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30 Oct, 2015 08:10

Aamer repatriation: ‘Arrangements will be put in place’ to ensure public safety, says UK govt

Downing Street told BBC Radio London on Friday the government had “no plans” to detain Shaker Aamer when he returns to the UK, but added that “arrangements will be put in place" to ensure public safety.

Aamer, 46, the last British inmate at Guantanamo Bay, arrived at London’s Biggin Hill airport in a Gulfstream jet at 12.57pm on Friday, having left Guantanamo Naval Air Station at 11.30pm local time (03:30 GMT).

Aamer, who was held for almost 14 years without trial, was born in Saudi Arabia but has British residency, and his family is based in London. His case was debated in the House of Commons in March, with Washington urged to speed up the transfer, which was cleared back in 2007.

Aamer was originally detained in Afghanistan in 2001 and accused of having links to Al-Qaeda. He was later transferred to Guantanamo Bay detention camp, where he has been held without charge.

Human rights charity Reprieve played a key role in the campaign to free Shaker Aamer, representing him in court and ensuring his case stayed in the public eye.

Reprieve was one of the first observers to spot Aamer’s plane leaving Guantanamo Bay, roughly three hours before news of his release was broken in the press.

Aamer has never been charged with a crime or faced trial since he arrived at the notorious high-security US prison in Cuba. The US military claimed he was a “close associate” of Osama Bin Laden and a “recruiter, financier, and facilitator” for Al-Qaeda. Aamer later said he confessed to being a jihadist under torture by the CIA, adding that he would have told interrogators “he was Bin Laden” to make the torture stop.

According to the detainee, US interrogators told him they would rape his five-year-old daughter.

“One interrogator talked about what he would do to my five-year-old daughter in details that destroyed me,” Aamer said, as cited by the Independent.

Late last month, US President Barack Obama agreed to send the last remaining British detainee at Guantanamo Bay back to the UK. Prime Minister David Cameron had raised the issue of Aamer’s imprisonment with Obama back in January, during a visit to the White House. Although the president pledged to “prioritize” the case, Aamer’s legal team complained in August that nothing had been done in reality to help his cause.

Speaking to the press, Aamer’s US legal counsel described Washington’s refusal to release Aamer as “shameful.” One of Aamer's lawyers, Ramzi Kassem, urged the British government to pressure the White House further. His call appears to have been finally acted on.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn welcomed Aamer’s release and called for the Guantanamo prison to be shut down.

I am delight to hear that Shaker Aamer has finally been released after 13 years in Guantanamo Bay. He is the last British residence to be detained there despite never being brought to trial.”

Now that Shaker has been released, the scandal of Guantanamo detention camp itself must be brought to an end. I hope that Shaker and his family will now be given the time and space to rebuild their lives.”

Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg expressed gratitude for everyone who campaign for Aamer’s release.

“Shaker Aamer will finally be returned today, after 14yrs without charge at Gtmo. Heartfelt thanks to everyone who fought for him. الله اكبر [God is great],” he tweeted.

Begg, who is also Outreach Director at human rights charity CAGE, said in a statement that Aamer has faced “the worst the world has to offer.”

Shaker’s greatest tests are yet to come – that is the heartbreaking part – and anyone who has been imprisoned away from their family can attest to this. A stranger becoming a father – not of children, but of young adults – is an unimaginable task that nobody has any expertise in, except perhaps a few Guantanamo prisoners scattered around the globe. However, Shaker is a courageous, resilient, kind and thoughtful person who has faced the worst the world has to offer and survived.

His qualities have been acknowledged by his tormentors and I’m certain he won’t disappoint when he’s ready to tell his side of the story. Until he does, he deserves our respect, support, prayers, and right to family life and privacy.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, who was a vocal supporter of Aamer, tweeted his congratulations.

Speaking to the Mirror, McDonnell said he hoped Aamer could now “get on with the rest of his life.

Shaker was simply a man in the wrong place at the wrong time, a charity worker building wells in Afghanistan who was kidnapped, ransomed and falsely imprisoned. He has been cleared twice for release, never charged and no serious evidence has been presented against him.

I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his intervention in the past year, and the cross-party support we have received for his release.

I hope that he now gets the full support he needs so that he’ll be able to settle back into society, and get on with the rest of his life,” he added.

Reprieve’s Strategic Director Cori Crider said the release is “long past time.”

We are, of course, delighted that Shaker is on his way back to his home and his family here in the UK. It is long, long past time.

Crider, who is also Shaker’s US attorney, added: “Shaker now needs to see a doctor, and then get to spend time alone with his family as soon as possible.

Jane Ellison MP for Battersea, Balham & Wandsworth – where the Aamer family live – said she hoped Shaker’s privacy would be respected at this time.

This is very welcome news for my constituent, who has been held for over 13 years without charge or trial, and a great relief to his wife and children in my Battersea constituency. There has been consistent cross-party Parliamentary support for Mr Aamer’s release and the Foreign Office have worked hard to secure this outcome.”

At this sensitive time for the Aamer family, I would hope that their privacy is respected as they adapt to their new situation.”

In a statement, the Stop the War coalition welcomed Aamer’s release but condemned his imprisonment.

Shaker Aamer’s imprisonment has done great harm to him and his family, and should be condemned. He has never been tried and has had to suffer imprisonment for over a decade. We wish him and all those close to him well in adjusting to life back in London.

We call on Guantanamo Bay detention center to be closed – a promise made by Barack Obama in 2009, when he became US president, but which was never kept.

The anti-war organization went on to warn of the erosion of civil liberties, underscored by Aamer’s own detention without trial.

As a result of the ‘war on terror’, levels of detention without trial have escalated, civil liberties have been undermined, and the Muslim community has been under increased attack.

These restrictions on civil liberties, as well as the use of rendition and torture, have contributed to an attack on democracy unprecedented in modern times.”

Not everyone has welcomed release of Aamer, however. Dominic Casciani of the right-wing think-tank Henry Jackson Society told the BBC the former Guantanamo detainee should be monitored carefully by UK security chiefs.

Controversial columnist Katy Hopkins also criticized the return of Aamer at the “taxpayer’s expense.”