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Cleared for Release but Denied Freedom - Shaker Aamer and Guantanamo Bay

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"Somebody must have made a false accusation against Josef K., for he was arrested one morning without having done anything wrong."

So opens Franz Kafka's masterpiece The Trial. From this first sentence onwards, Josef K. is prosecuted by a remote and inaccessible government who will not reveal the nature of his crime. What ensues is a nightmare tale of frustration, anxiety and loneliness.

Shaker Aamer, a 46-year-old Saudi national and permanent resident of the UK has been held by the US government in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp for more than 11 years without being charged.

He is now one of the last detainees still held at the facility, out of a total of 779 brought there from around the world since 2002.

He has been cleared for transfer on two separate occasions by the US government - in 2007 when the Bush administration conceded they had no evidence against him and again in 2009. Nearly four years later he remains in Guantanamo Bay and is currently on a hunger strike with 62 other inmates.

In regard to the treatment he has been subjected to since the strike, Aamer has been reported saying to his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, "They are killing us, so it is hard to keep calm...in reality I am dying inside."

In a House of Commons debate this week, Jane Ellison - MP for Battersea in South London where Aamer's British wife and four children live - called his incarceration, "The ultimate stain on democracy." She argued: "A man should know why he is being deprived of his liberty and what he must do to win it back." She was supported by other MPs who compared Mr Aamer's treatment to that of Soviet gulag prisoners in the Cold War.

America's use of Guantanamo Bay has been the focus of widespread, international condemnation since it was established in 2002 by the Bush administration. In 2009, at the start of his term of office, President Obama pledged to close the interrogation facility down within one year. At the end of that year, with the detention centre still open and running, Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize with the words: "I believe the USA must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight."

During his 11 years of detention, Shaker Aamer has been tortured, kept for more than 1,000 nights in a windowless isolation cell, starved, forced to remain awake for nine consecutive days and chained into positions that made moving unbearably painful.

Caroline Lucas MP (Green) spoke in the Commons debate of the USA's decision to limit the release of Aamer to Saudi Arabia as "irrational". She highlighted the fact that Britain has an exemplary record for taking in prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, all of whom are successfully integrated back into society, suggesting this leads to the uncomfortable conclusion that, "The only possible reason for sending Shaker to Saudi Arabia is to stop him from speaking out about his abuse - abuse in which the UK authorities have been complicit." She went on to say, "It is not enough to sit back and blame the US authorities when so many questions about the UK's role remain unanswered."

Alistair Burt, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, made only a limited response to points made by MPs in the debate, his reason being some of the questions posed referred to confidential discussions and intelligence matters.

He did make clear, "The UK Government believes that the continued detention of Shaker Aamer without charge or trial is wrong, and we will continue to do all in our power to return him to the United Kingdom."

He pointed out, however that, "Any decision regarding Mr Aamer's release ultimately remains in the hands of the USA Government."

As campaigners and human rights groups have argued, despite complications surrounding US funds for transfers, Obama does have the power to resolve certain cases, such as Shaker Aamer's. Amnesty International maintained, earlier this year, that resolving Aamer's case would be a symbolic step for Obama, demonstrating that he has not reneged on his commitment to closing Guantanamo Bay.

Image courtesy of Connor Tarter, Flickr, Creative Commons