18 Aug 2013
August 18, 2013

Shaker Aamer

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Shaker Aamer’s story is well-known.  I’ve spoken about it in parliament, as have many others, in parliament and elsewhere, at much greater length and volume.

There are some things about the Shaker Aamer story, as it’s publicly presented at least, that I’m sceptical about.  He will certainly have been aware that he was taking an enormous risk when he went to Afghanistan. It seems very unlikely that he was an AQ combatant, but I’m not prepared to concede that he didn’t buy into that stuff at some ideological level.

And on the whole my perspective on Guantanamo is pretty much the same as my constituents in Falkirk, I think.  AQ murdered a lot of people and, unlike the ‘war’ on drugs and anything else, there was genuine and legitimate difficulty in working out how to deal with people captured (a term which itself requires some contextual deconstruction now) in Afghanistan and elsewhere at that terrible time.

But this is a different time.  The laws of armed conflict as we know them are certainly too inelastic for any kind of consistent application in 2013. We haven’t solved that yet.  What should the US do with people who have pledged to continue the ‘war’, for example?

However: this is not relevant to Shaker Aamer’s case. The United States is prepared to send him ‘home’. They clearly don’t think he’s going to be a security threat if he leaves Guantanamo.  Moreover, the UK is prepared to accept him coming here – where he could have had citizenship anytime before he left for Afghanistan, and where his family lives.

Shaker Aamer has served over 11 years in solitary confinement. That’s pretty much the equivalent of a life sentence for murder in the UK. The United States has said it will release him only to Saudi Arabia, where he remains a national. For obvious reasons, he doesn’t fancy that. It’s clear that he has played a leadership role in Guantanamo over the years, and there are rumours that he’ll have embarrassing stories to tell if and when he’s released.

Well, that’s all as may be.  Literally no-one knows the truth.  The technical judgement for us revolves around whether we think Shaker Aamer remains a risk. The UK government thinks not. I think the US government also thinks not.  Embarrassment or otherwise doesn’t enter into it. 

In the end, Shaker Aamer has become a test of whether we can maintain our own hard-earned standards of democratic decency in the face of murderous attacks (and often naive, home-based cynicism about the very idea of the risk from AQ).

It’s time the people of the US agreed that keeping Shaker Aamer in Guantanamo has become a terrible thing for the very thing so many US citizens have died protecting.