US to release UK resident Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo

Aamer, originally from Saudi Arabia, has been detained at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for more than 13 years without charge.

Shaker Aamer, the last British resident held in the US prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba is to be released, both the US Department of Defence and the UK government have confirmed.

A US official told Al Jazeera on Friday: “The secretary of defence has approved the transfer of Guantanamo detainee Aamer, following a thorough review of his case and taking into consideration the robust security assurances that will be provided by the British government, one of our strongest allies who has supported our efforts to close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay.”

The defence department has to notify Congress of its intent to transfer Aamer, which means that he has to wait for 30 days from the notification before he can be transferred.

Letters from Guantanamo Bay
Commenting, Clive Stafford Smith, Aamer’s lawyer, said in a press statement: “This is great news, albeit about 13 years too late.”
More than 13 years ago, Aamer’s life and the lives of his family were “ripped apart” when he was “sold for a bounty and taken to Guantanamo Bay”, his wife Zinneera wrote in a letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Aamer has never been charged with a crime. Since 2007, he has been told that the US no longer found it necessary to hold him as a review process under the Bush Administration by high-level US agencies had approved him for transfer from the prison. He was again cleared by the Obama Administration.
Now, Aamer waits to be reunited with his British wife and four children – including a child born the day he arrived at Guantanamo.

The UK, under both Labour and Tory governments, has called for Aamer to be allowed to return home since 2007.

The refusal by the US to send home Aamer, who suffers from chronic psychological and physical conditions, has been cited as the one of biggest contradiction to Obama’s statements that he was committed to closing the prison – a promise he made when he first took office.

A UK Government spokesman confirmed that the country had been notified by the US government that it decided to return Aamer to the UK.
“As the US has said, we have one of the most robust and effective systems in the world to deal with suspected terrorists and those suspected of engaging in terrorist-related activity and we will continue to do all we can to protect people in Britain and around the world from the threat of terrorism,” the spokesman said.
Stafford Smith said: “British politicians may bombasticate about our ‘robust and effective systems to deal with suspected terrorists’, but Shaker is not and never has been a terrorist, and has been cleared by the Americans themselves for eight years.”

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Aamer’s lawyers have said he has suffered horrible abuse over the years, including beatings, being hung from his wrist and prolonged periods of solitary confinement – even after he was cleared for release. He has also continued to be forcibly removed from his cell in a manner that has made him fear for his life, according to one of his lawyers, Ramzi Kassem.
A recent campaign, “We Stand With Shaker,” had gained some momentum in the UK – eight MPs from a broad political spectrum voiced their objection to Aamer’s detention in late December.
Al Jazeera understands that intensive lobbying from the UK government, including personal appeals from PM Cameron and new Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, made Aamer’s case a top priority for the Obama Administration.

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 Shaker case,” said Moazzam Begg, CAGE Outreach director and former detainee of Guantanamo Bay and Bagram prisons, in a press release.

“His 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 the UK and US,” Begg said.

Nine British citizens have been held at Guantanamo Bay. They were transferred in two groups – the first on March 9, 2004, and the second on January 25, 2005.

Another five prisoners from Guantanamo were sent to the UK, the most recent being Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian who was transferred on February 23, 2009. Mohamed claimed that the MI5 colluded in his torture.

– With reporting from Rosalind Jordan and Jenifer Fenton

Source: Al Jazeera