What Are the US Plans for Guantánamo Prisoner Shaker Aamer? | The Nation


What Are the US Plans for Guantánamo Prisoner Shaker Aamer?

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Activists march in front of the White House, protesting the Guantanamo Bay detention facility’s continued existence, despite President Obama’s promises to close the prison. (Rebecca Nelson / Medill)

An attorney for one of Guantánamo prison’s most high-profile captives has raised new fears that the United States intends to release his client to Saudi Arabia, where he would likely be imprisoned again.

Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the UK-based human rights group Reprieve, provided The Nation with a copy of an urgent letter he sent to Parliament that contains new information about the US government’s plans for 46-year-old Shaker Aamer, a Saudi citizen and the last British resident detained at Guantánamo.

About the Author

Jason Leopold
Jason Leopold is an investigative reporter covering Guantanamo, counterterrorism, national security, human rights, open...

Also by the Author

Last week, while Bush spoke to Wall Street about corporate malfeasance, he was beset by questions about the timing of his sale of stock twelve years ago while he served as a director of Harken En


Brookline, Mass.

His justifiable zeal to defend Palestinian rights leads Alexander
Cockburn to call me an apologist for "policies put into practice by
racists, ethnic cleansers and, in Sharon's case, an unquestioned war
criminal who should be in the dock for his conduct" ["Beat the Devil,"
June 3]. Since I share Cockburn's criticism of reflexive support for
every Israeli policy and I agree with much of what he says about false
claims of anti-Semitism, I wish he'd accompanied his identification of
my possible inconsistencies with accurate reporting of what I actually
wrote. Ascribing to me words I'd never say and views I reject is either
sloppy or dishonest.

My essay in Salon suggested the pro-Palestinian left should
address, where it exists, anti-Semitism, superficial argumentation and
difficulties of communication. I end with this: "The justice-based left
must seek analyses and solutions built on general principles, and reject
those that make new forms of oppression inevitable."

I also say this: I march to protest Israeli policy; Israel has committed
past massacres and West Bank atrocities; ending Palestinian oppression
is central; the occupation must end; expulsion of Palestinians would
amount to ethnic cleansing; the pro-Israel explanation of how
Palestinians became refugees in 1948 is unsupported; armed resistance
(though not against uninvolved civilians) is legitimate; a Palestinian
call for militant nonviolent resistance is welcome. And I say clearly
that opposing Israeli policy is not anti-Semitic.

Cockburn's absolutism is matched by his opposites. A letter to my local
newspaper, for which I write a column, claimed that my views would lead
to "the destruction of Israel and create a danger to Jews throughout the
world." That writer, too, sees only what he wants to see.

I continue to advocate justice-focused discussion. Please see
people.uis.edu/dfox1/politics/israel.html for more.



Petrolia, Calif.

There was nothing sloppy or dishonest about what I wrote. The third
paragraph of Fox's letter is fine, and if my column pushed him to make
it clear, it served its purpose. I wish he'd written it in his
Salon piece.




Jason Leopold's "White Should Go--Now" [May 27] is built upon lies and
unethical reporting. Not only did Leopold unethically list me as an
on-the-record source, he attributed comments to me that were never
discussed and are absolutely not true.

In reference to energy contracts signed with major California customers
in 1998, the article incorrectly states, "Jestings said he told [Thomas]
White that EES [Enron Energy Services] would actually lose money this
way, but White said Enron would make up the difference by selling
electricity on the spot market...which Enron had bet would skyrocket in
2000." The article continues the lies by stating that "Jestings said he
continued to complain to White that the profits declared by the retail
unit were not real." These statements were never made to Leopold and are
absolutely false. I had significant responsibility for these 1998
contracts and believed that they would be profitable, and therefore I
would never have made such statements. Furthermore, if Enron believed
the spot market would skyrocket in 2000, it would never have signed
long-term, fixed-rate contracts with these California customers in 1998!

Leopold then states that "Jestings said he resigned from EES in 2000
because he did not agree with the way EES reported profits." Again, this
is not true. I resigned in early 1999 for personal reasons and not
because of the way EES reported profits. In fact, EES was not making
profits when I left.

It is clear that Leopold is trying to build a picture of cover-up and
manipulation by White using statements falsely attributed to me. This is
irresponsible reporting at its worst. In my short tenure at EES, I
developed great respect for White. He is an honest and ethical man and
deserves fair reporting.



Los Angeles

During my hourlong conversations with Lee Jestings on not one but
three different occasions leading up to the publication of this story, I
reminded Jestings that I would be using his comments in print. Simply
put, Jestings was well aware that he was on the record. He cannot
retract his statements after the fact and then accuse me of being
unethical and a liar. I sought out Jestings, and when I found him he
chose to respond to my numerous questions about EES and Thomas White. I
did, however, mistakenly report that Jestings left EES in 2000.

