty activists also lobbying the US official responsible for Guantánamo - Ambassador Daniel Fried, special envoy for the closure of Guantánamo Bay - asking Mr Fried to expedite Aamer’s release and return to the UK. Similar campaigning is taking place in the US, with Amnesty USA supporters writing to Mr Hague about Aamer (see online appeal at: www.amnesty.org.uk/shaker).
Mr Aamer, who has been held without charge or trial at Guantánamo Bay for nearly nine years (since February 2002), is originally from Saudi Arabia but is married to a British citizen and has four British children. He had permission to live indefinitely in the UK when he was originally detained in Afghanistan by Afghan forces in the autumn of 2001; he was subsequently transferred to US custody in Afghanistan and later taken to Guantánamo.
Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:
“When it announced financial settlements for former Guantánamo detainees last week the government said it wanted to ‘draw a line’ under cases involving detention and alleged abuse overseas, yet Shaker Aamer is still languishing in a cell at Guantánamo.
“It was very welcome to hear a recent announcement by the Foreign Secretary that he has asked Secretary of State Clinton to return Shaker to the UK, but in the absence of charges or a proper trial we now need to see the Mr Hague and the US authorities agreeing a specific timetable for Shaker’s release.
“Dealing with what the government calls ‘legacy issues’ in the ‘war on terror’ must mean ensuring justice for Shaker. William Hague should make it a priority that he is returned to his family in Britain.
“At Amnesty we’ve always said that where the authorities suspect a person of terrorism they should be charged and given a fair hearing, but Guantánamo Bay has been an utter travesty of justice.
“Not only has Shaker lost nearly nine years of his life in this sad, tragic affair, he alleges that he has suffered torture virtually under the noses of UK officials.
“Shaker’s alleged torture must be properly investigated and the forthcoming inquiry into the possible involvement of UK officials in torture and illegal detention must look at Shaker’s case in detail.”
Shaker Aamer‘s UK lawyer Gareth Peirce said:
“How is it possible for our government to talk of drawing a line under the past when a British resident who has been hideously tortured over many years is still in unlawful detention in Guantánamo Bay?
“Are we really as a country prepared to allow his tenth year of captivity to begin in the hands of Britain’s closest ally?”
Shaker Aamer’s family live in south London and his MP, Jane Ellison (Battersea, Balham and Wandsworth), said:
“A change of government and, in particular, the Prime Minister’s announcement that there was to be an inquiry into the UK’s complicity in torture, has given the campaign for Mr Aamer’s release new impetus.
“I have raised his case in Parliament on four occasions since the election and discussed it with ministers and Foreign Office officials in detail; the tone of the exchanges has changed a lot in a few months and I feel his case is firmly on the government’s agenda.”
Earlier this year the Prime Minister announced that there would be an inquiry - to be led by Sir Peter Gibson - into allegations of UK complicity in torture and other human rights abuses of individuals detained abroad. Shaker Aamer has alleged that he was tortured numerous times in Afghanistan, including by US officials while British intelligence officers were present.
Mr Aamer has also alleged that he has been tortured at Guantánamo. Until relatively recently the UK government had refused to allow the disclosure of documents that his lawyers believed would help to establish details of his mistreatment and how false confessions under torture have contributed to his detention at Guantánamo.
At Guantánamo Aamer has been involved in protesting against conditions at the prison camp, including by participating in hunger strikes. He has spent long periods of his incarceration at Guantánamo in solitary confinement.
Note to editors
In January 2009 President Barack Obama signed an executive order committing the US administration to resolving the cases of the detainees held at Guantánamo “as promptly as possible”, and to closing the detention facility “no later than one year from the date of this order”.
However as of 17 November 2010, 174 men remained detained at Guantánamo. The majority have been held there without charge or trial for more than eight years.
The Guantánamo Review Task Force established under President Obama’s executive order recommended in January 2010 that 36 detainees be prosecuted by the USA, either in federal court or in military commissions; that 48 others continue to be held without charge or trial; and that the remainder be transferred out of Guantánamo, to countries other than the USA, either immediately or eventually. Some of those who could not be returned to their home countries have been offered a new home in third countries in Europe and elsewhere.
The US administration continues to pursue trials by military commission in proceedings which do not meet international fair trial standards. To date, only one Guantánamo detainee has been transferred to the US mainland for trial in a civilian court.