Shaker Aamer was imprisoned by the Americans for fourteen years without trial. Mr Aamer, a British citizen, was captured in Afghanistan in 2002 and imprisoned for alleged crimes relating to the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers. He says he is innocent. He says he was tortured. He says MI5 and MI6 knew about the torture.
The US government was about to release Mr Aamer in 2007. Mr Aamer refused to go to Saudi Arabia, the country of his birth, preferring to return to his wife and children in Britain. Perhaps he felt safer in Britain. Perhaps he was afraid of what might happen to him in Saudi Arabia. In any case, the UK then provided a list of unsubstantiated allegations against My Aamer and called for his continued imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay. Mr Aamer was then imprisoned without trial for a further eight years.
An inquiry, set up in July 2010, chaired by Sir Peter Gibson, was the British government’s response to suggestions that we might have been complicit in the torture of detainees. In January 2012 an interim report was published raising a number of doubts and concerns and calling for more work on this matter. The vast majority of the documents the Inquiry examined were highly classified. This is the reason given for the investigation to be continued in secret by Westminster’s intelligence and security committee. Several outsider reporters described all this as a whitewash.
In 2009 an inquiry chaired by Sir John Chilcot was to investigate allegations that the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, took Britain to war with Iraq on the basis of untrue statements made to parliament. The Inquiry was initially to take place in private, but due to uproar in the House of Commons it was agreed that the results would be made public. Six years later the Chilcot inquiry has yet to publish its findings.
We might be forgiven for concluding that no honest redress is likely to come through ‘due process’ in any timely or transparent way. Leaders seem to be able to act with impunity and citizens cannot believe with any confidence that grievances will be investigated either fairly or quickly in a court of law. Could this be the reason why Mr Aamer is not interested in taking his grievances to court?
In the meantime there has been yet another vote on war in parliament. Last month the House voted in favour of active engagement in the bombing of Syria despite the advice of its own Foreign Affairs Select Committee. The Prime Minister claims there are ‘boots on the ground’ numbering some 70,000. These disparate groups of fighters are said to be supporters of our cause and to be ready to assist us in defeating IS/Daesh.
Many of these fighters oppose the government of Assad rather than IS/Daesh and they fight bitterly amongst each other. They also include Taliban and Al-Qaeda factions. Are these the groups we intend to provide military training and arms to in the future? Saudi Arabia, our close military, business and strategic ally, is reputed to have been secretly funding the Taliban for years. Our one-time enemies now seem to be the very people we are turning to for support. Who are the ‘terrorist sympathisers’ and who are the ‘freedom fighters’ in all this?
Shaker Aamer seems a very sincere and gentle man. His biggest crime seems to have been knowing some of the wrong people at the wrong time. He claims he was never involved in any talk of violence, or funding of violence, or military training. However he went to live under the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan and he might have had some sympathy with Al-Qaeda. As far as I know this alone is not a crime. It may turn out, in fact, that his previous involvements are now an asset to us.
Mr Aamer’s returned to Britain in October this year. He has taken some time with his family, to recover mentally and physically from his fourteen year ordeal. He states emphatically that he is not seeking compensation through the court of law. He simply calls for all parties to ‘tell the truth’. He is giving public interviews about his experiences as a detainee. At the same time he makes it very clear that not all of what he knows has yet been publicly revealed. One has to wonder about the next chapter in this story.