Amnesty International UK Calls Guantanamo a “Shameful Scandal”
Amnesty International calls the continued detention of Shaker Aamer at Guantanamo an an injustice that has “flouted the law and the ancient principle of the right to a fair trial.”
In an article appearing in London’s Independent newspaper, Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty International UK, has said the United States has perpetrated an injustice and “flouted the law and the ancient principle of the right to a fair trial” as a result of the indefinite detention of detainee Shaker Aamer, a resident of the UK.
According to Allen, “Shaker Aamer has lived the last decade of his life in limbo. He has gone from a young father in his mid-30s to a grey-haired man in his mid-40s in a cell in the detention camp in Cuba. During that time, he has been involved in protests against conditions at the camp, including hunger strikes, and has been subjected to periods of solitary confinement. He alleges that he has been subject to torture, both before his arrival and while there. He talks of days of sleep deprivation and beatings.”
Captured in 2001, the U.S. believes Aamer was associated with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and that he was formerly a roommate, in London, with Zaccarias Moussaoui, who was convicted of conspiring to kill American citizens as part of the 9/11 attacks.
Subsequently, however, the Bush administration admitted that there was no actionable evidence against Aamer. On September 9, 2011, reporting for the BBC, political reporter Chris Mason pointed out that Aamer “was cleared for release in 2007 when the Bush administration acknowledged it had no evidence against him.”
Allegations of Torture and Murder
Having been held for more than a decade without trial, it seems manifestly clear that U.S. authorities do not have enough evidence to charge him with a crime, making his continued detainment increasingly suspicious. So, having been cleared for release five years ago, why is he still languishing behind bars?
Some supporters believe it is because he knows too much about what has happened at Guantanamo and that if released he’ll blow the lid off the the U.S. torture and indefinite detention scandal.
The most prominent of those who believe this is Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, a human rights organization, and the lawyer for former Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohammed.
“I have known Shaker for sometime, because he is so eloquent and outspoken about the injustices of Guantanamo he is very definitely viewed as a threat by the US,” said Stafford Smith. “Not in the sense of being an extremist but in the sense of being someone who can rather eloquently criticise the nightmare that happened there.”
Among the things he might mention were he to be released would be his alleged torture at the hands of American and British interrogators and the alleged murder of three detainees and a subsequent cover-up.
Journalist Scott Horton recounted the official story of the deaths in a sensational article for Harper’s magazine. He wrote:
Late on the evening of June 9 that year , three prisoners at Guantánamo died suddenly and violently. Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, from Yemen, was thirty-seven. Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, from Saudi Arabia, was thirty. Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, also from Saudi Arabia, was twenty-two, and had been imprisoned at Guantánamo since he was captured at the age of seventeen. None of the men had been charged with a crime, though all three had been engaged in hunger strikes to protest the conditions of their imprisonment. They were being held in a cell block, known as Alpha Block, reserved for particularly troublesome or high-value prisoners.
As news of the deaths emerged the following day, the camp quickly went into lockdown. The authorities ordered nearly all the reporters at Guantánamo to leave and those en route to turn back. The commander at Guantánamo, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, then declared the deaths “suicides.” In an unusual move, he also used the announcement to attack the dead men. “I believe this was not an act of desperation,” he said, “but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.” Reporters accepted the official account, and even lawyers for the prisoners appeared to believe that they had killed themselves.
Nonetheless, when details in the official report were made public, it was immediately clear that the men likely could not have killed themselves in the manner authorities described.
“According to the NCIS documents, each prisoner had fashioned a noose from torn sheets and T-shirts and tied it to the top of his cell’s eight-foot-high steel-mesh wall.” Horton reported. “Each prisoner was able somehow to bind his own hands, and, in at least one case, his own feet, then stuff more rags deep down into his own throat. We are then asked to believe that each prisoner, even as he was choking on those rags, climbed up on his washbasin, slipped his head through the noose, tightened it, and leapt from the washbasin to hang until he asphyxiated. The NCIS report also proposes that the three prisoners, who were held in non-adjoining cells, carried out each of these actions almost simultaneously.”
