Another strange week in the life of Guantánamo
It’s been a strange few days on Guantánamo (even for seasoned Guantánamo watchers like me, and I’ve been bashing out Amnesty press releases on this miserable place since the first boiler-suited inmates were dumped there in 2002).
First we had, seemingly out of nowhere, news of the UK government’s out-of-court settlement to a group (variously put at “ten”, “a dozen”, and “16” in media reports) of former Guantánamo detainees. If you missed my post on this last week (shame on you!), it’s here.
Then we had the conviction of the former Guantánamo detainee Ahmed Ghailani in a New York federal court. He was found guilty of conspiracy to damage or destroy US property with explosives (but acquitted of numerous other charges) and faces a minimum of 20 years in prison.
And, almost at the same time, we had the foreign secretary William Hague replying to a question while on a trip to Washington and saying, yes, he did want the UK’s last detainee at Guantánamo – Shaker Aamer, the man from Battersea, south London – to be released and returned to the UK. See a short (and slightly amateurish!) video of this here.
Blimey. And that was just half of last week.
Put it all together, then, and what have you got? Well, I’d suggest the following:
* The UK government desperately wants, as David Cameron said, to “draw a line” underneath the poisoned legacy of the UK’s involvement in Bush’s “war on terror”.
* The drip-drip of revelations about alleged UK involvement in torture is causing Number 10 real concern and the forthcoming Gibson inquiry (time-limited to one year’s duration remember) is designed to emphatically draw Cameron’s line. (Mind you, whether it will do so is going to depend on many things, including the inquiry’s depth and thoroughness, and whether its findings will be made public. We shall see.)
* The US government is still confused/undecided about whether the remaining 174 Guantánamo detainees are destined to face a civilian trial (a la Ghailani) or one of its much-derided military commissions (as with Omar Khadr). Or even whether it should, so to speak, deploy the “nuclear option” of not even putting them on trial at all. (As I’ve said before, this scary possibility is still very much on the cards. Also, see Daphne Eviatar’s recent Huffington Post piece about how very long periods of pre-trial detention are already eroding the chances of successful prosecutions).
These are only my tentative readings. It’s a complex situation and we don’t have all the facts. One thing is for sure though: Shaker Aamer, a 43-year-old father of four young British children remains in a Guantánamo cell eight-and-three-quarter years since he was first taken there. He has never been charged. He has (pretty obviously therefore) never been put on trial. He does not, to the best of our current knowledge, know when or (shockingly) if he is going to be released.
To use an overused word, this is a disgrace. Please support Amnesty’s new campaign calling on William Hague to really get this case moving. It’s long overdue for the UK government to say to the US: either give him a fair trial or let him come home to his family in the UK.
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