Release after 13 years: Shaker Aamer

Published: September 26, 2015

Release after 13 years: Shaker Aamer, Relatives and supporters of Shaker Aamer, the last British detainee held at Guantánamo Bay, have raised fears that his release could be delayed beyond the 30-day deadline promised by the US. Aamer’s family, who have waited for more than a decade to welcome him home, met the news of his imminent release on Friday with cautious relief, while his lawyer stressed that his release may take longer than expected.

The 46-year-old father of four, a Saudi national, has been held at the prison in Cuba since 2002, despite not being charged for any crime or standing trial. Married to a British citizen, the former translator has permission to live in the UK indefinitely and the British government has actively pursued his release in the past. US authorities announced on Friday that he would be released following a 30-day transfer process.

Commenting on the news, Aamer’s family, said: “We must still say this tentatively, as our hopes have been dashed before, but today is a good day. It is one that has been far too long coming. Shaker was cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2007 and has never faced any sort of a trial or been charged with any crime. We have been through a terrible ordeal and we ask the British and American governments not to prolong that ordeal any longer and tell us when we can expect our husband, father, and son-in-law to walk back into our lives.”

The notification of Aamer’s release was confirmed by the US Department of Defence and the UK government, but Congress has to be informed of the intent to transfer Aamer back to the UK, a process that takes 30 days, meaning Aamer will not be reunited with his family until late October.

However, Aamer’s lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, director of the prisoner rights organisation Reprieve, warned that it could take a lot longer than that. He said: “[The process is that] the UK will send a plane any time from 24 October, but it is important that the UK press for that date as the US often just lets things run.”
It is feared that Aamer could face a similar fate to fellow Saudi national and long-time hunger striker, Abdul Rahman Shalabi, who authorities said was Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard. Shalabi was repatriated on Tuesday after an 89-day wait despite having being originally cleared for release in June.

When Aamer is flown home, it is expected that he will be flown into RAF Northolt, west London, and be released from there.

Referring to the mental and physical health issues that Aamer is reported to be suffering from, his lawyer said: “We will need to get him a full medical as he has been so unwell for so long, then he needs to be with his family. I sincerely hope and expect that there will be no need for further legal proceedings.”

David Nicholl, a doctor who has long campaigned for the release of Aamer, including twice running the London marathon in an orange jumpsuit, said of the wait: “It’s about the way Congress likes to be seen to be doing things. I think they are trying to look tough. If Obama wanted to, he could as commander-in-chief declare it sooner, but I think it’s highly unlikely that he’ll do that in this case.”

He added: “Given that parliament unanimously voted for Shaker to be returned to the UK on 17 March, it would look very foolish for both Cameron and Obama if Shaker is kept a second longer than the 30-day rule.”

Reprieve’s statement said the UK must urge the US to put the captive “on a plane tomorrow”, adding: “British politicians may bombasticate [sic] about our ‘robust and effective systems to deal with suspected terrorists’, but Shaker is not and never has been a terrorist.”

Despite this and the high-level lobbying for Aamer’s release, it may come as a surprise to some as it was thought that he may never be released because he “knows too much” about the abuse and torture that allegedly took place at the notorious prison. Upon his return, he will be able to speak freely about the experience.


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