THE BLOG
02/14/2013 11:17 am ET Updated Apr 16, 2013

A Guantanamo Valentine to President Obama

On Valentine's Day in 2002, British resident Shaker Aamer was brought to Guantánamo. He has now been held without charge or trial for 11 years. Back in 2005, Shaker Aamer told his lawyer, "I am dying here every day, mentally and physically... We have been ignored, locked up in the middle of the ocean."

His case is unique among the 166 detainees still held at the detention facility. He has been cleared for transfer and the British government says he should be free living with his wife and children in London.

Shaker Aamer was arrested by Afghan forces on November 24th, 2001, in Jalalabad, Afghanistan and subsequently transferred to U.S. custody. On February 14th, 2002, he was transferred to Guantánamo and has been held there ever since.

Aamer is originally from Saudi Arabia, and his wife and four children are British nationals, currently living in London. He had permission to live indefinitely in the UK, on the basis of his marriage to a British national, when he was detained. According to his own account he had been working for a Saudi charity when initially arrested.

Shaker Aamer has repeatedly said that he has been tortured. He speaks fluent English and his lawyers understand that he has been involved in protesting against conditions at the camp, including participating in hunger strikes and speaking out on behalf of other detainees. They have stated their belief that he has been subjected to prolonged solitary confinement and frequent ill-treatment as punishment for his defiance against his indefinite detention and ill-treatment.

Shaker Aamer's lawyers have confirmed that his physical and mental health continue to deteriorate. His legal team is attempting to secure an independent medical assessment for him but claim that U.S. authorities continue to refuse access.

The UK government has agreed to accept him if he is returned to the UK and has on numerous occasions since 2007 called for the USA to release him. Amnesty International received confirmation in writing and in person on several occasions that Foreign Secretary Hague has personally raised Shaker Aamer's case with recently retired US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, calling for him to be returned to his family in the UK.

On September 21st, 2012, the US Department of Justice made public a list containing Shaker Aamer and the names of 54 other detainees cleared for transfer in 2009 by the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which consisted of officials from key government departments and the intelligence agencies. The Task Force's final report was issued in January, 2010.

There are a number of onerous conditions on the transfer of cleared detainees to other countries that were passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama, but it would appear that Britain -- one of the U.S. government's closest allies would be able to satisfy those conditions.

But despite the willingness of UK authorities to permit his return to the UK and rejoin his family, the fact that he is cleared to leave, and the absence to date of any charges, Shaker Aamer remains detained without charge at Guantánamo.

If President Obama is serious about ever keeping his promise to close the detention facility, there's a simple yet symbolic step he can take today: resolve Shaker's case.

Despite his promise, President Obama has signed Congress' restrictions and conditions on Guantánamo transfers into law several times since 2009. Furthermore, it is difficult to view the recent closure of the Department of State's Office for the Special Envoy for the Closure of Guantánamo Bay as anything but an indication of the administration de-prioritizing resolution of the detentions at the naval base.

From a human rights perspective -- a perspective the U.S. government generally claims to champion -- the way forward is clear: all those held in Guantánamo must be released immediately to countries, including the USA if necessary, that will respect their human rights unless, without further delay, they are to be charged with recognizably criminal offences and brought to trial in a U.S. federal court in proceedings that comply with international fair trial standards.Shaker Aamer's designation by U.S. authorities as 'cleared for transfer' implies that there is no intention of charging him with criminal offenses.

If so, like any other Guantánamo detainee who is not to be charged and prosecuted in a fair trial, he should be immediately released. In Shaker Aamer's case, he should be released to the UK following repeated requests for his return made by the UK government.

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