Why Shaker Aamer wants the one thing the US and UK governments won't give

After graphic claims about his alleged torture, Aamer says he just wants an apology. We know this probably won't happen - which is why we should stand with him in demanding it

Shaker Aamer during an interview with the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire
Shaker Aamer during an interview with the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire

You’re kept in a cell, alone for most of the day. When you’re out, you’re shackled. White noise and loud music is blasted into your cell. You’re forced to stay awake for nine days, doused in freezing water and made to stand for 16 hours on a concrete floor in winter. You have no name, just a number. You live like that for years - many of which you spend there despite having been cleared for release.

You’re continually tortured and abused by your captors. You’re told your daughter will be raped in your earshot. All it takes to end this treatment is information - but it’s information you simply don’t have.

That’s the reality described by Shaker Aamer of his detention, which included stints at Bagran Air Base, Kandahar Airfield and the Cuban facility Guantanamo Bay. This is a man who, 14 years after being picked up in Afghanistan by bounty hunters in 2001 and then turned over to the US, wants nothing more than an apology. Despite a large portion of his life and most of his dignity being stripped from him, and with no formal charges ever brought, he’s said he won’t launch any legal proceedings. Instead, he just wants someone to say sorry.

Only Aamer can explain why he won’t go to court. Perhaps he wants to move on. Perhaps he wants to forget some harrowing times. More likely, all Aamer wants is recognition from the US Government that they and their collaborators have wronged him – and, as he mentioned elsewhere, he has lost faith in the justice system which allowed his imprisonment.

But this story isn’t just about the United States and their treatment of some supposedly bad people. This is also a story about the United Kingdom, and our alleged complicity in his treatment by a secretive group of global counter-terror police.

Aamer has said British officials were present when he was abused, and it’s this he wants investigating.

Again, he doesn’t want criminal action to be taken. He merely wants to know the truth. He’s called for an inquiry, and that’s something we should all want to come to fruition.

Mark Fallon worked at Guantanamo Bay. For two and a half years, he led the US government’s prosecutions against its inmates, including that of a man he knew more commonly as ‘239’. He’s told LBC radio it’s high-time there's an "objective investigation" into both MI5 and MI6 to fully understand their role in the capture and torture of these prisoners.

Bear in mind that if a single British official was present at the torture of a ‘Gitmo’ inmate and didn’t intervene, we were complicit. And that very much means ‘we’. You and me. If true, all of that was carried out in our name, and we surely can’t support that.

The most ridiculous thing about torture? Not only is it barbaric, but it’s been proven to be completely useless. Its long been suggested that ‘confessions’ made under torture mean nothing – and a CIA Torture Report last year found that the agency itself leaked information to journalists exaggerating the success of interrogation methods in order to gain public support. What’s more, the ‘confession’ beat out of one inmate suggested Saddam Hussein was stockpiling chemical weapons. The man later admitted he made up the story just to end his suffering, saying, “They are killing me…I had to tell them something.”

That didn’t stop George Bush and Colin Powell using it to get a UN resolution for their invasion of Iraq. And we all know how that turned out.

In 2010 David Cameron admitted the reputation of both agencies needed restoring, suggesting its good work was being overshadowed by claims about their possible complicity in rendition and torture. He said a full inquiry would begin within the year, and take no less than 12 months.

To date, not a single minute has been spent on it.

As the Prime Minister said himself at the time, “the longer these questions remain unanswered, the bigger the stain on our reputation as a country that believes in freedom, fairness and human rights grows”. Hear, hear, Mr. Cameron. But was it all just talk?

We should all celebrate the work of our intelligence services, and their incredible ability to keep us safe. But if Shaker Aamer has the decency to let bygones be bygones and not to run a long High Court battle against his treatment, we should at the very least find out the truth about his time in captivity - and ensure that our country never participates in the torture of anyone.

It’s the least he deserves.

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