Jestings says that EES did not show a profit when he left. However, EES
under White's leadership reported that the unit was profitable in 1999
after Jestings left the company. But Enron was forced in April to
restate those profits because they were illusory. Moreover, Jestings
said during the interview that he had taken issue with EES's use of
"mark to market" accounting, in which the unit was able to immediately
book gains based on contracts signed with large businesses. Jestings
never said during the interview that he believed these contracts would
eventually become profitable. But that's beside the point. Jestings said
EES's use of aggressive accounting tactics during White's tenure left
shareholders believing the company was performing better than it
actually was.

Jestings says White was honest and ethical while he was vice chairman at
EES. My report indicates otherwise.



West Orange, NJ

There was a critical error in "Relearning to Love the Bomb" by Raffi
Khatchadourian [April 1]. Khatchadourian says that so-called mini-nukes
of about five-kiloton yield have smaller explosive effects than the US
conventional "daisy cutter" bombs. This is clearly wrong. A five-kiloton
explosion is equal to 5,000 tons of TNT, while the daisy cutter weighs
only 7.5 tons. Even allowing for the development of modern explosives
more powerful than TNT, the difference between the weapons, and their
relative destructive potential, is of several orders of magnitude. The
following excerpt from the Federation of American Scientists' Military
Analysis Network (www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/dumb/blu-82.htm) directly addresses that point.

"The BLU-82B/C-130 weapon system, nicknamed Commando Vault in Vietnam
and Daisy Cutter in Afghanistan, is a high altitude delivery of
15,000-pound conventional bomb, delivered from an MC-130 since it is far
too heavy for the bomb racks on any bomber or attack aircraft.
Originally designed to create an instant clearing in the jungle, it has
been used in Afghanistan as an anti-personnel weapon and as an
intimidation weapon because of its very large lethal radius (variously
reported as 300-900 feet) combined with flash and sound visible at long
distances. It is the largest conventional bomb in existence but is less
than one thousandth the power of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb."

No useful analysis of nuclear policy can be made by equating large
conventional bombs with even the smallest nuclear bombs in any way. An
analysis of policy and decision-making regarding the
conventional/nuclear threshold demands a clear understanding of how very
powerful and devastating nuclear weapons are. The author seems to be
blurring the lines of allowable nuclear-weapons use far more than the
Administration he criticizes.



New York City

Let me begin by pointing out that I said "five kilotons or less." Some
proponents of new nukes have pushed for weapons of lower tonnage. Others
argue that five kilotons is roughly optimal.

C. Paul Robinson, director of Sandia National Laboratories, demonstrates
the debate: "I'm not talking about sub-kiloton weapons...
as some have advocated, but devices in the low-kiloton range, in order
to contemplate the destruction of hard or hidden targets, while being
mindful of the need to minimize collateral damage." In April, Benjamin
Friedman, an analyst at the Center for Defense Information, wrote: "What
is revolutionary about current proposals is the idea of reducing the
yield of tactical nuclear weapons to levels approaching those of
conventional explosives, to around one-tenth of a kiloton, which would
theoretically bridge the gap between a conventional and a nuclear

The United States has developed "sub-kiloton" atomic weapons before. One
such weapon, the Davy Crockett, contained warheads weighing only
fifty-one pounds, with explosive yields near 0.01 kilotons (roughly 10
tons of TNT). We made 2,100 of those between 1956 and 1963.

When my article was written, it was unclear what size the Bush
Administration's defense team envisioned for its nuclear bunker buster.
To a degree it still isn't, although some now suggest it could be above
five kilotons. However, this doesn't change what's being contemplated: a
weapon that appears to avoid the kind of casualties that put current
nukes outside the boundary of political acceptability.

I regret if I seemed to suggest that a five-kiloton nuclear warhead
could be smaller in explosive power than the world's largest
conventional weapon. That is inaccurate. I attempted to illustrate that
on the continuum of weaponry, a gap that appeared inconceivably wide not
so long ago is now being pushed closer. As the recent Nuclear Posture
Review demonstrates, narrowing that distance is as much a matter of
ideas as a matter of tons.

Raffi Khatchadourian


Brooklyn, NY

Katha Pollitt is right on about great white hope Dennis Kucinich
["Subject to Debate," May 27 and June 10]. The boys who disparage
abortion rights as a foolish, single-issue orthodoxy don't have a clue.
Here's a hint for you guys. "Abortion" is about equitable reproductive
health services for women, obviously including the ability to end a
pregnancy, but it's also about how we think of women, and how we treat
them. Are women valued as the sum of their reproductive parts, or as
human beings?

