Books Editor Yasmin Mannan on how we cannot wash our hands off of the horrific events that took place at Guantánamo Bay
On the 25th September 2015, both the US Department of Defence and the UK Government confirmed that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident to be held in Guantánamo Bay would be released, and he returned to Britain on the 30th of October. Mr Aamer has been imprisoned in Guantánamo for 13 years, without charge, and has been cleared for release since 2007. His wife and four children, the youngest of which he has never met, as he was born when Aamer arrived at Guantánamo, were left behind in London.
Moazzam Begg, a former detainee of Guantánamo Bay and Bagram prisons and CAGE outreach director, said that Aamer’s “case encapsulates everything wrong with the War on Terror; detention without charge or trial, torture with the complicity of the UK government, crude and dehumanising treatment, destruction of a young family, and lack of accountability for war crimes committed against this man and those held with him—these are key features of the Shaker case.” I wholeheartedly agree.
Aamer’s lawyers have stated that he has been abused and tortured over the years with methods such as being hung from his wrists, beatings, and solitary confinement—all of which continued after he was cleared for release. I can’t help but wonder if the US and UK governments are frightened of what they have done and the prospect of people like Aamer—from whom they have stolen years of their lives and made endure unimaginable suffering—at last having a voice.
Aamer is lucky that he’s a British citizen, as it means our government is somewhat bound to care about his life and injustice he’s suffered. What about the masses of innocent, non-British citizens who are wrongly incarcerated and tortured in Guantánamo in some warped name of freedom? Eight detainees have died in the prison camp. In Aamer’s case, both Tory and Labour MPs, including David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn, have recently aggressively petitioned for his release and put pressure on the Obama administration, but it’s almost laughably late. Of course, Obama himself vowed to close Guantánamo in 2013, as he had before during his initial election campaign, but the executive order to shut it down has been rejected over and over again.
Nine British citizens have been imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay and were transferred there in two groups—one on March the 9th 2004 and the other on January the 25th 2005. A further five prisoners from Guantánamo have been released to the UK.
One of these was Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian who was transferred on February 23rd 2009 and who claims that MI5 was heavily involved in his torture. Moreover, Andy Worthington’s book, The Guantánamo Files exposes several disturbing accounts of the torture of Guantánamo’s inmates, including ‘Guantánamo’s child’ Omar Khadr—a Canadian citizen who was imprisoned in the camp after being arrested in Afghanistan after he was shot in the back in the 2002. He was only 15 at his time of arrest and remained incarcerated there for six years. Khadr was never treated as a juvenile, even though the United States is a signatory to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. It is this kind of shameful twisting of important protective measures which make my stomach turn with disillusionment and disappointment.
Moreover, the fact that our own government has been complicit in torture is disheartening on multitude of levels. How can we support the US, as leader of the ‘free world’ in a ‘War on Terror’ when this ‘free world’ has its own torture chamber? It’s not unreasonable to expect more than this from our government. We can’t just gloss over the fact that we played a part in the incarceration of these innocent people, for whatever reason, whether it be our government yielding in the face of pressure from the US or people within it genuinely believing that torture was the right thing to do.
Shaker Aamer recently stated that he believed, despite his recent approved release, that he will die in Guantánamo. I should have a faith in the justice system strong enough to confidently oppose him, rather than a faith which has slowly been eroded by the failures on the part of UK and US government regarding his release and the closure of the camp.
Again, I agree with Moazzam Begg when he says that Aamer’s “greatest test will be in how he will once again be a father, husband and a member of society. What he endured is beyond comprehension for most people in the UK. There is no escaping the story of Shaker Aamer and those who instigated his mistreatment. This will be a black page in the history of UK and US.”
Irrespective of the outcome of Shaker Aamer’s case and the future of the ‘detention centre’, our government must take responsibility for its role in the abhorrent terror that has taken place at Guantánamo Bay and now ensure that we fight against its existence and against our involvement in anything similar in the future.