Thursday, May 26, 2011

Unpublished letters from Obama's visit to the UK

With its focus on the dress sense of Mrs Obama and the Duchess of Cambridge, the media quite literally skirted around important issues of joint US-UK concern, such as Guantánamo Bay, when US President Barack Obama visited London on his first official state visit on 24-26 May.

The following letter sent to the Guardian and Independent newspapers and signed by over 50 prominent individuals, including former Guantánamo prisoners, politicians and leading lawyers, as well as organisations, was overlooked for publication:

President Obama’s visit to the UK offers this government a unique opportunity to demand the closure of Guantánamo Bay and the release and return to this country of two men still held there with links to the UK. Ahmed Belbacha, who formerly resided in the UK, was cleared for release over four years ago and is at risk of forced return to Algeria, where his life would be in danger. UK resident Shaker Aamer, who has a British wife and children, has been imprisoned without charge for close to a decade. The latter's case has been raised with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by William Hague and Nick Clegg, but apparently to no avail.

The time has come for David Cameron to take an unequivocal stand by addressing these issues head on with the US president during his visit to the UK.

Signed: Daniel Viesnik, London Guantánamo Campaign; Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London; Bruce Kent; Louise Christian, Christian Khan Solicitors; Andy Worthington; Ray Silk, Save Shaker Aamer Campaign; John Pilger; Sarah Ludford, Lib Dem MEP for London; Baroness Helena Kennedy QC; John McDonnell MP; Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC, Bindmans LLP; Ruhul Ahmed and Tarek Dergoul, former Guantánamo prisoners; Kika Markham; Omar Deghayes, Legal Director, Guantánamo Justice Centre; Kate Hudson, General Secretary, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament; Professor Bill Bowring, Research Fellow, University of Essex; Natalia Garcia, Tyndallwoods Solicitors; Tayab Ali, Irvine Thanvi Natas Solicitors; Liz Davies, barrister and Chair of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers; Anjum Anwar, Dialogue Development Officer, Blackburn Cathedral; Professor Mark McGovern, Department of Social and Psychological Sciences, Edge Hill University; Faisal Hanjra, Assistant Secretary General, MuslimCouncil of Britain; Sultan Sabri, Surrey Solicitors; Salma Yaqoob; Lord Ahmed of Rotherham; Councillor Jonathan Bloch Lib Dem Councillor for Muswell Hill, London Borough of Haringey; Estella Schmid, Campaign Against Criminalising Communities; Maryam Hassan, Justice for Aafia Coalition; Richard Haley, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities; Katherine Craig, Christian Khan Solicitors; Sarah McSherry, Christian Khan Solicitors; Maria Gallastegui, Peace Strike; Darren Johnson, Green London Assembly Member; Millius Palayiwa, Director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, England; Chris Coverdale, Campaign to Make Wars History; Dr Shahrar Ali, Green Party; Simon Moore; Anita Olivacce; David Polden; Chris Cole; Noel Hamel, Kingston Peace Council; Joy Hurcombe, Brighton Against Guantanamo; Frances Webber, vice-chair Institute of Race Relations; Maya Evans; Milan Rai, Co-editor, Peace News; Sam Walton; Ismail Patel, Chair, Friends of Al-Aqsa

The following comment piece requested by the London Evening Standard newspaper was also unpublished:

Despite the great hopes of the international community following President Obama’s election to the most powerful office in the world, the Nobel peace prize winner has shown through his actions his intention to continue where his predecessor left off, dispensing with the inconveniences of international law at will. From “extraordinary rendition”, torture and indefinite imprisonment without charge in legal black holes like Guantánamo Bay and Bagram to extrajudicial executions, Obama has demonstrated the futility of hope in a genuine alternative to the reactionary tendencies of the American political elite. If Bush tarnished the standing of the United States in the world, Obama’s administration has done little or nothing to repair that damage.So, as human rights campaigners, we struggle instead for small victories, like the return to the UK of British resident Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha, previously resident in England and whose life would be at risk if returned to his native Algeria. Neither man has been charged with any crime after almost a decade of incarceration in Guantánamo. The very least the Prime Minister can do when he meets Obama this week is ask for the swift return of the two men to the UK.
Daniel Viesnik, London Guantánamo Campaign

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