Editorial: A cry from Guantanamo that should shame us all

"They told me six years ago that I was cleared to leave and return and here I am still"


Shaker Aamer still remembers thinking “I’m saved!” when the Americans picked him up as he fled war-torn Afghanistan for Pakistan.

That was more than 11 years ago. Today he remains where he has been since February 2002, incarcerated in the prison camp at Guantanamo, having confessed – under duress, he says – to membership of the al-Qa’ida network in the UK and to having had ties to Osama bin Laden. He is the only British citizen or resident still there out of 16; one of 166 inmates of a prison that Barack Obama once called a blot on America’s name and which he promised to close within a year of taking office, by January 2009.

Aamer, almost 70 days into a hunger strike born out of despair, writes in a letter, which we publish, that he fears he may die before reaching a trial to confront the charges made against him, which he contests. The hunger strike, he says: “Is about the fact that they told me six years ago that I was cleared to leave and return to my wife and four children, but here I am, still in the Guantanamo.” He adds: “It’s about the man in the cell block with me who is in a wheelchair, or would be if they had not taken it from him as a punishment for striking. It’s about the man who got so desperate that he tried to kill himself – so they patched him up and put him in Camp V Echo, the inner ring of this hell.”

Congress may be the main culprit for this shameful state of affairs, having blocked every initiative on Guantanamo. But President Obama’s record on this issue has also been wretched. The White House has shuffled the camp to the bottom of the pile as a priority and forgotten it, which is why the increasingly hopeless prisoners have resorted to a hunger strike in a bid to attract attention. Why the Americans will not let Aamer go, in spite of having cleared him for release twice, is a mystery. But the unaccountable delays, stretching from one year to the next, naturally feed suspicions that they fear he has too much to tell about what he has witnessed in the camp during the past decade.

Our government has been equally fork-tongued. The Foreign Office maintains it has always wanted to see Aamer returned to the UK to stand trial. But there is clearly no real urgency about getting Aamer back to Britain, which is doubtless connected to the fact he insists he was tortured in Afghanistan in the presence of a British MI6 officer and that our government is thus at some level complicit in what he claims he has undergone. Were he to come back to Britain, he might provide embarrassing testimony to Scotland Yard’s investigation into allegations of British complicity in torture following the 9/11 attacks. According to his legal team, far from wanting to get him back to the UK, British Intelligence, along with their US counterparts, are arranging for Aamer to be released at some point to a third country, his birthplace of Saudi Arabia, where, all too conveniently, he would probably face arrest.

Whether the hunger strikers will succeed in their gamble to return the spotlight to Guantanamo is unclear. In Washington, there seems to be no conscience to jog. The camp’s 10th anniversary came and went last year without much notice. Every new terrorist attack, like the bombings in Boston, cements the American right in its conviction that terrorists, proven or not – the accusation appears to be enough – don’t need the luxury of courts and are best kept out of sight and out of mind.

Shaker Aamer says his favourite read in prison is Orwell’s 1984. The term “Orwellian” is often abused and applied to people suffering relatively minor inconveniences. Sadly, in this case, the comparison is all too apt.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: Our representatives must represent us

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
MP David Lammy would become the capital’s first black mayor if he won the 2016 Mayoral election  

Crime, punishment and morals: we’re entering a maze with no clear exit

Simon Kelner
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot