Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters Calls for the Release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo
by Andy Worthington
My friends, I’ve been offline for the last week, away from home with my family during this holiday period, staying in a house without wi-fi access. My apologies if you missed me, but I was also exhausted and run-down after the relentless work involved in the We Stand With Shaker campaign I launched with a colleague, Joanne MacInnes, on November 24, so I felt it was acceptable to have a short break.
The campaign we established was for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, calling in particular for David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, to drop the government’s official position — that the final decision about his fate rests in the hands of the Obama administration — and to demand his release and his return to the UK.
This is required of the PM under the government’s obligations to Mr. Aamer, a legal British resident who had been given indefinite leave to remain in the UK with his British wife and British children before his kidnap in Afghanistan (where he had traveled with his family to undertake humanitarian aid projects) and his rendition to Guantánamo in February 2002.
We Stand With Shaker with music legend
Roger Waters at the launch of campaign
outside Houses of Parliament, Nov. 24, 2014
(Photo: Stefano Massimo).
Mr. Aamer was cleared for release from Guantánamo under President Bush in 2007, and again under President Obama in 2009. In addition, the British government has been requesting his return since 2007. His continued imprisonment is, therefore, completely unacceptable — and inexplicable too, unless one accepts, as I think is necessary, that both the US and the UK governments, at the urging of their security services, would prefer to send him back to Saudi Arabia, the country of his birth, where he would be prevented from talking about what — as the foremost campaigner for the prisoners’ rights within Guantánamo — he knows about various crimes committed by his captors in the “war on terror.”
The We Stand With Shaker campaign has attracted significant support from celebrities and MPs, as well as from the Daily Mail, which featured our open letter to David Cameron and our Human Rights Day video featuring Juliet Stevenson and David Morrissey in the week before Christmas.
Over the Christmas period the Daily Mail ran a story suggesting that Mr. Aamer will be released in the new year, which, of course, everyone involved in the campaign hopes is true. The article was entitled, “Last British inmate at Guantanamo set to be freed in the new year in fresh push by Obama to empty prison,” but although it was being treated as though it came via a Pentagon press release, it was a lot more vague than that on close inspection.
In the opening paragraph we learned that Mr. Aamer “could by freed in the new year,” but then, after the seemingly unequivocal statement, “Clive Stafford Smith, Mr Aamer’s lawyer, told the newspaper that he believes his client will be returned to Britain,” we discovered that he actually said, “I cannot believe they will not include Shaker, as it would be totally irrational. It’s very hard for them to come up with an explanation as to why this hasn’t been done.”
I’m sure I’ll be looking more closely at this claim in the days to come, but for now I wanted to make sure that I didn’t overlook another important article about Shaker Aamer that was published in the Daily Mail just before Christmas, written by Roger Waters, the chief songwriter of Pink Floyd, who is a supporter of my work and of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, having attended the launch in London — opposite the Houses of Parliament — on November 24.
Roger wrote some very kind words about me in his article, and I’d like to return the favor, commending him for his commitment to resisting injustice — in Palestine as well as at Guantánamo and more widely in the “war on terror.”
Unfortunately, far too many people in the worlds of art and entertainment — actors, writers, artists as well as musicians — fail to take a stand against injustice, despite their ability to reach large numbers of people. I am proud to count Roger as an exception, and as a friend — and also to thank all the other actors, writers and musicians who have declared their support for the We Stand With Shaker campaign, signing our open letter to David Cameron and standing with the giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer that is at the heart of our campaign.
My Pink Floyd hit and this tragedy
By Roger Waters, Daily Mail,
December 23, 2014
The revelations about the Americans’ torture of terror suspects have rightly caused outrage across the world.
The U.S. government has owned up to the shadow of institutionalised brutality that has hung over ‘The Land Of The Free’ since the inception of the War On Terror after 9/11.
The sense of disquiet should extend to the political establishment in Britain, given the mounting evidence that our own intelligence and security agencies may have colluded with the CIA in rendition, torture and a disregard for international human rights law including the Geneva Conventions.
Nothing illustrates our own national disgrace more graphically than the case of Shaker Aamer, a 46-year-old family man from London, who has now been held for almost 13 years in the notorious detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, having been seized by the U.S. military in Afghanistan in November 2001.
During Mr Aamer’s long spell of incarceration, he has never been put on trial or even had any charges levelled against him.
He has been subjected to systematic torture, humiliation and degradation, deprived not just of his liberty, but of all rights normally afforded to those in custody yet to be proven guilty of any crime.
The time has surely come for a judge-led inquiry to find out the true extent of Britain’s role in the barbaric treatment of Mr Aamer.
