Shaker Aamer with two of his children (Image via BBC)
Campaigners for Shaker Aamer (46) who was detained without charge or trial for 14 years in Guantanamo are delighted at the news of his return to the UK, albeit after shocking delays that have only increased his physical and mental suffering. Shaker gave thanks to those who highlighted his case through legal channels, letters, protests, petitions and hunger strikes saying, “if I was the fire to be lit to tell the truth, it was the people who protected the fire from the wind. 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.”
Shaker is known as a strong person who not only had to battle for his own survival but took on the responsibility of fighting for other detainees. As former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg told RT,
“he was a loved prisoner. And the reason why he is loved is because he fights for the rights of the others even to his own detriment. His detractors, the other guards, and other commanders there would say of him that, ‘though we don’t agree with him, we have a great deal of respect for him.’”
Shaker is home now and beginning the long process of rehabilitation and reintegration back into society but the campaign is far from over… The next step is to support him in obtaining answers with regard to his treatment during detention where he claims he was tortured and to have witnessed others being abused. This appears to be have been one of the main reasons that the US government delayed his release and the British government are reluctant to back any inquiry which would expose the truth on security services’ policy and practice.
Back in 2006, CAGE human rights organization that campaigns of behalf of prisoners in Guantanamo and around the world “compiled and published the most comprehensive report on British involvement in rendition and torture” which “highlights a litany of cases where British authorities have been expressly involved in the torture and illegal rendition of suspects in the ‘War on Terror’”. Shaker is a key witness to this torture and among those whose voice must now be heard.
The report can be read on the following link,
“Fabricating Terrorism: British Complicity in Renditions and Torture”
Shaker’s lawyers at Reprieve have fought tirelessly for his freedom and for justice. Clive Stafford Smith reminded the public on the 13th anniversary of Shaker’s incarceration,
“eight hundred years ago the Magna Carta assured us that to nobody will we ‘deny or delay justice’. Thirteen years in a military prison without charge or trial is an affront to the most basic standards of justice.
Returning to the UK is just the beginning of a long and difficult process for Shaker. First there is the journey to regaining his health which according to lawyers is poor due to his years of captivity, subjected to “enhanced interrogation” techniques, punishment, isolation, social deprivation and force feeding. Then there is the pain of loss and “what might have been” had he led a normal family life. There is the loss of liberty, losing important years with his wife, children and friends, loss of security, dignity, loss of prospects and very nearly loss of hope. The one thing that Shaker clung to and could not be taken from him was his faith which the most brutal treatment could not crush and only served to strengthen his belief that Allah would continue to provide for him in his darkest hours.
Speaking of the terrible injustice suffered by her husband, Shaker’s wife Zineera wrote a letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron in January 2015 stating,
“thirteen years ago my family was ripped apart when my husband, Shaker Aamer, was sold for a bounty and taken to Guantanamo Bay. He has never been charged with a crime. He has never faced a trial. He was cleared for release – told he could come home, in other words – by President Bush’s administration. He was then cleared for release a second time, by President Obama’s administration. We had such hope, when Mr Obama said he would close the prison – finally, we thought, our family’s ordeal will be over. It is hard to describe the crushing despair of having such hopes dashed.”
Although Shaker is finally back on British soil, there are others still remaining in Guantanamo with no sign of it closing, so campaigners will continue until that goal is achieved.
Shaker must also regain his personal identity, connect to himself, to his jailors he was known only as number 239, part of the process of depersonalization. Where do you start trying to catch up on 14 years deprived of family life? What to say to your wife denied the care and comfort of a loving partner, a son Faris, never met, only seen through a screen on Skype and a teenage daughter Johina whose memories of her father are attached to a little black and white coat he bought her as a small child? The family losses are immeasurable. Then there are all the changes in the world during “lost time” such as the advancement of technology and communication that impacts on daily life. Nothing can ever make up for that, Shaker and his family should receive both an apology and financial compensation.
When a person has been wronged, for most though the truth is far more important than financial losses. For Shaker and also for the public, there is a need to understand what went wrong, why and what measures can be put in place to ensure this does not happen again in the future. As the Independent reported in 2011, Ministers have admitted the Government sent secret agents to interview a British detainee (Shaker Aamer) in Afghanistan, supporting allegations MI5 and MI6 officers were present while he was tortured by his American captors. Who was this person “John” whom Shaker claims was present when his head was “bounced” off a wall? Why did he allow this to happen knowing the rules prohibiting torture? There are many questions to be answered.
Shaker must also contend with his critics, apologists for torture who appear to want to roast him on a spit and serve him up for trial by media. This, despite the fact that as the Guardian reported, according to Professor Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York’s school of law who is involved in his case, Shaker is now “undergoing medical tests” and suffering from “post-traumatic stress disorder on the severe end of the PTSD spectrum.”
One such opponent is Douglas Murray, associate director of the Henry Jackson Society, a frequent critic of Islam, who lashed out at Shaker in the Spectator using the words of Moazzam Begg in an underhand attack. Begg has explained many times in public how “confessions” were extracted under threat to his own family, believing his wife to be in the next room and at risk of being harmed. Such confessions are worthless and would not stand up in a court of law.
There is also David Rivkin, US lawyer, writer, political analyst who participated in an exchange of views with Moazzam Begg on BBC Newsnight and appeared to be in complete denial of US torture at Guantanamo. Begg was having none of it and reminded him of President Obama’s comments acknowledging torture. A former “Gitmo” guard was quick on the uptake responding directly to Rivkin,
Brandon Neely tweeted,
How long did you work at the camps at Guantanamo to know no torture occurred? Thats right none. Well I did & torture happened
Shaker (Aamer) was beat by the IRF team almost on a daily basis this info comes from former guards who knew Shaker
The discussion between Begg and Rivkin can be viewed here,
In a decade and a half, those who held Shaker in detention were unable to find any evidence to bring him to trial, he was cleared for release years ago though only now set free and should be left in peace to be supported back to health by a loving family.
In her book “Trauma and Recovery” Judith Lewis Herman reminds us of the following,
“the ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud: this is the meaning of the word unspeakable. Atrocities, however, refuse to be buried. Equally as powerful as the desire to deny atrocities is the conviction that denial does not work. … Remembering and telling the truth about terrible events are prerequisites both for the restoration of the social order and for the healing of individual victims.”
To torture a human being is an atrocity which goes against laws of countries and quashes “fair judicial process”. There are no cases where torture is acceptable. Shaker has already said he is not seeking revenge only truth and those who care about human rights will be with Shaker supporting him in his endeavour. It is only with honesty and accountability that the healing process can begin.
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights/WOT and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.