Former UK Ministers Urge Obama To Free Shaker Aamer
An inflatable model of Shaker Aamer in front of parliament at an Amnesty protest demanding his release. Aamer has twice been approved for release from Guantánamo. Photograph: Dominic Dudley/Demotix/Corbis
Boris Johnson has placed himself at the head of cross-party group, including a former Tory attorney general and a Labour leadership contender, who are calling on Barack Obama to secure the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident held in Guantánamo Bay.
In an intervention timed to coincide with US Independence Day, six former cabinet ministers have joined leading writers, actors, directors, musicians to warn the White House that the continued detention of Aamer is undermining US standing in the world.
The Saudi-born Aamer was seized by bounty hunters in Afghanistan and handed over to US forces in December 2001. Two months later, he was rendered to the US military prison on Cuba. US authorities have made it clear that they have no intention of charging him.
David Cameron has raised the case of Aamer with Obama on two occasions this year – at their meeting in the White House in January and at the G7 summit in Bavaria earlier this summer. Ministers are privately frustrated that the White House appears not to be taking any concrete steps towards securing Aamer’s release.
In an open letter printed on Saturday, US Independence Day, more than 80 prominent Britons, including the former Tory attorney general Dominic Grieveand the Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn, urge Obama “to facilitate the transfer from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer … and his return to his family in the UK – his British wife and his four British children”.
They add: “It has not escaped our notice that, while the US is celebrating its foundation under the rule of law, the continuing detention of men at Guantánamo – largely without charge or trial – continues to undermine America’s notion of itself and its international standing.”
The letter, drawn up by the We Stand with Shaker campaign, notes that Aamer has twice been approved for release from the base – in 2007, under President Bush, and in 2010, by Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force. The letter is also supported by Sir Keir Starmer, the former director of public prosecutions, and six former Labour and Tory cabinet ministers, including Tessa Jowell and Andrew Mitchell.
The comedian Russell Brand, one of the signatories, said: “Barack Obama, who inspired so much hope and has presided over so much pain and disappointment, in this single act of compassion can alter history.”
The letter comes amid deep frustration in Whitehall at the apparent failure of theObama administration to take steps towards releasing Aamer. Obama told Cameron at their White House meeting in January that he would prioritise Aamer’s case, though he would only act in a way that protected national security.
The Foreign Office told the Guardian last month that Aamer’s case “remains a high priority for the UK government”. It added: “We continue to make clear to the US that we want him released and returned to the UK as a matter of urgency”. The FO said that after Cameron raised the case at the G7 summit, Obama “made assurances that, whilst there is no fixed timetable for a decision, it is under active, high-level consideration”.
Coalition government ministers made at least 15 requests to the US for Aamer to be transferred to the UK, the Guardian understands. British officials privately refer to extreme “sensitivities” surrounding the case.
Aamer has accused British security and intelligence officials of knowingly making false statements, notably that he was a member of an al-Qaida network in London. Clive Stafford Smith, founder of the legal charity Reprieve, who has regularly visited Aamer at Guantánamo Bay, says he is prevented from divulging evidence he knows about the case by a confidentiality agreement. He has told the Guardian that MI6 “stabbed him [Aamer] in the back” by giving US courts false intelligence.
The high court in London heard in 2010 that the police were investigating Aamer’s allegations of British security and intelligence agency complicity in his mistreatment. Aamer’s US lawyer, Brent Mickum, said: “I have seen records of interviews with him by the UK security services … They were fully aware that he was complaining about his treatment and had been tortured.”
Aamer has been on hunger strike, and his physical and mental health has deteriorated badly over the years.
In May, the former Conservative ministers Andrew Mitchell and David Davis, with the Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Slaughter, met senior officials in Washington to try to secure Aamer’s release.
“It is difficult for us to shake off the depressing notion that the Obama administration is indifferent to the repeated requests of the British government. It is a slap in the face for America’s staunchest friend,” the MPs wrote in a joint article in the New York Times.
Aamer married Zin Siddique, a Briton, in 1996. She lives in Battersea, south London, with their four children, the youngest of whom – Faris, now 13 – he has never met.
Downing Street has tried to show patience with the White House because it appreciates that the US Congress has to be given 30 days’ notice of the release of any inmate from Guantánamo Bay. Republicans, who have majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, could scupper Obama’s plan to close Guantánamo Bay by the end of his second term.
One signatory to the letter said: “The White House haven’t even informed Congress about Shaker Aamer. This is spitting in the prime minister’s face.”