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Time is Running Out... (re. Guantánamo)

London Guantánamo Campaign | 12.07.2009 19:25 | Guantánamo | Anti-racism | Repression | Terror War | World

The LGC and Cageprisoners held a public meeting in support of Shaker Aamer, the last London resident in Guantánamo Bay. Attended by 100 people, it is essential that action is taken now to bring Shaker and Ahmed Belbacha, from Bournemouth, back to the UK immediately!

Time is Running Out…
Report: “Shaker Aamer: the Last Londoner in Guantánamo Bay” (11 July 2009, Battersea Arts Centre)

The London Guantánamo Campaign and Cageprisoners held a public meeting on Saturday 11 July in Battersea to raise awareness about Shaker Aamer, the last London resident being held in Guantánamo Bay. Shaker Aamer, a 42 year old Saudi national, with a British family, including a 7 year old son he has never met, is one of two remaining British residents held at Guantánamo Bay. The other is Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian asylum seeker from Bournemouth. Neither man has ever been charged or tried, nor are there any plans to bring them before a military or civilian court.

The British government sought the return of Mr. Aamer in August 2007 along with four other residents, all of whom have since returned to the UK. The British government now claims that assurances sought by the American government as to his treatment – restrictions on his freedom of movement, etc. – are hindering his return. This was the same pretext for the government’s delay in securing the return of the other British residents; however, they and the British nationals held prisoner there have never been charged or tried in this country. In Mr. Belbacha’s case, the government is refusing to allow him to return, claiming he is a failed asylum seeker. He has been free to leave Guantánamo Bay for the past two and a half years but does not have anywhere to return to; an asylum seeker in the UK, he has stated that he would rather remain in Guantánamo Bay than return to Algeria where his life would be at risk.

The meeting was chaired by the London Guantánamo Campaign and attended by nearly one hundred people, including half a dozen former Guantánamo prisoners and the family of Shaker Aamer. The audience was addressed by speakers including local MP Martin Linton (Lab, Battersea). Mr. Linton stated that he would like to see Mr. Aamer return to the UK. He also stated that when the seventh anniversary of Guantánamo Bay was marked at the beginning of this year, he had thought that Mr. Aamer would be released by now, however six months into his presidency and his pledge to close Guantánamo Bay down within one year, it does not appear that President Obama wants Shaker Aamer to return here. A review panel is due to decide shortly on where to send Mr. Aamer: either to the UK or Saudi Arabia. The alternative options to the UK are bleak: a two year “re-education” programme in Saudi Arabia tantamount to another prison sentence without charge or trial or charges at Guantánamo Bay and a “trial” by military commission. Mr. Aamer’s release is taking longer than he had anticipated and is perpetuating the human tragedy: Shaker Aamer has a seven year old son he has never met and his oldest child remembers him only from photographs. For no legal or apparent reason, a family has been split and torn apart for the past almost eight years. Mr. Linton called on local people to take action, to write to him about their concerns and for others to write to their own MPs to raise the issue with the Foreign Secretary; the more pressure put on the Foreign Office, the more they will in turn pressurise the American administration. Mr. Linton suggested that a deputation of local Battersea residents should meet the Foreign Secretary to voice their concerns and their demands for Mr. Aamer’s return. Following the meeting, work was commenced on putting this deputation together. Mr. Ray Silk, a local resident, agreed to coordinate local groups and individuals who would be interested in doing this. The deputation hopes to meet David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, before this parliamentary session end in two weeks’ time.

Cageprisoners director and former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg, who lived with Shaker Aamer in Kabul before the war in Afghanistan when they were both charity workers there, spoke of him as a smiling, caring and unforgettable person who was very well-known in the south London area. While Mr. Begg, who was released in early 2005, was one of the first prisoners put forward for trial by military commission, Shaker Aamer has never been tried or charged at all. Mr. Begg stated that he is being held due to his charismatic personality; guards have been instructed not to fraternise with him and he has been held in solitary confinement for far longer periods than other prisoners. Recently released Chadian child prisoner Mohamed El-Gharani reported that Shaker Aamer had taken him under his wing and looked after him while imprisoned together. From within, Shaker Aamer has protested against the injustices at Guantánamo Bay, including the fact that despite being the rationale for its existence, not a single prisoner has ever been convicted of any crime in relation to the 9/11 attacks. The hunger strikes, which Mr. Aamer has participated in, have been the last straw for the prisoners protesting their innocence. The UK has officially called for Mr. Aamer’s release; there is a real need for change on both sides of the Atlantic, a change which is tangible. Mr. Begg called for those responsible and those who colluded in what has happened at Guantánamo Bay to be brought to account. While President Obama has called for a new page to be turned, the current page must be read before being turned over.

