Guantánamo Bay: why can’t Shaker Aamer return home to London?

Shaker Aamer was sent to Guantánamo Bay in 2002, and cleared to leave in 2007. Now, weakened by hunger strike, he asks what his fate has to do with justice.

The allegations which Aamer denies and which no one has ever been able to prove, has led to Aamer spending years in detention, a stretch of incarceration that has led him, in despair, to embark on a life-threatening hunger strike. So far detainee US9SA-000239DP has endured 68 days without food, far beyond what is accepted as safe. Clive Stafford Smith, his British lawyer, concedes that for the first time Aamer, widely regarded as a robust and resourceful character, has started to raise the possibility that he might die inside Guantánamo Bay. He recently told Stafford Smith, who is director of the legal charity Reprieve, to brief his wife that he might not make it out alive after all. The hunger strike began because the guards disrespected the Koran again, but it’s about much more than that now. It’s about the fact that they told Aamer six years ago that I was cleared to leave, and return to my wife and four children, but here I am, still in Guantánamo. It’s about the man in the cellblock with him who is in a wheelchair, or would be if they had not taken it from him as a punishment for striking. It’s about the man who got so desperate that he tried to kill himself. Aamer’s continuing incarceration is bizarre given that the Americans ruled almost six years ago that he could be freed from Guantánamo. In June 2007, he was officially cleared for release. A security assessment by the US government acknowledged it had no concrete evidence against him. Two years later, the Obama administration reiterated the lack of a case against him, underlining the fact that he could be released. So why is Aamer the only one among the 16 detainees who possessed British citizenship and residency who is still being held in Guantánamo? Officially, the British government insists it is dedicated to extracting the father of four, a position it has publicly adopted for the past six years. Last Tuesday, the Foreign Office’s human rights report of 2012 reiterated that it was committed to secure Aamer’s release and return. His case, it said, had been raised on multiple occasions, including direct pleas from the foreign secretary, William Hague. The situation is such that Aamer is starting to suspect the regime at Guantánamo Bay is trying to kill him through medical neglect. Simultaneously, the strain on his family is starting to mount.