‘Secret deal’ could ensure Briton never leaves prison

The Observerand AFP, WASHINGTON

Mon, Apr 22, 2013 - Page 7

The last Briton being held in Guantanamo Bay may never be allowed to return to his family in London because of an alleged “secret deal” between US authorities, Saudi Arabia and the British security services.

Shaker Aamer, 46, has been in the Cuban detention center for more than 11 years without charge or trial, and has been cleared for release since 2007.

This month, two Metropolitan Police detectives interviewed Aamer, gathering an estimated 150 pages of testimony and allegations that MI5 and MI6 were complicit in his torture, including claims that a British officer was present while US soldiers tortured him and that MI6 officers made allegations to the CIA they knew to be false, including that Aamer was a member of al-Qaeda.

His legal team alleges that the US, Saudi Arabia — where Aamer was born — and the UK security services are trying to ensure that he never goes home. Were he to return, he would almost certainly become a key witness in the police investigation into allegations of British complicity in torture in the post Sept. 11, 2001, era.

Despite pressure from the UK’s Foreign Office to bring Aamer back to his family in south London, it has been confirmed that he has only been officially cleared to be sent to Saudi Arabia, where officials have threatened him with imprisonment.

A letter dated Feb. 18 from British Foreign Secretary William Hague to Aamer’s lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, states: “It is our understanding that Mr Aamer has only ever been cleared for transfer to Saudi Arabia.”

“It seems highly probable that the British security services are in bed with the Americans on trying to keep Shaker from coming back to the UK, since Shaker is such an important witness against them for their complicity in torture. We can only hope that Hague will hold them to account. The headquarters of London’s Metropolitan police force has got a lengthy statement from Aamer about his abuse and British complicity in that abuse. The only way to prevent that going forward is for Shaker to go to Saudi Arabia,” said Stafford Smith, director of the legal charity Reprieve.

In an exclusive interview with the London-based Observer newspaper last week, via an unclassified telephone call to Guantanamo Bay between Aamer and Stafford Smith, he revealed his desperation to return to London.

The father-of-four, who is approaching day 70 of a life-threatening hunger strike to highlight his plight, said: “I hope I do not die in this awful place. I want to hug my children and watch them as they grow, but if it is God’s will that I should die here, I want to die with dignity.”

An online petition calling on the British government to bring him home has more than 115,000 votes, triggering a parliamentary debate on the issue.

“Shaker did nothing wrong. He has been cleared for release twice by the US government. So why is he still rotting in the hell of Guantanamo Bay? Why can’t the British government get him back,” Saeed Siddique, Aamer’s father-in-law, said on Saturday.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said that a joint panel involving the UK Crown Prosecution Service and police had convened to assess allegations of complicity to torture involving British officials.

“Having assessed 12 cases, it has referred three to the Metropolitan Police. The Met has decided to undertake further investigation into these three cases,” a statement said.

Meanwhile, the number of detainees taking part in a hunger strike at the Guantanamo military prison has grown to 77 — an increase of 25 in the past few days, a spokesman said on Saturday.

US Lieutenant Colonel Samuel House said in a statement that of the detainees refusing food, 17 are receiving “enteral feedings,” or being force-fed via tubes.

Five of the inmates have been hospitalized, although none faces “life-threatening conditions,” House said.

The facility, which houses 166 detainees, has been hit by hunger strikes since Feb. 6, when inmates claimed prison officials searched their Korans for contraband. Officials have denied any mishandling of Islam’s holy book.

The hunger strikers are protesting their incarceration without charge or trial at Guantanamo for the past 11 years.

Attorneys representing inmates at the prison have said most of the estimated 130 detainees at Guantanamo’s Camp Six wing, which houses “low-value” prisoners, are on hunger strike.