We know where the fundamentalists stand: Protestant, Catholic, Hindu,
Islamic and Jewish fundamentalisms, as well as secular dictatorships,
are united on the need to control women's bodies. And now, thanks to
Pollitt, we know where Kucinich stands. He moves or he loses.


New York City

As co-directors of an organization of the economic left, we second
Katha Pollitt's admonition that Dennis Kucinich cannot claim the mantle
of an economic progressive while being virulently anti-choice.
Reproductive freedom is not just a matter of personal morality, it is a
fundamental element of economic justice. No woman can determine her own
economic destiny without the freedom to choose whether to bear a child.
Progressives looking for champions cannot be so desperate as to overlook
such a fundamental right. There are numerous other members of
Congress--of course, we'd like a lot more--who understand that
reproductive rights are part of the fight for economic justice.

Citizen Action of New York


Media, Pa.

My weekly ritual of reading the Nation cover to cover on Monday
was stymied last week when my postman left my mailbox door open on a
soaker of a day. I got home eager for the week's insights only to find a
soggy Nation limp in the box. Eek! I ran upstairs and spastically looked
for options. My girlfriend with astonishment: "What the heck are you
doing?" when she saw me using the hair dryer to dry my coveted pages one
by one. Did you ever know how important your work is!


The letter was sent July 17 to British MP Jane Ellison. In it, Stafford Smith writes that another member of Aamer’s legal team recently told him their client’s family had sought advice over whether they should hire a Saudi attorney named Abdallah al-Badrani.

“Mr. al-Badrani had made contact and asked for authorization to represent Shaker in partnership with an unnamed London-based lawyer,” Stafford Smith wrote in the letter. “This seemed suspect.”

Stafford Smith said Aamer’s family declined the offer to have al-Badrani represent them, but expressed concern over possible “moves afoot to try to send Shaker to Saudi Arabia under the pretext that his family lawyer has been authorized to facilitate such a move.”

Stafford Smith told The Nation neither he nor Ramzi Kassem, an associate professor of law at City University of New York School of Law, who was contacted by Aamer’s family, tried to contact al-Badrani.

“The clear implication is that the Saudis are trying to do the US and UK intelligence services’s dirty business by creating the pretext that they are authorized to take Shaker, whereupon he disappears into the silent vortex that is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Stafford Smith told The Nation.

An Internet search for al-Badrani turned up only a half-dozen results, some nearly a decade old. (Its possible Stafford Smith may have received an incorrect spelling of Al-Badrani’s name.)

A spokeswoman at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC, declined to comment about the matter.

In addition, in a phone call, Aamer told Stafford Smith that Saudi authorities recently visited him at Guantánamo and told him he would be sent to a “rehabilitation program” because he had left Saudi Arabia and resettled his family in the UK without permission from the Saudi government.

Aamer’s name appears on a closely held list, released by the Pentagon last month, that identifies for the first time prisoners designated for either indefinite detention or repatriation. A “decision” box next to Aamer’s name says, “Transfer to [redacted] subject to appropriate security measures, including [redacted].”

Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman, would not comment specifically on the allegations raised in Stafford Smith’s letter. But he told The Nation, “There have been ongoing talks with a number of countries for potential repatriation or resettlement of eligible detainees.”

“As with all diplomatic discussions, we simply do not discuss them until the transfer is complete—and only then, if the diplomatic agreement allows for such discussions,” he said. “As for any alleged arrangements that may or may not be in the works with countries into which detainees in our charge could be transferred, this is among the most sensitive work in which we engage. We simply will never discuss issues like that.”

A State Department official, speaking to The Nation on background, also declined to discuss specifics of Aamer’s case, but added that, “President Obama was pretty clear about the Administration’s commitment to closing the detention facility at Guantánamo in his speech at the National Defense University this past May.”

“While I do not have a timeline on when particular detainees will be transferred from Guantánamo,” the official said, “each transfer will be evaluated by the interagency group that reviews transfers on a case-by-case basis.”

At a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on July 24, centering on new efforts to shutter the Guantánamo prison (and the first major hearing on the topic in years), Senator Dick Durbin called for the repatriation of the eighty-six cleared prisoners. But he did not offer a timetable as to when it would happen. The executive branch is required to notify Congress thirty days before any prisoners are released.

Stafford Smith told The Nation he believes senior British government officials want Aamer returned to the country and are working toward that goal. But he believes elements in MI5 and MI6 are working against it, largely because the intelligence agencies have been subject to investigations into their roles in Aamer’s torture and the mistreatment of other prisoners, and they don’t want “a live witness.”

