Shaker Aamer to return to the UK

Shaker Aamer

The last British resident being held in Guantanamo Bay is to be returned to the UK, the government has said.

Shaker Aamer, 46, who has been in the military prison in Cuba since 2002, has never been charged or been on trial. Since 2007 he has been cleared for release twice, by US presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama.

The Saudi national has permission to live in the UK indefinitely because his wife is British. They have four children and live in London.

His daughter Johina, 17, who last saw her father when she was four years old, tweeted: “Thank you everyone for all the support. The news hasn’t hit yet. We can’t believe we might finally see our dad after 14 years.”

A British government spokesman said: “The government has regularly raised Mr Aamer’s case with the US authorities and we support President Obama’s commitment to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. In terms of next steps, we understand that the US government has notified Congress of this decision and once that notice period has been concluded, Mr Aamer will be returned to the UK.”

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond tweeted: “Welcome decision by #US Government to return Shaker Aamer to the UK. Long standing priority for HMG to secure his release.”

The BBC understands that the earliest date Mr Aamer could be released to the UK is 25 October. The US Congress, by law, is allowed a 30-day notification window to review the inmate transfer.

Mr Aamer was detained in Afghanistan in 2001. US authorities allege he had led a unit of Taliban fighters and had met former al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. But Mr Aamer has maintained he was in Afghanistan with his family doing charity work.

Once he arrives in Britain he is likely to be subject to some oversight by the authorities, part of the deal for his release. But after his long incarceration without trial, during which he says he was tortured, he will be under pressure to tell his story.

BBC home affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani said Mr Aamer became a spokesman for other prisoners in Guantanamo – and camp commanders negotiated with him to help end a hunger strike.

Former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg told the BBC Mr Aamer was probably the “most well-known prisoner there” because “he has been fighting and advocating for the rights of the prisoners from inside the prison”.

Mr Begg said “no amount of therapy” would replace the years Mr Aamer has spent imprisoned. “I think this will be a harder struggle for Shaker Aamer to deal with than the actual imprisonment,” he said.

Mr Begg added: “Shaker of course has been subjected to almost 14 years without charge or trial in Guantanamo, spending a huge amount of his time in solitary confinement. He lost more than half his body weight at several junctures during that period because of the hunger strikes he’d had to go on.

“He’s been force fed, with tubes forced into his nose, being strapped down to a chair, with his head and his legs also tied down.”

Mr Aamer’s lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith of the campaign group Reprieve, said his return to the UK was “about 13 years too late”. He said: “I think we need to keep the pressure up in order to make sure that he comes home just as soon as possible.”

Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said the news was a “huge relief” for Mr Aamer’s family and supporters, who have “worked tirelessly” for his release.

“Let’s not forget that his 13-year ordeal at Guantanamo has been an absolute travesty of justice,” she said.” “Shaker Aamer is the last UK resident to finally get out of Guantanamo and his return to Britain brings a long, painful chapter to a close.”

Joanne MacInnes, co-ordinator of the “We Stand With Shaker” campaign, said it had been a “long struggle” and it was “amazing news” that he was to be released. Every day he was in there was just a horror,” she said. “We have got a lot of support to give him when he gets back.”

Add your comments below