Guantanamo's most famous inmate: The long road to freedom for Shaker Aamer
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Shaker Aamer, the last British resident to be held at Guantanamo Bay, arrived in London on Friday after he was freed from the US military prison, where he had been detained for over 13 years.
"My thanks go to Allah first, second to my wife, my family, to my kids and then to my lawyers who did everything they could to carry the word to the world," Aamer said in a statement on his arrival home. "I feel obliged to every individual who fought for justice, not just for me, but to bring an end to Guantanamo."
Aamer, 46, was one of the most well-known prisoners at Guantanamo, where he was held without charge or a trial for more than 13 years. His case has become a cause célèbre, attracting the attention of rights groups, politicians and celebrities, who slammed his detention as a human rights violation.
Among those who have pushed for Aamer’s freedom are the leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, London Mayor Boris Johnson, films stars David Morrissey, Patrick Stewart and Ralph Fiennes, as well as musicians Sting, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and PJ Harvey, who even wrote a song about the longtime detainee. UK Prime Minister David Cameron raised Aamer’s case with US President Barack Obama when he visited the White House in January due to the outcry in Britain.
Born in Saudi Arabia, Aamer lived in the US before eventually settling in the UK, where he married a British national, becoming a permanent resident of the country in 1996.
He later moved to Afghanistan with his wife and children, where he claimed to have been working for charity when he was captured by Afghan forces in Jalalabad in late 2001.
Shortly after his arrest, Aamer was handed over to the US.
“Shaker was really happy when he was sold to the US because he thought, you know, justice, because he had lived here in America for a while, and he believed in American justice,” one of his lawyers, Clive Stafford Smith of the legal charity Reprieve, said in an interview with Democracy Now! on October 22.
Torture and hunger strikes
But instead of the “American justice” he was expecting, Aamer was transferred to Guantanamo Bay on February 14, 2002 – the same day as the birth of his fourth child.
The US alleged that he was a close associate of Osama bin Laden, and accused him of helping to recruit and raise money for al Qaeda. Aamer was also thought to have shared an apartment in the late 1990s with Zacarias Moussaoui, who was convicted of taking part in the September 11 attacks, as well as having met with Richard Reid, the so-called “Shoe Bomber”, and undergone training in the use of explosives and missiles.
Aamer said he was subjected to horrific torture at Guantanamo Bay, including repeated beatings and sleep deprivation. He also claimed to have been held in solitary confinement for nearly a year.
Outraged by the way he and other detainees were treated, Aamer became an advocate for prisoners’ rights. He took part in a number of hunger strikes to protest against conditions at Guantanamo, at one point losing half of his body weight.
Release ‘long past time’
Outside of the prison, Aamer’s case began to attract the attention of rights groups and some British lawmakers who lobbied for his release from the prison.
In June 2007, then-US president George W. Bush cleared Aamer for release, but it would take another seven years before he would finally be freed.
During a debate in the UK parliament earlier this year, some British lawmakers expressed concern that Aamer was still in Guantanamo because he “had seen too much” and could still pose a threat to America if released.
On Friday, rights groups and campaigners celebrated news of Aamer’s release.
“Today is a day for welcoming him back and hoping that he is healthy and well and that can join his family at long last,” Kate Allen, UK Director of Amnesty International, told Sky News.
Aamer arrived at London’s Biggin Hill Airport Friday on a direct flight from Guantanamo Bay. After landing, the plane taxied into a hangar and an ambulance was seen arriving and leaving the terminal building.
Cori Crider, another of Aamer’s lawyers with the legal charity Reprieve, described his client’s release as “long, long past time”.
“Shaker now needs to see a doctor, and then get to spend time alone with his family as soon as possible,” Crider said in a statement.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s Labour Party, said that the next step was to close Guantanamo once and for all.
“Now Shaker has been released, the scandal of the Guantanamo detention camp itself must be brought to an end,” Corbyn said.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)