The last British resident held in the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba will be going home, both the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.K. government have confirmed.
A U.S. official told Al Jazeera: “The Secretary of Defense has approved the transfer of Guantanamo detainee Aamer, following a thorough review of his case and taking into consideration the robust security assurances that will be provided by the British Government, one of our strongest allies who has supported our efforts to close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay.”
The Defense Department has to notify Congress of its intent to transfer Aamer, which means that he has to wait for 30 days from the notification before he can be transferred.
“This is great news, albeit about 13 years too late,” said Clive Stafford Smith, Aamer's lawyer.
Aamer had never been charged with a crime. Since 2007, he has been told that the U.S. no longer found it necessary to hold him, as a review process under the Bush Administration by high-level U.S. agencies had approved him for transfer from the prison. He was again cleared by the Obama Administration.
Now, Aamer is set to be reunited with his British wife and four children — including a child born the day he arrived at Guantanamo. Shaker’s wife, Zinneera, wrote in a letter to David Cameron saying that Aamer’s life and that of his family was “ripped apart” when he was “sold for a bounty and taken to Guantánamo Bay.”
The United Kingdom, under both Labour and Tory governments, has been calling for Aamer, who suffers from chronic psychological and physical conditions, to be allowed to return home since 2007.
The refusal by the United States to send Aamer back to Britain, has been cited by campaigners as the one of biggest contradictions to Obama’s statements that he was committed to closing the prison — a promise he made when he first took office.
A British government spokesman confirmed that the U.K. had been notified by the U.S. government that it decided to return Aamer. “As the U.S. has said, we have one of the most robust and effective systems in the world to deal with suspected terrorists and those suspected of engaging in terrorist-related activity and we will continue to do all we can to protect people in Britain and around the world from the threat of terrorism,” the spokesman said.
Stafford Smith added: “British politicians may bombasticate about our ‘robust and effective systems to deal with suspected terrorists’ but Shaker is not and never has been a terrorist, and has been cleared by the Americans themselves for 8 years.”
His lawyers have said he has been abused while in captivity, including beatings, being hanged from his wrist and prolonged periods of solitary confinement — even after he was cleared for release. Aamer has continued to be forcibly removed from his cell in a manner that has made him fear for his life, according to one of his lawyers, Ramzi Kassem.
A recent campaign, “We Stand With Shaker,” had gained some momentum in the UK – eight MPs from a broad political spectrum voiced their objection to Aamer’s detention in late December.
Aamer’s case was the subject of intensive lobbying from the UK government, including personal appeals from PM Cameron and new Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, according to U.S. officials.
“[Aamer’s] case encapsulates everything wrong with the War on Terror; detention without charge or trial, torture with the complicity of the UK government, crude and dehumanising treatment, destruction of a young family, and lack of a accountability for war crimes committed against this man and those held with him — these are key features of Shaker case,” said Moazzam Begg, CAGE Outreach Director and former detainee of Guantanamo Bay and Bagram prisons, in a press release.
“His greatest test will be in how he will once again be a father, husband and a member of society. What he endured is beyond comprehension for most people in the UK. There is no escaping the story of Shaker Aamer and those who instigated his mistreatment. This will be a black page in the history of the UK and US,” Begg added.
Nine British citizens have been held at Guantanamo. They were transferred in two groups – the first on March 9, 2004 and the second on January 25, 2005. Five additional prisoners from Guantanamo were sent to the UK, the last being Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian who was transferred on February 23, 2009. Mohamed claimed that the MI5 colluded in his torture.
Aamer was volunteering at a charity in Afghanistan when he was seized and sold to U.S. forces for bounty, according to his lawyers. He was one of the first five prisoners sent to Bagram in December 2001. He arrived at Guantanamo February 14, 2002. His first letter to his family from Guantanamo in 2003 read, “My dear wife and lovely kids, I don’t know when I am coming out but pray for me that it will be soon. … Don’t send any pictures of the kids — it will make it hard on me here in jail. … I love you all.”