Thirteen Years a Prisoner

12 Years a Slave – Oscar winning movie and horrible miscarriage of justice. Thank God it could never happen in this day and age, right?

Where In The World?
By Rebecca Linford


Shaker Aamer, the last British man held in Guantanamo Bay. (Photo: The Guradian)

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. For some it signals over-priced roses, a hundredweight of heart-shaped chocolates and a not-so anonymous card from that weird kid who sits behind me on the bus. But for one man it signals 13 years since he was taken, hooded and shackled, to Guantanamo Bay; a British resident with a wife and four children, one of whom was born after he was abducted and so has never seen his father.

During his unlawful imprisonment he, and many other detainees like him, have suffered through beatings, sleep deprivation and force feeding while protesting peacefully by going on hunger strikes. The last British resident in Guantanamo Bay has never been charged with anything; nor has he ever received a trial; and he was even cleared for release by both the Bush administration in 2007 and the Obama administration in 2009. That man is Shaker Aamer. He is innocent and he is still in prison being tortured every single day. So where’s his Oscar-winning film?
In the past eight years, Barack Obama’s promise to close down Guantanamo Bay has gone from “Yes we can” to “Look! Over there!” while he creeps off in the other direction to do another appearance on The Tonight Show. Obama has the ability to free 52% of prisoners (all of whom have already been cleared of any wrongdoing) tomorrow, and give the remaining 40 other prisoners legal hearings to truly determine their guilt or lack thereof.
But he won’t.
David Cameron claims to have requested Shaker’s release a number of times, most recently in January during a visit to the White House, and still nothing is happening. Perhaps the great UK-US partnership is not all it is cracked up to be if the Prime Minister cannot even negotiate the return of one man?
Or, and this seems to be a much more likely scenario, Cameron doesn’t want him back. Shaker reported that while held in Bagram, MI6 officers were present and fully aware of the torture he was suffering. How would it look if the country so vehemently protesting the continued operation of Guantanamo and the lack of basic human rights there was discovered to be in favour of it, with secret service officers present?
Abdul Hakim Belhaj is now attempting to
sue the government that betrayed him.
(Photo: The Telegraph)

Our moral superiority begins to look shaky, especially when you then consider the fact that MI6 have been kidnapping people like Abdul Hakim Belhaj and his (then) pregnant wife, and handing them over to regimes like Muammar Gaddafi’s in Libya where we knew they would be tortured and potentially murdered. You can’t excuse Shaker Aamer’s case as a one off when we and many others have been screwing over our own laws any time it suits us. Western leader’s reactions to King Abdullah’s death now begin to make a little more sense as they can hardly criticise a country that has beheaded over 170 people in the past three years (something that caused global condemnation when IS did it) when they are committing and covering up their own human rights violations. 

And this is not just a moral issue, this is a matter of national security. We were all justly horrified by the attacks in Paris and the planned attacks in Belgium. But if you constantly demean and marginalise a group of people and say that for them, justice should not exist because they believe in something different, how long is it before some of the more mentally deranged dingbats on the fringes of that group lash out in anger? Every person mistreated by our apparently highly flexible sense of justice simply becomes yet another recruiting sergeant for Al-Qaeda.
I love politics (despite the efforts of every political leader out there). But it is hard to have faith in the system when you look around and see just how flexible our notion of justice is whenever it suits our purposes. If Shaker Aamer had been a Christian or white, he wouldn’t have been held for 13 hours, let alone 13 years.
As a young person, I am so often told to respect and revere our legal system. It is the “cornerstone of democracy”. But whilst the government treats Muslims like second-class citizens, people to be regarded above all as potential terrorists, it is hardly surprising that the Islamic community shows a lack of trust. Under both Labour and the Coalition, Muslim organisations and activists have been ignored by the government.
And then Eric Pickles wonders why a single letter doesn’t solve everything.


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