When I helped organise a protest against Guantánamo Bay in 2007, I had no idea that I would still be campaigning against it more than eight years later. Or that until today there would still be a British resident held at the notorious detention centre. But on 26 October, I along with a number of other Amnesty staff, took part in a hunger strike in solidarity with Shaker Aamer.
Now Shaker Aamer, the last of the British residents and nationals detained at Guantánamo Bay, has finally been released.
After 13 and a half years held without charge or trial, he can finally return to his family. Thirteen-year-old Faris Aamer was born – as fate would have it – on the very day that Shaker Aamer was transferred to Guantánamo Bay. Soon this teenager will meet his father for the first time.
After more than a decade of pressure by Amnesty supporters, dedicated campaign groups and parliamentarians, Shaker Aamer’s ordeal is seemingly over. Shaker Aamer himself has said he is ‘grateful for the people supporting me back in the UK’ and Amnesty would like to thank everyone who has played a part in making this happen too.
But let’s not forget that there are still more than 100 detainees held indefinitely at Guantanamo. And many further questions about Shaker Aamer’s ordeal remain.
There are various theories as to why he was not released sooner, particularly as he was twice cleared for transfer out of Guantánamo Bay – the first time was long ago as 2007.
There is also a question as to what role the UK played? Shaker Aamer said that men claiming to be MI5 officers were present at interrogations in Afghanistan, during which his head was ‘repeatedly banged so hard against a wall that it bounced’.
This is a serious claim and highlights once again the need for an independent judge-led inquiry into allegations of UK involvement in torture and rendition (aka international kidnapping by a state).
But Shaker Aamer’s allegations of mistreatment do not stop there.
He says he was repeatedly abused in both Afghanistan and in Guantánamo. In one spell between 3 December 2011 and 27 January 2012, he claims to have been beaten up every day by guards dressed in black body armour.
He has also spent much of his time in solidarity confinement and repeatedly took part in hunger strikes.
Amnesty first issued an urgent action for Shaker Aamer in 2005, after he and others went on hunger strike in protest at their mistreatment. The process of force feeding was particularly concerning.
You only have to watch the video of the musician Mos Def volunteering to be force fed to appreciate why:
Just last month Shaker Aamer’s lawyers filed a lawsuit for an independent medical examination so it is no wonder that the first two things Shaker Aamer has said he wants upon his release are a cup of coffee and an independent medical examination. This is the least he should receive.
It is essential that the UK government ensures he has access to services for rehabilitation, such as independent medical and psychological support, should he wish it.
I can only imagine how Shaker Aamer must be feeling right now. After more than 5,000 days, detained without charge, he finally is shedding the orange jump suit and the prison number 239, he is finally on his way home to his family and he can finally have that cup of coffee he has so been looking forward to.
So whilst Amnesty will continue to campaign against the injustice of Guantánamo Bay, today I will raise a cup of coffee as Shaker Aamer tastes freedom.