Shaker Aamer at Guantanamo

Shaker Aamer

Date of Birth: 21 December 1966
Nationality: Saudi (Legal British resident)
Arrested: Afghanistan, 2001
Currently held: Guantánamo Bay
Status: Cleared for release

Shaker Aamer has been held in Guantánamo Bay since 2002. He is a legal permanent resident of the UK, married to a British national, with four British children living in London.

Shaker has long been cleared for release by the United States. He has never been charged by the United States with a crime and has never received a trial. However, he has been repeatedly abused and subjected to extended isolation in GuantánamoBay.

In March 2013 Shaker informed his lawyer that he had joined the ongoing hunger strike in GuantanamoBay. Lawyers for the inmates estimate around ¾ of the 166 men still held there have joined the hunger strike

Shaker grew up in Saudi Arabia with his four siblings. His parents divorced when he was a child and his father remarried. Shaker’s step-mother was unkind to her new family and at the age of seventeen, he ran away to America to join a family he had known from home.

He spent the next few years travelling in Europe and the Middle East, before moving to London where he met his wife and married. Their first child, Johina, was born in 1997.

Shaker was a hands-on dad. He changed nappies without complaint, and as time passed, the Aamer family grew and grew. Michael was born in 1999, Saif a year later and little Faris in 2002- after his father had been imprisoned. Shaker has never set eyes on his youngest son.

Shaker is a natural leader who is known for his concern for others. While in London, he worked as an Arabic translator for the solicitor who advised him on his immigration case. Helping refugees put Shaker where he loved to be – as counsel, listening and advising. But in the end, it was his dedication to the welfare of others that led to his detention in GuantánamoBay.

In June 2001, Shaker went to Afghanistan to do voluntary work for an Islamic charity. He stayed in Kabul, which was at peace at the time. But after September 11th, the bombing of Kabul began. Fearing he would be taken prisoner by the Northern Alliance, who were suspicious of all Arabs in Afghanistan he went into hiding with an Afghan family. But his freedom didn’t last long.

Soldiers arrived at the house, stripped Shaker of his belongings and took him away at gunpoint. For the next two weeks Shaker was sold to various groups of soldiers, who accused him of killing their leader and beat him mercilessly. The abuse continued, and when Shaker and four other Arab prisoners were driven out of Kabul one night, he thought the end had come and they were to be executed.

Instead, the sound of a helicopter and American accents filled him with relief. “Americans!” he thought. “We are saved!” In fact, his transfer to US forces marked the beginning of a new nightmare. Shaker arrived at Bagram Air Force Base at the end of December 2001 where he suffered terrible abuse.

Forced to stay awake for nine days straight and denied food, he dropped 60 pounds in weight. US personnel would dump freezing water him. This treatment, combined with the bitter Afghan winter, caused Shaker’s feet to become frostbitten. He was chained for hours in positions that made movement unbearable, and his swollen, blackened feet were beaten. He was refused the painkillers he begged for.

Shaker began to say whatever the US wanted, whether it was true or not. Satisfied with confessions made by a man desperate to end his torture, the US military transferred Shaker to GuantánamoBay in February 2002. Despite the hardships he has endured, Shaker remains the kind and supportive man he was when he was captured, with a reputation for looking out for his fellow prisoners.

When the military police beat up a prisoner while he was praying, Shaker initiated the first hunger strike at Guantánamo. More than three hundred prisoners began refusing meals. The Americans negotiated with Shaker, promising changes in the camp conditions. But the promises were broken. When the hunger strike began again in September 2005, Shaker was placed in solitary confinement as punishment. He has remained alone in a six foot by eight foot windowless cell ever since and is one of a number of prisoners to have written about the conditions in Guantánamo.

Shaker has been cleared for release twice, by both the Bush and Obama administrations. It is British government policy that Shaker be returned to his family in the UK.

In February 2010 it emerged that the Metropolitan police were investigating allegations of MI5 complicity in the torture of Shaker in 2001 at Bagram Airforce Base, Afghanistan.

