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Obama must make good on 'closure' promise over Guantanamo

New petition to be launched for former UK resident Shaker Aamer on 11th anniversary of notorious camp

President Barack Obama must fulfil a promise he made in 2009 to close the Guantánamo detention facility, said Amnesty International today, ahead of the 11th anniversary of the first detainees being taken to the notorious US naval base in Cuba.

On 11 January, exactly 11 years since the first orange-jumpsuited detainees arrived at the new detention centre, Amnesty is launching a new petition calling for the release of Shaker Aamer, a 44-year-old former UK resident who was one of the first detainees at the camp (taken there on 14 February 2002).

The petition - to be hosted at - is calling on President Obama to negotiate with the UK authorities over the release of Shaker Aamer if he is not to be charged and brought to a fair trial, especially in light of the fact that the UK authorities have already called for, and agreed to, Aamer’s return to the UK. The petition is also calling for clarification of what conditions, if any, may have been set by the US authorities for Aamer’s return to the UK.

Aamer is one of 166 detainees still held at Guantánamo - out of 779 men taken to the facility in the last 11 years. The vast majority have been held for years without charge or criminal trial. In total, seven detainees have been convicted by military commission, including five as a result of pre-trial agreements under which they pleaded guilty in return for the possibility of release from the base.

Amnesty is calling for all remaining Guantánamo detainees to be released or allowed a fair trial.

Amnesty International USA researcher Rob Freer said:

“The USA’s claim that it is a champion of human rights cannot survive the Guantánamo detentions, the military commission trials, or the absence of accountability and remedy for past abuses by US personnel, including the crimes under international law of torture and enforced disappearance.
“What needs to happen now is recognition and application of international human rights principles by the US authorities.

“Military commission trials should be abandoned in favour of fair trials in ordinary civilian courts, detainees whom the USA has no intention of prosecuting should be released, and there must be full accountability and access to redress for human rights violations.”

Upon taking office in January 2009, President Obama pledged to resolve the Guantánamo detentions and close the facility within a year. He also ordered an end to the CIA’s use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques and long-term “black sites”.
But the Obama administration also adopted the unilateral and flawed “global war” paradigm and accepted indefinite detentions under this framework. In 2010 his administration announced that four dozen Guantánamo detainees would neither be prosecuted nor released, but would remain in indefinite military detention without charge or criminal trial. The administration also imposed a moratorium on repatriation of Yemeni detainees, and said that 30 Yemenis would be held in “conditional” detention based on “current security conditions in Yemen”, a moratorium still in place.

Meanwhile, six detainees are currently facing the possibility of death sentences after military commission trials that failed to meet international fair trial standards. All six were subjected to enforced disappearance prior to their transfer to Guantánamo and, among other abuses, two of them were subjected to the torture technique known as “water-boarding”, effectively mock execution by interrupted drowning.

Five men charged with involvement in the 9/11 attacks are also currently facing the death penalty after trial by military commission. The government is also seeking the death penalty against a sixth Guantánamo detainee in another trial. Last month the military judge overseeing the “9/11” trial signed a protective order to prevent disclosure during trial proceedings of details of secret detention and alleged torture, purportedly on national security grounds. Information concerning gross violations of human rights or serious violations of international humanitarian law should never be kept secret on national security grounds, cautioned Amnesty. Further pre-trial proceedings in all six cases are scheduled to take place at Guantánamo later this month.
Amnesty is meanwhile stressing that the Obama administration’s adoption of a notion of “global war” means that even if the Guantánamo detention facility were to be closed, unlawful detentions would simply be relocated rather than ended. A broad acceptance of the “global war” paradigm across all three branches of the US federal government, the shielding of officials through immunity provisions and the continuing use of secrecy, has also facilitated the blocking of accountability and remedy for abuses committed at Guantánamo, in the secret CIA detention and rendition programmes, and elsewhere.  

Shaker Aamer was arrested by Afghan forces on 24 November 2001 in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, and subsequently transferred to US custody. Aamer is originally from Saudi Arabia. His wife and four Children's rights are all British nationals and currently live in south London. Aamer had permission to live indefinitely in the UK on the basis of his marriage to a British national at the time of his original detention. Aamer has said that he had been working for a Saudi charity when initially arrested in Jalalabad. No compelling evidence refuting this contention has been presented by the US authorities during the 11 years of his detention.

Via his lawyers, Aamer has alleged he was subjected to severe beatings and other ill-treatment while held in secret US detention in Afghanistan in early 2002. He says that, as well as US officials, men claiming to be UK Security Service (MI5) officers were present at interrogations during which his head was “repeatedly banged so hard against a wall that it bounced”. Since his transfer to Guantánamo, Aamer has repeatedly alleged that he has also been tortured there. According to his lawyers, throughout much of his detention he has been held in solitary confinement. Aamer speaks fluent English and his lawyers understand he has been involved in protesting against conditions at the camp, including participating in hunger strikes and speaking out on behalf of other detainees. They believe he has been subjected to prolonged isolation and frequent ill-treatment as punishment for his defiance against his indefinite detention and ill-treatment.

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