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UK man's 11 years at Guantanamo is 'running sore' in US-UK relations

Petition to US embassy demands resolution in Shaker Aamer case

Amnesty International will take a 20,000-strong petition addressed to US president Barack Obama to the US embassy in London later this week demanding justice for Shaker Aamer, the former UK resident held at Guantánamo Bay.

On Thursday 14 February Mr Aamer, 44, will have been at the notorious US detention centre in Cuba for exactly 11 years. The former south London resident was originally taken to Guantánamo on 14 February 2002, where he has languished ever since. There are allegations that he has been tortured at Guantánamo (and before that in Afghanistan), and he is said to have spent long periods in solitary confinement.

Though held at Guantánamo for 11 years, Aamer has never been charged or tried with an offence and he remains detained despite the US authorities officially approving him for transfer out of the camp in 2009. Amnesty’s petition, which has gathered its 20,000 signatures in the four weeks since 11 January (the anniversary of the first prisoners being taken to Guantánamo), calls on President Obama to:

“Negotiate without delay with the UK authorities on the release of Shaker Aamer if he is not to be charged and brought to fair trial”, and to:

“Clarify what conditions, if any, will be set by US authorities for the return of Shaker Aamer to the UK.”

The petition also points out that the UK authorities have already called for - and agreed to - Aamer’s return to the UK, therefore placing the onus on the US authorities to explain Aamer’s continued detention. Shaker Aamer’s case is also the subject of a similar campaign by Amnesty activists in the USA, where a 28,000-strong petition has been raised.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:
“The continued detention of Shaker Aamer is totally baffling and the issue has become a running sore in UK-US relations.

“He faces no charges, was officially approved for transfer out of the camp years ago and the UK has said it will accept him back - so what is the hold-up?

“Given the time involved, the lengthy spells in solitary confinement and the torture allegedly used against him, Shaker’s plight illustrates why Guantánamo has become such an affront to human rights.

“Guantánamo has always been a complete travesty of justice. It’s time for President Obama to live up to his promise to close this icon of lawlessness and either bring the detainees before federal courts for fair trial on the US mainland, or safely release them.”

Shaker 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. The military commission system does not meet international fair trial standards.

Note to editors:
The petition hand-in at the USA embassy in London (24 Grosvenor Square, London W1A 1AE) will be at 2pm on Thursday 14 February

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 who 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.

Via his lawyers, Aamer has alleged he was subjected to torture, including 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.

Guantánamo was earmarked for closure by January 2010 by President Obama shortly after his election. In recent years the Obama administration has blamed its failure to close the detention centre on opposition from the US Congress. Nevertheless, last month President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, legislation which places obstacles in the way of Guantánamo’s closure. Last month it was also announced that the US State Department’s envoy with responsibility for seeking resettlement solutions for Guantánamo detainees, Daniel Fried, was being re-assigned, with no direct replacement for his post intended.

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