One of Guantanamo's Forgotten Prisoners

November 8, 2011

Shaker Aamer protest in London
Shaker Aamer was cleared for release by the Bush administration in 2007. (Photo by Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)

Shaker Aamer, a former UK resident of Saudi descent, has been held without charge at the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for nearly 10 years. He was cleared for release by the Bush administration in 2007 but is still inexplicably incarcerated more than four years later.

Shaker was detained by irregular Afghan forces in Jalalabad in December 2001, shortly after the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom. By his own account he had been in Afghanistan working for a Saudi charity and no compelling evidence refuting this contention has been presented.

He was quickly handed over to US custody. He was initially held at Bagram airbase and was then one of the first inmates transferred to Guantanamo in February 2002. Shaker has claimed that he was tortured and abused in both detention facilities.

A photograph of Shaker Aamer in his Guantanamo detainee file

Shaker’s Detainee Assessment Brief (DAB), obtained and made public by the Wikileaks organization, reveals that the US government has set great store in allegations that have been made against him by other Guantanamo detainees. Inmate testimony of this nature has proved to be notoriously unreliable.

Shaker’s DAB also contains at least one other statement that appears to be at odds with established facts. The brief claims that he is considered a high priority target by the Saudi intelligence service but the Saudi authorities have stated that they have no intention of seeking his prosecution if he is released.

Indeed, the central complaint against Shaker appears to be how he has behaved in detention in Guantanamo – he is described by the US authorities as being “non-compliant and hostile to the guard force and staff” and to have amassed more than 100 disciplinary infractions.

Shaker was a central figure in organizing detainee protests against poor conditions at the Guantanamo detention facility. This seems to have provoked the ire of the prison authorities and he has spent extended periods locked up in solitary confinement as a result.

In September 2006 Shaker’s defense counsel filed a motion alleging that Shaker had been held in solitary confinement for 360 days at the time of filing, and was tortured by beatings, exposure to temperature extremes, and sleep deprivation, which together caused him to suffer to the point of becoming mentally unbalanced.

It is worth noting that, despite these experiences, prison staff concede that Shaker has never posed a physical threat to the guard force and that his disciplinary infractions have all been of a non-violent nature.

I rather suspect that being held ten years without an opportunity to challenge one’s detention and with no end in sight would provoke a certain amount of hostility from us all. Indeed, given what he has been through, the disciplinary infractions detailed in Shaker’s DAB actually seem rather tame.

In 2007 Shaker was cleared for release by the Bush administration and the British government has been seeking to secure his repatriation ever since. British Foreign Secretary William Hague commented in March 2011 that he was pressing the US to return Aamer:

“To put right some of the damage caused to Britain’s moral authority by allegations of complicity in torture and in rendition leading to torture.”

The British government has stated publicly that it does not intend to prosecute Shaker if he is released and he has already been included in absentia in a compensation settlement reached by the British government last year with other former Guantanamo inmates.

December will mark the tenth anniversary of Shaker’s detention without trial. No case has been brought against him and there are no charges in the offing. Even the ‘intelligence material’ gathered together in his DAB is circumstantial at best.

Depriving an individual of his liberty is no small thing. To do so the state must make its case in court. There is no more fundamental principle of justice.

Shaker has four children who have gone a decade without being able to see their father. This travesty has gone on long enough. If the United States does not intend to charge Shaker with a crime – it must release him and repatriate him to the United Kingdom.

Shaker Aamer is just one of many “forgotten prisoners” languishing in prisons around the world. Take action for these prisoners and other individuals at risk by joining the Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon.