In Shaker Aamer’s case, the torture to which he was reportedly subjected took place after his capture, when he was held in the US prison at Kandahar airport in Afghanistan. There, according to his lawyers, Aamer explained that an MI5 officer was present during a brutal interrogation that led to a false confession, which only took place after he had been “subjected to weeks of torture including sleep deprivation over nine days, cold water torture which led to frostbite, ‘hog tying’ and regular beatings along with threats that he would be sent to be tortured in Egypt, Jordan, or Israel,” as the Daily Telegraph described it.
In a statement submitted to the court, Aamer explained:
Once after a few days of sleep deprivation they took me to the interrogation room and the intelligence team starting coming one after another and the room was full, up to ten or more. One of them, a British MI5 agent, was standing and they started talking to me in different languages — English, French, Arabic — and shouting. I felt someone grab my head and start beating my head into the back wall so hard that my head was bouncing. They were shouting that they would kill me or I would die. After this, they left the room and told me to think and tell them the truth or I would die. I just sat, scared.
Last Tuesday, judges in the High Court ruled that Aamer should be allowed to see classified documents in the possession of the British government, which, according to his lawyers (as described by AFP), “support his claim that confessions he made were obtained through torture,” and “include evidence that British intelligence officers were present on at least two occasions when he was tortured but failed to help him.” It was also revealed that the British government had sent material to their American allies with a strict proviso that it should not be made available to Aamer’s civilian lawyers in the United States. His lawyers in the UK also argued that the documents were urgently needed, because his case is currently being reviewed by the interagency Task Force set up by President Obama, which is expected to reach a decision sometime next month.
Lord Justice Jeremy Sullivan evidently agreed, ruling in favor of Aamer’s request, and explaining, “Our present view is that this matter is clearly very urgent. If this information is to be of any use it has to be put in the claimant’s hands as soon as possible.”
Predictably, however, given its response to Binyam Mohamed’s case, the government is reportedly planning to block disclosure by issuing a Public Interest Immunity certificate (to prevent disclosure in the interests of “national security”), as it did with Mohamed’s judicial review. A government spokesman explained:
We are disappointed by the court’s decision and will now necessarily need to consider matters of public interest immunity in relation to the documents at issue in this case. The release of these documents is not necessary to support the review of Shaker Aamer’s case in the United States. We have already provided all the relevant information held on Mr. Aamer by the UK to the US Review Panel, which is coordinated by the US Attorney General and which is considering his case, along with those of more than 200 others held in Guantánamo.
In a line that could have come directly from David Miliband, the foreign secretary, when talking about the threat to the intelligence-sharing relationship between the US and the UK in Binyam Mohamed’s case, the spokesman added:
We will continue to argue strongly the point of principle involved in this case: that it is fundamental to the national interest of the United Kingdom that our intelligence and security services are able to operate without fear of having to disclose secret intelligence material. They work to protect this country and save lives.
On Saturday, the Independent reported that, despite opposing the judge’s ruling, the Foreign Office was deeply engaged in negotiations for Shaker Aamer’s return, but the Obama administration was resistant to the British government’s demands, claiming that he still “represents a security risk.” A Foreign Office spokesman explained, “We have made an exceptional request for the release and return of Shaker Aamer, a Saudi national, to the UK,” adding, “This is because of the exceptional nature of the Guantánamo facility and our sustained efforts to see it closed. Though we were successful with securing the return of four other non-UK nationals, we have not been able yet to do so with Shaker.”
If Binyam Mohamed’s case is anything to go by, the prospect of another Transatlantic torture scandal may be just the spur that the British government needs to add the required weight to its “exceptional request,” and ensure that Shaker Aamer, like Binyam Mohamed, is fast-tracked to the top of the Guantánamo Task Force’s review pile and returned to the UK as swiftly as possible.
Otherwise, those of us who have been studying his story closely may start to suspect that the British government’s “exceptional request” is just a ruse, and that both the British and American governments would prefer him to be returned to Saudi Arabia, where there is far less chance that he will speak out about the horrors of the last eight years — not so much in connection with the brutal treatment he received in Afghanistan, but with his deep knowledge of events in Guantánamo.