Monday, March 12, 2012

MEDIA RELEASE: UK Campaigners call for action over Guantánamo Bay and British residents during Cameron visit to USA

12th March 2012 – for immediate release

Human rights activists from the London Guantánamo Campaign [1] and the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign [2] call on Prime Minister David Cameron to raise the closure of Guantánamo Bay and the return of British residents Shaker Aamer [3] and Ahmed Belbacha [4] to the UK during his official visit to the USA on 13-14 March.

Mr Cameron will be accompanied by Foreign Secretary William Hague, who is reported to have sought the return of British resident Shaker Aamer recently with his American counterpart. Mr Cameron claimed in parliament on the tenth anniversary of the illegal prison facility that Mr Hague “is working very hard with the United States to try and secure this issue and to bring this chapter to a close.” [5] Campaigners demand that Mr Cameron seek Mr Aamer’s return through his personal intervention at the highest level, and press President Obama, during this American presidential year, to take practical and immediate measures to close Guantánamo Bay.

To mark this visit by the British Prime Minister, Joy Hurcombe, chair of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, sent a letter, on 9th March, to David Cameron and Barack Obama, stating, “Reluctantly, we must conclude that the Government assurances appear to disguise the truth. It would appear that the Government is not pressing the US hard enough for Shaker’s release and/or the Government would rather Shaker remained in Guantanamo in order to silence him.” [6]

Aisha Maniar, a spokesperson from the London Guantánamo Campaign, said: "Photo ops, sporting events and a chance to cement the special relationship aside, both premiers must seize the opportunity presented by this second official meeting in under a year to secure the release and return of British residents to the UK, seek the return of Bagram prisoner Yunus Rahmatullah to British custody [7], and the ultimate closure of Guantánamo Bay.

“Four years ago, a presidential candidate called Barack Obama sang from a very different hymn sheet on Guantánamo Bay and it now time for both men to demonstrate that they recognise there is a difference between words and actions.”



1. The London Guantánamo Campaign campaigns for justice for all prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, for the closure of this and other secret prisons, and an end to the practice of extraordinary rendition.
3. Shaker Aamer was cleared for release by the US military in 2007. He claims to have been tortured repeatedly during his time in US custody, on one occasion in the presence of a British intelligence agent. He has a British wife and four children living in Battersea, south London. He has never met his youngest son, who is 10 years old. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown sought his release in August 2007, along with four other residents held at Guantánamo Bay, the last of whom was released in February 2009. His lawyer, Clive Stafford-Smith, has recently expressed grave concerns for his physical and mental health due to prolonged arbitrary detention.
4. Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian national who lived in Bournemouth from 1999 to 2001, was cleared for release by the US military in 2007. Never charged or tried, he was free to leave but has remained at Guantánamo Bay for want of a safe third country to return to. A court injunction in the USA has prevented his forced return to Algeria.
5. 11 January 2011
6. Full text of the letter sent by Joy Hurcombe, chair, Save Shaker Aamer Campaign to David Cameron and Barack Obama on 9th March 2012:
Dear Prime Minister David Cameron,

The Save Shaker Aamer Campaign calls on you to demand the release and return of British Resident Shaker Aamer to his home and family in the UK from US custody in Guantanamo. We urge you to use the occasion of your official visit to Washington on 13/14 March to gain assurances from President Obama that Shaker Aamer will be returned to his family without delay.

The UK Government has reiterated its position on many occasions in Parliament, that the Foreign Office has made requests to the US Administration for Shaker Aamer’s release to the UK. We welcome the clear responses by William Hague and Alistair Burt to questions put by Jane Ellison, MP for Shaker’s British family who live in Battersea. Also, we appreciate the public statement made this month by Foreign Secretary, William Hague, following a meeting with Jane Ellison MP, Shaker Aamer’s lawyers and family members that, “We will continue to call for Mr. Aamer to be returned to his family in the UK.”

Yet, Shaker is still incarcerated in Guantanamo in the harshest of conditions despite having been cleared for release by the US Administration in 2007 and in 2010. Reluctantly, we must conclude that the Government assurances appear to disguise the truth. It would appear that the Government is not pressing the US hard enough for Shaker’s release and/or the Government would rather Shaker remained in Guantanamo in order to silence him. Shaker Aamer has alleged that he was tortured in Afghanistan in the presence of UK M15/M16 officials. When he is released, his evidence of UK’s complicity in torture will shame those who authorised this policy and those who put it into practice. Is the UK Government dragging its feet to stop the truth being told?

We have received a recent shocking report that Shaker Aamer has, once again, been visited in his cell by Saudi officials who have tried to coerce him to sign documents agreeing to his transfer to Saudi Arabia, a country from which he fled over 28 years ago. Shaker refused to sign. Shaker’s lawyers state that this visit could not have taken place without the consent of the UK Government. Is this the meaning behind the somewhat disconcerting statement by William Hague following the meeting referred to above that, “I have personally raised his case with Secretary Clinton on a number of occasions and we will continue to engage with the US on this issue until a solution is reached.”

There is no difficulty in finding a solution. We call on your Government to respect Shaker Aamer’s wish to return to his family, all of whom are British citizens, honour his long-term right of return and indefinite leave to remain and act on your public statements that you are committed to Shaker Aamer’s release and return to the UK. If Shaker is forcibly transferred to Saudi Arabia, he will face certain persecution and permanent separation from his British wife and children. World opinion would castigate the UK for allowing further injustice to a man who has suffered abduction, rendition, torture, abuse, years of solitary confinement and medical neglect in absolute denial of all his human rights.

Prime Minister, as you renew the UK/US special relationship, in your meetings with President Obama, we urge you to secure a date for Shaker’s immediate return to the UK.

We welcome the January 11th statement by Jay Carney, the White House spokes-person that, “President Obama remains committed to closing the Guantanamo facility... The President’s commitment hasn’t changed at all.”

President Obama should act in accordance with amendment 1028 of the US National Defence Authorisation Act in which a waiver can be used to enable the transfer from Guantanamo of the 89 detainees, who have been cleared for release, without further reference to the US Congress. Shaker Aamer could come home today. He could get his life back. He could be restored to his home and family. Shaker Aamer’s health is failing. His lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith wrote to William Hague immediately after his visit in November to Guantanamo to see Shaker. He stated that Shaker is gradually dying in Guantanamo. Please do not allow this to happen. Bring Shaker Aamer home now.

Yours sincerely, Joy Hurcombe

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