Sunday, March 13, 2016

Britain secures release of Guantanamo prisoner Shaker Aamer

After more than 13 years detained without charge or trial in Guantánamo Bay, Shaker Aamer, 46, has finally been released! His plane touched down at Biggin Hill airfield Friday afternoon, October 30. He told supporters, "The very first thing I want is a cup of coffee, then for a doctor to look me over."

His wife, a British citizen, was pregnant with their fourth child when Aamer, originally from Saudi Arabia and a British resident, went to Afghanistan in 2002 to do charity work. He was captured by anti-Taliban Northern Alliance bounty hunters, who sold him to US troops. He was imprisoned in Afghanistan before being moved to Guantanamo, where he engaged in hunger strikes to protest his confinement. He was violently force fed through a tube up his nose. He was cleared for release in 2007 but the US continued to detain him.

His haunting voice could be heard on 60 Minutes in November of 2013, as he yelled, "Please, we are tired. Are you just going to leave us here to die? Tell the world the truth. Open up the place!" through the wall of his cell, knowing that newsmedia were there. The reporter (Barbara Walters?) seemed genuinely shocked that the detainee spoke perfect English, and at the level of his despair. [ ]

As an English speaking inmate of Guantanamo, he served a valuable role in organizing prisoners and negotiating with the US government to end hunger strikes before people died. However, after gaining false promises from officials, Aamer was put into solitary confinement. His sudden release came as a blessed surprise.

His family eagerly awaits his arrival. His daughter, said to be an A level student, whom he has not seen since she was 4, turned 18 just days before his release. He has never before met his youngest child, a son who is now 13.

Amnesty International, which was supportive of Aamer's release, asks: "Why was he detained at all, and why was his release delayed when he was twice cleared for transfer out of Guantánamo, in 2007 and in 2009? And what role did the UK play in his detention and treatment? Shaker Aamer says he was repeatedly abused in both Afghanistan and in Guantánamo. His claims of interrogation and abuse in Afghanistan in the presence of MI5 officers highlight once again the need for an independent judge-led inquiry into allegations of UK involvement in torture and rendition."

On October 11, 2015 after the Mail on Sunday reported that Shaker Aamer had stated in a phone call to his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, that he was hunger striking to protest his constant and ongoing abuse, and his fears that, due to his weakened state, he wouldn't live to see his family again, We Stand With Shaker's directors, Joanne MacInnes and Andy Worthington, author of "The Guantanamo Files," set up a new campaign, Fast For Shaker, in which celebrities, MPs and members of the public were encouraged to show solidarity with Shaker by pledging to undertake a hunger strike of their own for a minimum of 24 hours, on a day of their choosing.

It could be that the UK really did not want to touch this issue of their involvement in the US torture rendition program, but this coalition of activists generated enough public attention to force their government to act decisively to return Aamer back home. Somehow, between October 11 and October 30, something magical happened. People suddenly passionately threw themselves into caring about this man, who has been simmering on the back burner for over a decade.

It may seem completely bizarre but the gimmick that proved so effective was a 20 foot tall blow up dummy with Aamer's smiling face, dressed in an orange jumpsuit. His shirt bore the words: "FREE SHAKER AAMER. CLEARED FOR RELEASE. STILL IN GUANTANAMO. WHY?" Many many celebrities and political officials posed with it for photographs holding signs saying, "I STAND WITH SHAKER" and "I FAST WITH SHAKER." [See photos at] Maybe because this street theater tactic was so bizarre and comical, it made publicly talking about illegal rendition possible and gave the detainee a friendly funny human image.

Upon his release, Aamer made this public statement: "The reason I have been strong is because of the support of people so strongly devoted to the truth. If I was the fire to be lit to tell the truth, it was the people who protected the fire from the wind. My thanks go to Allah first, second to my wife, my family, to my kids and then to my lawyers who did everything they could to carry the word to the world. I feel obliged to every individual who fought for justice not just for me but to bring an end to Guantánamo. Without knowing of their fight I might have given up more than once; I am overwhelmed by what people have done by their actions, their thoughts and their prayers and without their devotion to justice I would not be here in Britain now. The reality may be that we cannot establish peace but we can establish justice. If there is anything that will bring this world to peace it is to remove injustice."

"We also recall the 112 other men still held at Guantánamo, and note that 52 of them have also, like Shaker, been approved for release by high-level US government review processes. We call for them also to be released as soon as possible," stated Andy Worthington.

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