Shaker Aamer

They’ve got an island in Harry Potter, it says Azkaban. Where there’s no happiness, they just suck all your feelings out of you…This is Azkaban.

Shaker Aamer

This is how Shaker Aamer described Guantánamo Bay, where he arrived in 2003 after being kidnapped, tortured, and subjected to extraordinary rendition. It would be another thirteen years – all the while detained without charge or trial – until he saw his wife and children again.  

Shaker was born in Saudi Arabia in 1966. When he was in his twenties he moved to the USA. He moved to London in 1996 where he met his wife. They had four children, and Shaker became a permanent UK resident.

In 2001, Shaker was volunteering at a charity in Afghanistan when US forces arrived and started indiscriminately rounding-up hundreds of Muslim men as part of the post-9/11 ‘war on terror’. They dropped leaflets all over Afghanistan and Pakistan, offering bounties – vast, life-changing sums of money – to anyone who handed in a ‘suspect’. Like hundreds of other men, Shaker was kidnapped and sold to the Americans.

They took him to Bagram – where he became ‘Prisoner 005’ – and tortured him. He was kept awake for over a week, chained in excruciating positions for hours, deprived of sleep and food, and doused in freezing water at the height of the Afghan winter.

On Valentine’s Day, 2002, Shaker arrived at Guantánamo Bay. He was held in a 6ft by 8ft windowless cell, and frequently forced into solitary confinement – his punishment for being “noncompliant”. He was a regular victim of brutal force-feedings, and was been beaten by the “forcible cell extraction” team – a group of guards in riot gear who regularly, and arbitrarily, stormed the detainees’ cells – more than 300 times.

Shaker was never charged with a crime.

Image of Shaker Aamer waving to the camera

He was first cleared for release in 2007. Then, under the Obama administration he was cleared for release again, a process that required the unanimous agreement of six U.S. government agencies, including the Departments of Justice, Defence, and Homeland Security, Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They all agreed that he posed no threat to the U.S. or its allies. Shaker was cleared again under President Obama’s administration, yet still the US continued to detain him.

Reprieve campaigned tirelessly for Shaker’s release, using every tool at our disposal. We investigated his case from the very beginning; we represented him in legal cases against both the UK and US governments; and we campaigned through the media – and within Whitehall -to keep pressure on the British government.

Along with the Save Shaker Campaign, we co-ordinated the visit of a group of cross-party MPs including Jeremy Corbyn and Andrew Mitchell went to Washington D.C. to meet with Senators John McCain and Dianne Feinstein. You can read more about this in a piece they wrote for the New York Times.

At the end of September 2015, it was announced that Shaker would be released. And on October 30, 2015, a plane carrying him landed at Biggin Hill airport just outside London. Shaker was finally reunited with his family as a free man.

Note: The text above is a draft. It has not been signed off by Shaker.