“The last criminal probe of MI5 and MI6 fell apart because the Saudis wouldn’t let the main witness talk,” Stafford Smith said.

Details of Aamer’s brutal torture were laid bare in a September 19, 2006, declaration written by his former lawyer, Zachary Katznelson. Aamer told Katznelson that he naval military police beat him for him for two and a half hours on June 9, 2006, “gouged his eyes” and “held his eyes open and shined a Maglite in them for minutes on end, generating intense heat,” because he refused to provide his captors with a retina scan and fingerprints.

More recently, Aamer told Stafford Smith that since he launched a hunger strike in February he has been subjected to sleep deprivation, beatings and violent forced cell extractions several times a day as punishment for refusing to eat.

“My back and my neck are getting worse day by day. I don’t want the end of this torture here to be paralyzed. I want to carry my kids when I get home; I don’t want my kids to have to wash me. I don’t want to be the third one paralyzed in this place,” Aamer told Stafford Smith, according to an April 11 sworn declaration Stafford Smith signed.

A Powerful Figure?

Aamer was rendered to Guantánamo on February 14, 2002, the same day his wife gave birth to his youngest son, Faris, whom he has never met. An assessment on Aamer prepared by a military analyst in November 2007 portrays him as a close associate of Osama bin Laden, so powerful a figure that he is capable of controlling other detainees to the point of being able to compel them to commit suicide. The assessment calls says that he is “extremely egotistical,” that he “manipulated debriefers and guard staff” and that, on the advice of Stafford Smith, led a hunger strike in the summer 2005, involving more than 100 detainees. (Stafford Smith has ridiculed the allegation. Although Aamer did lead a hunger strike that year, but it was aimed at bringing the prison in line with the Geneva Conventions.)

“The military thinks whoever is the most loudest is the most evil,” Stafford Smith says.

Aamer’s case has become an international rallying cry for thousands of supporters, activists and celebrities who have demanded the closure of Guantánamo. Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin invoked his name when she interrupted a major counterterrorism speech Obama gave last May and called for the president to release eighty-six prisoners who have been cleared for release. (These include Aamer, who has never been charged with a crime.) UK Comedian Frankie Boyle recently launched a hunger strike in solidarity with Aamer in hopes or raising awareness about his plight. And Aamer’s teenage daughter, Johina Aamer, launched a social media campaign, in collaboration with family and human rights groups, urging people to sign a petition to pressure Prime Minister David Cameron to secure her father’s release. She regularly tweets at Cameron, reminding him that her father remains locked up at Guantánamo.

Earlier this month, Johina tweeted that she and her mother identified her father as the voice of the prisoner leading the call to prayer at the maximum security Camp 5, where “noncompliant” prisoners are held.

Punished for Speaking Out

Aamer himself has been vocal about his continued detention and treatment, describing sleep deprivation, forced cell extractions and beatings since he waged a hunger strike in February.

In his letter to Ellison, Stafford Smith said sources within the United States told him that Aamer’s public protests have “incensed” government officials, who are now “determined to punish him by making sure he does not go back to the UK.”

“It is bad enough that they mistreat him in Guantánamo Bay, but the idea that the US would refuse to reunite him with his family as a punishment for expressing his views is abhorrent,” he wrote.

In a phone call with Stafford Smith last week, Aamer said he would not return to Saudi Arabia “voluntarily.” Aamer told him that he has heard that “the Saudi issue would be concluded before the end of the month.”

Many other Guantánamo prisoners who have already been cleared for release are likely to be forced to enter a rehabilitation program when returned to their home countries. In Kuwait, such a rehabilitation center has already been built. It sits inside a prison yard and would house the last two Kuwaitis at Guantánamo if they are ever released. Other prisoners would simply be resettled in countries that have agreed to take them in without having to spend additional time in detention.

“They will hear me screaming in London if they try to drag me away from here to Saudi Arabia,” Aamer told Stafford Smith. “If they come in the middle of the night I will resist them every step of the way. I am going to London only; I wish to be with my wife and my kids. I have many concerns about Saudi and I am not going back to Saudi for many reasons. Most important is my family. They deserve me and I need to go back to them.”

In response to Stafford Smith’s letter, Alistair Burt, the Foreign Office Minister in London, said, “Mr. Aamer’s case remains a high priority for the UK Government and Ministers and senior officials maintain an active dialogue with the US on this issue,” but that “any decision regarding Mr. Aamer’s release remains in the hands of the US Government.”

Aamer himself will have little say.

“It would be unfortunate if a detainee didn’t consent to a transfer to his home country, but that in and of itself wouldn’t prevent such a transfer from happening,” the State Department official said in a telephone interview. “The department isn’t a travel agency.”

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