Corroborating evidence strongly suggesting that the deaths were something other than suicides came from a guard at Guantanamo who was on duty the night of the incident. He recounted to Horton how he witnessed a vehicle known as the “paddywagon” that the guards were under orders not to search used to deliver three detainees to a secret part of the compound that, officially, did not exist (despite its regularly observed physical presence). Sometime later, the guard witnessed the return of the vehicle, this time backing up to the medical facility. Shortly after, Horton wrote recounting the guard’s story, “Camp Delta suddenly 'lit up' — stadium-style flood lights were turned on, and the camp became the scene of frenzied activity, filling with personnel in and out of uniform.”
Word spread that prisoners had died. Trouble was, witnesses among guards responsible for the main facility where the men were supposedly found dead, said that nothing had happened that night in the facility. One of those guards said he “had an unobstructed view of the alleyway that connected the cell block itself to the clinic,” Horton recounted. “He likewise reported ... and confirmed to me, that he had seen no prisoners transferred to the clinic that night, dead or alive.”
The obvious implication is that the three detainees seen being transferred by the “paddywagon” to the secret facility that does not exist died while in that facility, and probably not by their own hand.
What Does Aamer Know?
This concerns Shaker Aamer directly. He claims that on the night of these deaths he too was severely beaten. His lawyer, Zachary Katznelson, described the events of that night as told by Aamer in an affidavit filed in federal court. As quoted by Horton, the affidavit recounts:
On June 9th, 2006, [Aamer] was beaten for two and a half hours straight. Seven naval military police participated in his beating. Mr. Aamer stated he had refused to provide a retina scan and fingerprints. He reported to me that he was strapped to a chair, fully restrained at the head, arms and legs. The MPs inflicted so much pain, Mr. Aamer said he thought he was going to die. The MPs pressed on pressure points all over his body: his temples, just under his jawline, in the hollow beneath his ears. They choked him. They bent his nose repeatedly so hard to the side he thought it would break. They pinched his thighs and feet constantly. They gouged his eyes. They held his eyes open and shined a mag-lite in them for minutes on end, generating intense heat. They bent his fingers until he screamed. When he screamed, they cut off his airway, then put a mask on him so he could not cry out.
Like Clive Stafford Smith, Scott Horton suspects that Aamer is not being released as the British government demands because he may be able to provide evidence that would be inconvenient for American officials.
“American authorities may be concerned that Aamer, if released, could provide evidence against them in criminal investigations,” Horton wrote. “This evidence would include what he experienced on June 9, 2006, and during his 2002 detention in Afghanistan at Bagram Airfield, where he says he was subjected to a procedure in which his head was smashed repeatedly against a wall. This torture technique, called ‘walling’ in CIA documents, was expressly approved at a later date by the Department of Justice.”
Officially, Aamer remains in detention because he is a security threat. According to his file, Aamer “is uncooperative and continues to withhold information of intelligence value about his extremist activities and associations.”
The file continues:
Detainee has failed to fully account for his travels and high level associates which have been reported by other JTF-GTMO detainees. Detainee is extremely egotistical, has manipulated debriefers and guard staff, and will continue to attempt to do so to support his political agenda. Detainee refuses to participate in direct questioning, often citing imaginary, or assumed mistreatment of himself, or others, as justification of this refusal in a classic example of al-Qaida counter interrogation techniques.
In its “Assessment,” the file, published online by the London Guardian, concludes: “Detainee is assessed to be a HIGH risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests, and allies.”
Despite this assessment, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has said that the British government is committed to securing the return of Shaker Aamer to the UK.
In an address delivered on March 31, 2011, Hague said: “We came into government with two explicit commitments, alongside the pledge to put consistent support for human rights at the heart of our foreign policy: First, that we would work 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. Within our first year in government we have set up the Gibson Inquiry into allegations of complicity in torture; we have published the guidance given to UK Intelligence Officers and Service personnel overseas; we have reached a settlement with former Guantanamo Bay detainees and are seeking the return of the last remaining British resident, Shaker Aamer....”
Months later, Aamer remains a detainee, and Kate Allen of Amnesty International UK, says justice requires that Aamer face trial or be released.
“It is utterly unacceptable that this has been allowed to go on for so long,” she wrote in her column for the Independent. “If Mr Aamer or any of the men remaining in Guantánamo have committed serious criminal offences, they should and must stand trial under a fair process which will ensure justice for victims of any criminal act. They must not languish there indefinitely.”