Yesterday, the Daily Mail reported on the growing pressure on David Cameron from nine human rights groups for just such an inquiry into the CIA’s torture of prisoners, including Mr Aamer.
No human being should be subjected to such monstrous and prolonged treatment — 13 years, with no evidence produced to suggest a crime!
It is little wonder that one recent medical report stated Mr Aamer is now suffering from a host of serious health problems, including failing eyesight, kidney damage and depression.
This is, after all, a man who has been incarcerated for so long without trial that he has never even seen his youngest child, a 12-year-old son.
His experience is a scandalous affront to justice, making a complete mockery of respect for the law and due legal process.
Even cold-blooded murderers rarely serve as lengthy a sentence as Mr Aamer has had to endure, and, if they do, they will at least have been convicted in a court by a jury of their peers.
I have a deep personal involvement in the campaign to release Mr Aamer, ever since his case was brought to my attention by the renowned defence advocate Clive Stafford Smith.
With a spirit of selfless determination, Clive runs the organisation Reprieve, which campaigns for the rights, among many others, of British prisoners held overseas. Appalled by Mr Aamer’s plight, Clive had contacted him and lent him his support.
That is how I became involved. In one letter to Clive from Guantánamo, Mr Aamer began with the opening lyrics of one of my songs, ‘Hey You’, from the 1979 Pink Floyd album ‘The Wall’. Mr Aamer said the lyrics captured his experience in Guantánamo. These lyrics run:
Hey you! Out there in the cold
Getting lonely, getting old. Can you feel me
Hey you! Standing in the aisles
With itchy feet and fading smiles. Can you feel me
Hey you! Don’t help them to bury the light
Don’t give in without a fight.
Clive was able to pass Mr Aamer’s letter on to me, and I was profoundly touched that ‘Hey You’ had had such a resonance with him. Other parts of his letter reinforced how much this man was suffering. He explained that for most of the time, he had to stay in his tiny cell and was denied access to a computer, books, journals or even stationery.
He was occasionally allowed to write a letter, but even this was difficult because the pens provided by the guards were wobbly and soft, like a ballpoint with the plastic outer casing removed.
Apparently, this was a security precaution to stop the detainees attacking their guards — an obviously ridiculous measure, given that the guards outnumbered the prisoners ten to one and were armed with M16 rifles.
On a more uplifting note, in his letter Mr Aamer paid tribute to an American Christian pastor who had been in touch with him and had spoken of his work to build an understanding between Christianity and Islam.
This highlighted Shaker’s attachment to the idea of understanding between peoples and faiths, to the idea of reconciliation and peace, and his fundamental opposition to extremism.
But then, his entire story seemed to undermine the American claims that he was a dangerous extremist embedded with Al-Qaeda and bent on the destruction of Western civilisation.
Born in Saudi Arabia and trained as a nurse, he came to Britain in the mid-1990s, married a British woman and started a family.
In 2001, he moved with his family to Afghanistan, where he began work for a humanitarian charity. This fact is disputed by the Americans, who claim he became an Al-Qaeda fighter.
Really? Where is the evidence?
Shaker has never been allowed to defend himself in a court of law. In effect, he has been held purely on the whim of the U.S. authorities.
This abuse of power exhibits all the hallmarks of despotism. Either we believe in freedom to live under the law, including the law of Habeas Corpus, or we don’t. Either we, the so‑called enlightened West, are law-abiding or we are a tyranny.
Strangely, the U.S. government, the ‘tyranny’ that guards the rest of us from Shaker Aamer, now appears all the more culpable with the extraordinary news that the British Government has repeatedly called upon them to release him.
The failure to heed this request must raise suspicions that American and British intelligence are worried that, if Mr Aamer is set free, he might reveal the shocking complicity of British intelligence in the savage interrogation of prisoners at Guantánamo, and at secret rendition sites elsewhere in the world.
Last month, I attended a gathering in Parliament Square in support of a movement to free Shaker Aamer. Among the others present was the campaigning journalist Andy Worthington. Andy, to his eternal credit, has devoted much of his recent working life to exposing the horrors of Guantánamo.
I was proud to be there, standing as I did alongside other Brits who still care about the law, about standards, about justice, about fair play.
Thanks to the recent Senate report into CIA torture, the public mood has changed, maybe even dramatically, in the past few days.
It is possible people are coming to see that justice is important and that the British legal principles dating back to Magna Carta in 1215 enshrine the rights of the individual and are to be defended at all costs.
Detention and incarceration without trial have absolutely no place in the legal system which we, the British people, are all rightfully proud to call our own.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, the director of “We Stand With Shaker,” calling for the immediate release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.