Shaker Aamer released from Guantánamo Bay after 14-year detention
Shaker Aamer has been released after 14 years of incarceration at Guantánamo Bay, where he was beaten by his US military jailers but never tried for any offence, the UK’s foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, has confirmed.
“The Americans announced some weeks ago that they were going to release Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo and I can confirm that he is on his way back to the UK now and he will arrive in Britain later today,” he said.
A spokesman for David Cameron — who had <a href=“http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jan/16/shaker-aamer-guantanamo-bay-prioritise-obama-casepersonally raised Aamer’s case with Barack Obama — said there were no plans to detain Aamer on his return. He added: “The prime minister has been clear that the public should be reassured that everything to ensure public safety is in place.”
According to the flight-tracking firm FlightAware, a plane left Guantánamo Bay bound for Biggin Hill airport in southeast London at 11.30pm local time (4.30am GMT). It landed just after 1pm GMT
While it is unclear where Aamer will be taken on arrival, he has told his lawyers that he wants first to be given a thorough medical examination, and then wishes to see his wife. He has said that he wants to discuss his children with his wife before meeting them.
Aamer may be questioned by anti-terrorism police or MI5 officers, but given that ministers — including Cameron — had campaigned for his release, he is unlikely to need to spend his first night back on British soil in a police cell.
Though the US leaked claims — some extracted from the torture of other detainees — that Aamer fought for al-Qaida and was paid by Osama bin Laden, he was never tried for any offence. He insists he is innocent and was working in Afghanistan for an Islamic charity when he was detained He has said British officials were aware — and on one occasion, present — when he was being beaten by US interrogators. The Foreign Office has said it “did not accept allegations of … complicity in his mistreatment”. Whether he wishes to, or can, pursue his allegations, remains to be seen
In January, Cameron raised Aamer’s case with Obama in the White House and won an assurance from the US president he would prioritise the issue. An announcement that Aamer was to be released followed in September. Friday’s actual release came after the passing of a mandatory 30-day notice period that has to be given to the US Congress in such cases.
Aamer’s father-in-law, Saeed Siddique, 73, said he did not believe the family would see him on Friday. “I won’t be meeting him at the airport, it will just be lawyers,” Siddique said. “It was his wish, he said no one come to the airport except lawyers.”
Speaking briefly at the family home in south-west London, Siddique said: “It is a delightful day for all of us. It’s really a miracle. But I have to say we never gave up hope that we would see him again.”
He added that he believed his son-in-law would go directly to hospital. “I don’t know when I will see him. It’s up to his lawyers.”
Asked when Aamer would see his wife and children, Siddique said: “Everybody is happy, but I don’t think they will see him today.”
Reprieve lawyer Cori Crider, who last saw Aamer at the beginning of October, described him as being “more upbeat than I have seen him in years”.
She told Sky News: “He seemed genuinely to think that maybe this was it, there was a light at the end of the tunnel and he was going to see his wife and kids again. Remember, Shaker Aamer is about to meet his youngest son for the first time. Can any of us imagine what that must be like, to have a son who is nearly 14, and be about to meet him for the first time?”
Crider said Aamer was very concerned about his own health, had been on a number of prolonged hunger strikes and had family health issues. A number of doctors had come forward to offer to assist him, she added, and he wanted a thorough medical checkup.
Asked if Aamer would talk publicly about his experiences, Crider said: “I think he will make up his own mind about it, and really, woe betide the person who tries to silence Shaker Aamer.” She added that it would be up to him “how much of his story and the terrible things he witnessed that he wants to tell”.
Former Guantánamo detainee Moazzam Begg said Aamer’s greatest test was yet to come, that of readjusting to normal life.
“Shaker is a courageous, resilient, kind and thoughtful person who has faced the worst the world has to offer and survived,” Begg said. “His qualities have been acknowledged by his tormentors and I’m certain he won’t disappoint when he’s ready to tell his side of the story. Until he does, he deserves our respect, support, prayers and right to family life and privacy.”
Andy Worthington, co-director of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, said: “We’re delighted to hear that his long and unacceptable ordeal has come to an end. We hope he won’t be detained by the British authorities on his return and gets the psychological and medical care that he needs to be able to resume his life with his family in London.”
Amnesty International UK’s director, Kate Allen, said: “After so many twists and turns in this appalling case, we won’t really believe that Shaker Aamer is actually being returned to the UK until his plane touches down on British soil.
“We should remember what a terrible travesty of justice this case has been, and that having been held in intolerable circumstances for nearly 14 years, Mr Aamer will need to time to readjust to his freedom.” Judging by the descriptions given by Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, Aamer will need prolonged treatment. He has been on hunger strike and held in solitary confinement.
He can be expected to receive compensation, perhaps as much as £1m, as 15 other British residents and citizens did in 2010, in return for dropping a civil case for unlawful imprisonment. They abandoned their demands for evidence they said would back their case that MI5 and MI6 were involved in their rendition to Guantánamo Bay.
In 2010, officers from the Metropolitan police visited Aamer at the US military jail in Cuba where they questioned his allegations of British security and intelligence agency complicity in his mistreatment. Aamer has said British officials were aware he was beaten at Bagram, the US prison in Afghanistan, before he was secretly flown to Guantánamo, and on one occasion a British intelligence officer was present when US interrogators banged his head against a wall.
It is unclear whether Aamer’s lawyers have advised him to agree to a confidentiality agreement and to voluntary security measures. Binyam Mohamed agreed to such measures, including regular reports to a police station, when he was released.
Aamer, born in Medina, Saudi Arabia, 47 years ago, is a British resident with a British wife and four British children — his fourth child, Faris, was born the day he was flown to Guantánamo.
His wife, Zin Siddique, and her family live in Battersea, south London, where the MP Jane Ellison has campaigned for his release.
He was captured by what are said to be bounty hunters from the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and handed over to US forces in December 2001. Two months later, he was rendered to Guantánamo.
Repeated calls by successive British governments for his release will weaken the impact of any hostile stories, or smear tactics, directed at Aamer on his return.