Gareth Peirce, solicitor, whose firm represents Mr. Aamer, called his situation an “emergency”: parliament and the courts will close in a fortnight for a two month break, meaning that little progress will be made in his case until October unless the government takes action now. While the US wants Shaker Aamer to be returned to Saudi Arabia where he will have to undergo a lengthy “re-education” programme, the UK is also complicit in his ordeal and morally, our role has been worse. The British government has sought to keep its complicity secret and provided information about the British nationals and residents to the US. The UK must demand that Shaker Aamer comes back immediately and this will only happen when there is sufficient pressure. Mr. Aamer would have returned by now if enough pressure had been put on the US, however due to the UK’s complicity, including the involvement of UK agents in his torture during interrogations, there is no interest in pursuing this. Ms. Peirce’s firm has brought a case against the British government for reparations on behalf of most of the British residents and nationals for its complicity in torture. The purpose of the case is not to seek compensation but to serve as a measure to prevent this happening again to others. The government was due to enter its defence in this case on Friday but failed to; instead it asked for more time. The government is also seeking to keep evidence, which may potentially incriminate it, secret in this case. Ms. Peirce called on MPs to seek answers from the Foreign Office and not let the issue fall out of the public eye. Britain must tell the US that all the other residents and nationals who have returned are living normal, ordinary lives and have reintegrated smoothly into their communities. In a lawless world, political pressure works and it must be applied now.
As well as being a legal tragedy, illegal detention at Guantánamo Bay is also a personal tragedy for family members, loved ones and communities. Ahmed Siddique, Shaker Aamer’s father-in-law spoke of the suffering of his family in Saudi Arabia; his sister recently passed away and his father also died recently, however Mr. Aamer has not been able to have contact with his family. His mother’s health has also deteriorated considerably; she has become ill and is becoming blind through the stress. He compared their situation to that of Jacob (Yaqoob), the father of Joseph (Yusuf), when his son was held on spurious allegations in jail in Egypt, and the suffering families must go through because of injustice. He asked why the British government was not pressurising the US for Mr. Aamer’s return and why there was a delay.

Mohammed El-Banna, the 11 year old son of Jamil El-Banna from north London, whose release was demanded at the same time as that of Mr. Aamer and who returned in December 2007, also addressed the audience. He stated that Mr. Aamer and his family had suffered for seven years for nothing. Mr. Aamer was innocent, just like his father, and no allegations could be proved against him. He stated that his father returned from Guantánamo Bay after five and a half years because people had campaigned for him. He urged the audience to campaign and demand the return of Shaker Aamer as well.

At the meeting, a letter demanding the return of Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha to the UK was signed by those attending. Sixty five people, including the family of Shaker Aamer, several former prisoners and several of their relatives, signed this letter to the Foreign Secretary.

The London Guantánamo Campaign urges everyone to take urgent action for Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha over the next fortnight. We call on everyone to:
1 – write to their MP
2 – write to the Foreign Office (letter attached)
3 – send regular emails to the Foreign Secretary (perhaps once a day) asking where Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha are and what progress is being made in their cases. A short, sweet message is enough. Email the Foreign Secretary at
4 – write to Ahmed Belbacha (290) and Shaker Aamer (239), Guantánamo Bay, PO Box 160, Washington DC20053, USA

London Guantánamo Campaign

12 July 2009

draft letter (cut, paste & send to the Foreign Secretary:

David Miliband MP
Foreign Minister
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
London, SW1A 2AH

Dear Foreign Secretary,

At the beginning of his presidency, Barack Obama pledged to close Guantánamo Bay within one year. Since then, there has been a good deal of concern as to the fate of the current prisoners. Two of these men have close ties to the UK.

In August 2007, you wrote to your American counterpart to seek the return of Shaker Aamer, a Saudi resident who lived in Battersea with his British wife and children. The four other men whose return was sought along with his have all now returned to the UK. Mr. Aamer has never been charged or tried at Guantánamo Bay. The American government has not explained why it is necessary for him to continue to be held. I urge you to take whatever action is necessary to ensure that the American authorities release him immediately so that Mr. Aamer can return to his family in the UK.

In February 2007, Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian resident from Bournemouth was cleared for release by the Pentagon. He cannot return to Algeria as his life would be in danger there. He would rather remain in Guantánamo Bay than return to Algeria. Although it is claimed that he was a failed asylum seeker, as his claim was due to be heard when he had already been captured by American forces in Pakistan, I urge you to seek his return to the UK and then decide whether or not to accept his asylum claim. Mr. Belbacha has wasted almost two and a half extra years of his life as he has nowhere to go to.

I urge you to take immediate action to help the American administration close Guantánamo Bay as soon as possible and end the suffering of men who have been held indefinitely without charge or trial for nearly eight years.

Yours faithfully,

London Guantánamo Campaign
- e-mail: london.gtmo[at]
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