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30 October 2015updated 26 Jul 2021 1:24pm

The last British Guantanamo detainee Shaker Aamer is released and on his way home

The only UK resident still being held in the military prison will finally return to the UK.

By Anoosh Chakelian

Shaker Aamer, the last British resident detained in Guantanamo Bay, has been released and is on his way back to the UK. It was announced at the end of September that he would be released and allowed to return home.

After 13 years in the military prison in Cuba, without trial or charge, Aamer will be reunited with his family.

The BBC reported a government spokesperson confirming his release in September:

“The government has regularly raised Mr Aamer’s case with the US authorities and we support President Obama’s commitment to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

“In terms of next steps, we understand that the US government has notified Congress of this decision and once that notice period has been concluded, Mr Aamer will be returned to the UK.”

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Aamer was detained in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2001, when US authorities alleged that he had led a unit of Taliban militants and was close to the former al-Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden. He was imprisoned in Guantanamo in 2002. But he was never formally accused of a crime. His claim is that he was doing charity work when in Afghanistan.

Aamer is a Saudi national and was born in Saudi Arabia, but has permission to reside in the UK indefinitely because his wife is a British national. They have four children and live in London. He has been the focus of years of campaigning by British human rights organisations, which are celebrating his release.

Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen called the news a “huge relief” for Aamer’s family and those who have “worked tirelessly” for his release.

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She added:

“Let’s not forget that his 13-year ordeal at Guantanamo has been an absolute travesty of justice. Shaker Aamer is the last UK resident to finally get out of Guantanamo and his return to Britain brings a long, painful chapter to a close.”

Aamer’s lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, commented:

“This is great news, albeit about 13 years too late . . . The UK must demand of President Obama that he should be on a plane tomorrow, so that Shaker’s family do not have to endure more of the agony of waiting . . .

“British politicians may bombasticate about our ‘robust and effective systems to deal with suspected terrorists’ but Shaker is not and never has been a terrorist, and has been cleared by the Americans themselves for eight years. I hope the authorities will understand that he has been tortured and abused for more than a decade, and what he wants most is to be left alone with his family to start rebuilding his life.”

Since 2007, Aamer has been cleared for release twice by US presidents – George W Bush and Barack Obama – but was nevertheless kept in Guantanamo.

In 2013, two pieces from Aamer were published in the New Statesman. In the first article, Shaker Aamer: “I’m a bit of a professional hunger striker, I’ve done it so often”, he describes how much he misses his family:

“My youngest boy, Faris, was eleven on February 14 and – can you imagine? – I’ve never met him, since that was the day I got to this forsaken place . . .

“I sometimes wonder when I eventually go home whether I will answer when my four kids shout “Daddy”, or whether I’ll be waiting for them to call out 239.”

And his second piece, Why Russell Brand is banned in Guantanamo Bay, gives an insight into which books he is and isn’t allowed by the authorities:

“It is difficult to identify a consistent or logical basis for the censorship: in months gone by, I have been allowed to read Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell but Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago did not make it through . . .

“Finally, they banned Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, perhaps because the Russian author didn’t write No Crime but We’ll Still Have Some Punishment, which would have been better suited to Guantanamo. After all, I (like others) have had 4,360 days of punishment without ever being accused of any offence.”