US refuses to free the final British resident in captivity
Wife pleads for return of man who hasn't met youngest son
Wednesday 25 February 2009
The British wife of the final UK resident being held in Guantanamo Bay has pleaded for her husband's release so he can be united with the son he has never seen. Shaker Aamer, 42, was separated from his family more than seven years ago while they were visiting Afghanistan. He claims to have been beaten and tortured during his detention at the notorious US Navy detention centre in Cuba.
His wife, Zin Aamer, 33, who lives in south London, told The Independent that the return of the Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed to the UK on Monday was a bittersweet moment for her and the children. "The kids keep asking me why wasn't Shaker on the plane with Binyam. Of course, I am happy for Binyam but the kids don't understand why they can't see their father and why it is taking so long. I have to explain to them that he has not been forsaken, that they must be patient."
Mr Aamer, his wife and their three young children left London in 2001 to go to Afghanistan to work with a children's charity. But Mr Aamer, a Saudi Arabian national who came to the UK in 1996, was captured in December 2001 by American forces who claim he was fighting with the Taliban. Reprieve, the human rights group which is representing him, maintains that he was sold by villagers to the Northern Alliance, who in turn sold him to the Americans.
From there, he was transferred to Bagram airbase then flown on to Guantanamo Bay. For more than four years, he has been held in solitary confinement because the Guantanamo camp guards believe he had too much influence over other detainees. He has never seen his youngest son, six-year-old Abdul Salam.
The last contact Mrs Aamer had with her husband was a letter from Guantanamo last August. "Of course it was a happy moment seeing Binhyam come back," she said. "But they are all very confused, especially Johaina. She is 11 now and can remember playing with her father before the war started [in Afghanistan]."
Mr Aamer's lawyers have filed a 16-page claim arguing for his removal from isolation in Guantanamo Bay prison. He claims he was tortured by beatings, sleep deprivation and exposure to temperature extremes, which brought him to the point of a mental breakdown.
His claims, if true, could prove to be very damaging to the US government which has always maintained it uses reasonable force in its treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo. His lawyers believe Britain provided assistance to America during his initial interrogation in Afghanistan and in Guantanamo.
It is understood that Mr Aamer and Binyam Mohamed, who alleges that the UK was complicit in his alleged toture, came to be friends during their detention in Cuba. The British government has recently begun pressing the US administration for Mr Aamer's release.
And it is understood that a party of Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials who visited Mr Mohamed this month, before he was cleared for release, also had limited contact with Mr Aamer, who has lost half his body weight after a series of hunger strikes. A spokesman for the FCO said the Americans had told the British Government that they still had security concerns about Mr Aamer and would not release him.
The return of Mr Aamer to the UK would end the British Government's involvement with the repatriation programme of the 243 remaining inmates. But human rights lawyers at Reprieve say that at least two other men have a claim to British residency or help from the UK government. Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian national and former British resident, is in his seventh year of detention at Guantanamo. The US military has cleared him for release but Mr Belbacha so fears what awaits him in Algeria that he has opted to wait in Guantanamo until another country offers him refuge.
Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed is an Algerian citizen who left Algeria to seek freedom and greater economic opportunities in Europe, and, like Haker Aamer, he was captured and sold to US soldiers in Pakistan after fleeing from Afghanistan. He has lived in France, Italy and the UK and wants to return to Europe to work after he is released from Guantanamo. He was cleared for transfer in 2007.
Zin Aamer, who has been treated for depression during her husband's absence, says it was Shaker's idea to leave their London home in the summer of 2001 because he felt frustrated at not having a proper home to bring up his family.
"The council couldn't find us a flat or house in London so we decided to leave. Shaker was always helping people in England and he wanted to help the children of Afghanistan, but wasn't sure whether he should be teaching or help build a hospital."
For a few weeks, the family shared a house with Moazzam Begg, a Briton freed from Guantanamo in 2005, who had also gone to Kabul to help children in Afghanistan. But when the American invasion started, the country became a very dangerous place. "The bombs were falling every night and we had to leave the city to stay in a village," said Mrs Aamer. "The children were terrified and kept telling us to be quiet in case our noise made the bombs come.
"Shaker was frightened too and I can remember his face now, it was almost as pale as the colour of the cream suit he was wearing. Shaker left the village to find a safer place for us. But in the middle of the night the villagers told us we had to go with a group travelling to the safety of Pakistan."
Mrs Aamer said: "I was pregnant with our fourth child and we were all scared. In the end, I just went. I didn't see Shaker again. Sometimes I regret that decision. What if I stayed? Would we all be together now?"
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