Despite the UK governments’ repeated claim that they want Shaker returned to his family in London, there are now increasing and well-founded fears that UK security services have been manoeuvring to prevent this by fabricating evidence against Shaker. 

In response to inquiries from Reprieve, the UK government stated that it is their understanding Shaker has been cleared for release only to Saudi Arabia, where he is certain to face further detention and abuse. In Saudi Arabia he will also be unable to communicate with the Metropolitan police. This is in direct contradiction to the clearance document given to Shaker Aamer, which nowhere stipulates that he has been transferred for release to only one country.

Reprieve’s Director Clive Stafford Smith visited Shaker in November 2011 and on departure immediately penned a letter to Foreign Secretary William Hague listing numerous physical ailments that Shaker suffers – a list that had just been cleared through the US censorship process. The letter called for Shaker's release. Meanwhile Shaker waited in solitary confinement, officially cleared of wrongdoing, but still paying the cruellest of costs for his kindness to others.

In December 2012, Comedian Frankie Boyle joined Reprieve to announce that Shaker would be suing the intelligence services for defamation.  This marked the 11th year of his imprisonment without charge or trial

Shaker had told his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, that UK agencies were still telling lies about him – lies which prevent him from being released.  It was only in December 2012 that Reprieve were finally able to declassify enough material through the US censorship process to move forward on this litigation, and call the UK agents out on their defamation.

In March 2013, Shaker joined the hunger strike at GuantanamoBay. US authorities have now confirmed that over one hundred of the remaining detainees are participating in the strike, while lawyers for the men estimate the total to be closer to 140. More than twenty men are being force-fed.

In response to the news of Shaker’s decision to hunger strike a government e-petition calling for the immediate return to the UK of Shaker quickly reached over 100,000 signatures, triggering a parliamentary debate.

The debate was held at Westminster Hall on April 24th 2013. It was sponsored by Jane Ellison, MP for Battersea, South London, where Shaker’s British wife and four British children live. 

During the session Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt responded to MP's questions about why Shaker Aamer continues to be held at the US prison by saying, “I have a supposition [of why the US is continuing to hold Shaker Aamer] but it’s not a detail I can go in to.”

In response, Clive Stafford Smith said: "It is deeply suspicious that the UK won't say why their friends in the US refuse to transfer Shaker home to London. The US and UK intelligence services appear to be working together to ensure Shaker stays where he is or gets shipped off to Saudi Arabia. Shaker knows too much. Given that he could appear as a witness against the perpetrators of some the UK's dirtiest secrets over their role in the 'war on terror', it is far better for the intelligence services if he is sent away to another prison in Saudi   Arabia. We don't doubt William Hague's sincerity when he says that he wants Shaker released. Mr Hague needs to get assurances from his own security service that they haven't provided information to be used to keep Shaker in arbitrary detention, and that any falsehood they have told to the CIA have been corrected. National embarrassment isn't a reason to keep a man who has been cleared for release locked away in prison. Shaker must be returned to his family in London at once."

Shaker remains on hunger strike. Cori Crider, one of Shaker’s Reprieve lawyers, met him in Guantanamo very recently. She said: ‘Shaker Aamer cannot be recognized from the rotund photo of him with his children. And Nabil Hadjarab [a fellow detainee] looks sallow, brittle.’

As international pressure increases for Obama to end the humanitarian crisis in Guantanamo Bay and close the camp, his continued equivocation and inaction becomes more critical for Shaker by the day.

For further information, see the independent Save Shaker Campaign:

How you can help Shaker Aamer

Shaker is a permanent British resident, and is married to a British citizen. He has been cleared of any wrongdoing, but the US authorities will not allow him to return to his family in London.

Please sign the e-petition requesting that Shaker be returned to the UK:

Pressure from the British government is vital in securing Shaker’s release – please click below to write to your MP and ask them to take action on Shaker’s case.

Shaker Aamer's case history


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