• Press Release

UK Doctor to White House: Release Our Last Detainee

April 17, 2015

WASHINGTON – London Marathon runner Dr David Nicholl is in Washington to demand President Obama delivers on his promise to close Guantánamo – including by sending home former British resident Shaker Aamer, who was tortured.

Dr. Nicholl is running 13 miles around the White House in Washington in an orange jumpsuit and chains on Sunday April 19 (9-10:30 a.m.) to raise awareness of the plight of a Guantánamo detainee as part of his transatlantic campaign. His run occurs amid continuing debate about the Obama administration’s failure to respond to the recent Senate report on torture – including the Justice Department’s apparent failure to even read the full report.

Dr. Nicholl, 50, a consultant neurologist from the UK, is in training for the April 26 London Marathon, which he also intends to run in an orange jumpsuit to focus attention on the case of Aamer, a former UK resident who has been held without charge or trial at the infamous Guantánamo detention center for over 13 years.

Dr. Nicholl will run a circuit around the White House starting on the steps of Capitol Hill (at 9:00 a.m.) along the National Mall, past the Washington Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, then back via the Vietnam War Memorial to the White House where he will complete laps of the White House to a total of 13 miles (1 mile for each year of Aamer’s detention), before arriving (at 10:30 a.m.) at the view of the North Lawn of the White House with an Amnesty International petition on Aamer’s case for President Barack Obama. The 41,000-signature petition calls for the UK and US authorities to urgently arrange Aamer’s release and return to the UK unless he is charged and put on trial. Last month Dr. Nicholl delivered the petition to the gates of Downing Street as part of his transatlantic campaign to press for justice for Aamer.

Amnesty member Dr. Nicholl, a long-term campaigner on Aamer’s case who also ran the 2005 London Marathon for the detainee, is one of Amnesty International UK’s designated London Marathon entrants. He has the backing of the detained man’s family for the run as efforts intensify to secure either a fair trial or an immediate release for 46-year-old Aamer. In January, Prime Minister David Cameron reportedly raised Aamer’s case in face-to-face talks with President Obama in Washington, with President Obama reportedly saying that the US authorities would “prioritize” the case. Last month a House of Commons debate saw the UK government supporting a motion calling on the US government “to release Shaker Aamer from his imprisonment in Guantánamo Bay and to allow him to return to his family in the UK.”

Dr. Nicholl aims to complete the gruelling 26-mile London race event in one of Guantánamo’s distinctive orange jumpsuits while also wearing chains and handcuffs. The jumpsuit – which Dr. Nicholl will be wearing for the White House petition delivery – will also feature an image of Aamer’s face and the slogan “Justice for Shaker Aamer.”

David Nicholl said:

“I’m running for justice for Shaker. A man who has been held in detention longer than the entire length of the US War of Independence and US Civil War combined. I find myself asking what George Washington and Abraham Lincoln would make of a president like Barack Obama who declared when he became president in 2009 that he would close Guantánamo, yet has still failed to deliver that promise. We’re talking about something that’s completely outside international law with zero accountability. This is fundamentally against everything that America stands for.

“What’s amazingly frustrating about Shaker’s case is that he has been ‘cleared for transfer’ years and years ago, but he’s still languishing at this godforsaken camp.

“I’ve always said that Shaker’s case is about very basic principles – you don’t lock someone up for years without giving them a proper trial. Since no charges have been brought, it’s as simple as that. President Obama and Congress need to be absolutely clear that they believe in a justice system. This has now become fundamentally about political leadership, or rather a lack of it. The British Parliament has spoken, it is time for Obama to act. Shaker should be sent back to London to be with his family.

“I ran the London Marathon for Shaker a decade ago and never dreamt I’d be preparing to do it all over again. Whatever slight aches and pains I might feel as a result of doing the marathon will honestly be as nothing compared to the years of torment Shaker and his family have gone through.”

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“Guantánamo has always been a travesty of justice and it’s astonishing that over 100 detainees – including Shaker – are still held at this miserable place.”

The last UK detainee

Aamer is the last of the UK nationals and residents still held at the notorious detention center. He has been detained there since February 2002 despite never being charged or brought to trial. As long ago as 2007 he was “cleared for transfer” – apparently to Saudi Arabia – by the US authorities but Aamer remains at the camp for reasons that remain unclear. Last month Amnesty wrote to David Cameron seeking urgent answers over why Aamer is still detained. Meanwhile, there is growing urgency amongst campaigners amid reports that Aamer’s mental and physical health have deteriorated significantly in the past year. Aamer has been held for long periods in solitary confinement and has taken part in protracted hunger strikes in protest at his incarceration. He is reported to have numerous ailments and last year was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Torture allegations

Aamer was arrested by Afghan forces in late 2001 in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, and subsequently transferred to US custody. Aamer is originally from Saudi Arabia. His wife and four children are all British nationals who live in London. Aamer had permission to live indefinitely in the UK on the basis of his marriage to a British national at the time of his original detention.

Via his lawyers, Aamer has alleged he was subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, including severe beatings, while held in secret US detention in Afghanistan in early 2002. Aamer has also repeatedly alleged that he has been tortured and otherwise ill-treated at Guantánamo. According to his lawyers, Aamer has been the subject of hundreds of “Forcible Cell Extractions” at the camp, where a team of guards in riot gear forcibly remove a detainee from their cell. Aamer speaks fluent English and his lawyers understand he has been involved in protesting against conditions at the camp, including participating in hunger strikes and speaking out on behalf of other detainees. They believe he has been subjected to prolonged isolation and frequent ill-treatment as punishment for his protests over his indefinite detention.

13 years of Guantánamo

  • *122 men remain at Guantánamo.
  • *779 detainees have been held at the US prison at Guantánamo since 2002.
  • *The last release of detainees occurred on January 14, 2015, when five Yemenis were transferred out of Guantánamo.
  • *Over 600 detainees have been transferred from Guantánamo to other countries since 2002 without being the subject of criminal charges.
  • *Nine detainees have died in custody in Guantánamo.
  • *President Obama pledged to close Guantánamo shortly after his inauguration in January 2009.

Last year Amnesty launched a global Stop Torture campaign. Details here: www.amnestyusa.org /stoptorture