The Guantánamo frame-up: 11 years and counting
When I was thinking about how to write this post about Shaker Aamer, the last UK detainee at Guantánamo, I considered a couple of typical blog-able framing devices.
“I know”, I thought, “I’ll do it on the theme of Things That Have Happened In The World In The Last 11 Years” (Aamer has been detained without charge or trial at Guantánamo for exactly 11 years this week). “Or”, I thought, “I could write something about How Much You Change From Your Mid-30s To Your Mid-40s” (Aamer was 33 when he was taken to the camp, he’s 44 now; I’ve also gone from my 30s to my 40s in this period: perfect, that will work, I thought). Except … why do you need a clever (or not so clever) framing device at all when you’re writing about a case of such obvious injustice as this one? So, forget the frame.
For those who don’t know Shaker Aamer’s case, here are the basic facts:
- He is a Saudi Arabian national who was formerly resident in the UK, married to a British woman
- He has four children, the youngest of whom was born when Aamer was in detention (for obvious reasons this child has never seen his father)
- He was apprehended by Afghan anti-Taleban “Northern Alliance” forces in the city of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan on 24 November 2001, seven weeks after the US-led operation was launched against al-Qai’da and the Taleban in the country
- He was handed over to US forces and interrogated for nearly three months at the US Bagram Theater Internment Facility, an old Soviet-built airfield base 60km north of Kabul
- Shaker has claimed that he was tortured at Bagram and that UK Secret Service officials were present when he was being abused (including by having his head smashed against a wall)
- On 14 February 2002 he was taken to Guantánamo Bay
- At Guantánamo he claims to have been tortured again
- His lawyers say he has been subjected to lengthy periods of solitary confinement at Guantánamo, including as punishment for taking part in hunger strikes against conditions at the camp
- The Foreign Secretary William Hague has reportedly raised his case with the former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
The clearest - and strangest - fact is that he is still at Guantánamo. Eleven years after his forced move there at the height of the Bush-Rumsfeld “war on terror”, and four-plus years into the post-war on terror presidency of Barack Obama, Aamer is still there. Still there and still uncharged and untried.
What we also know about Shaker Aamer, though, is that he was officially “cleared for transfer” out of the camp several years go. He is one of 55 prisoners so categorised by the joint-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force set up by Obama in the wake of his famous (and long-since broken) promise to close Guantánamo within a year of taking office. See Andy Worthington’s person-by-person list of the 55. It’s deeply frustrating to read because here are people the US authorities have themselves said they wish to remove from the camp, but instead they remain at Guantánamo years later.
Actually, the Task Force review system was always a very poor substitute for proper justice for the men of Guantánamo. For instance the review’s final report from January 2010 had this to say about why it was recommending that 48 detainees should neither be tried nor released: “In many cases, even though the Task Force found evidence that a detainee was lawfully detainable as part of al-Qaida … the Task Force did not find evidence that the detainee participated in a specific terrorist plot. The lack of such evidence can pose obstacles to pursuing a prosecution in either federal court or a military commission.”
The main obstacle, it seems, is a lack of evidence. The review gives as another reason the fact that a maximum sentence for the crime of providing material support to terrorist acts is 15 years, and so “sentencing considerations may weigh against pursuing prosecution in certain cases”. In other words, the maximum available sentence is not “long enough”, so indefinite detention without trial will be used instead. Thus nearly 50 people are to be held indefinitely - potentially until the end of their lives - because a distant authority has made a non-judicial determination that they are “too dangerous to transfer but not feasible for prosecution”.
Of the 166 detainees still held at the camp, Shaker Aamer’s case ought, on paper, to be one of the easiest to resolve. Amnesty’s new petition to President Obama essentially seeks to shine a light on the case and discover what - if anything - is preventing it being sorted out. From day one Guantánamo was a dangerous circumnavigation of justice, but as time has gone on the Guantánamo farrago has become a gross travesty of justice. Presentationally it was clearly “framed”, a heavily PR-d “here are the bad guys in orange boiler suits” set-piece for media consumption. Eleven years on it looks like a “frame up” in the conventional legal sense. It’s another reason why I don’t need a “framing” device for this post. The framing’s already there.
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