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Shaker Aamer, Guantanamo's 'last Briton,' freed after 14 years

Aamer, whose cause attracted support from senior politicians, placed on London-bound flight to freedom 14 years after capture in Afghanistan
Aamer pictured before his capture with two of his four children (Twitter)

Shaker Aamer, the last British resident detained Guantanamo Bay, returned home to the UK on Friday following a lengthy legal battle and a high-profile media campaign that finally secured his release from the notorious US military prison after 14 years in captivity.

US President Barack Obama's administration announced last month that Aamer, who has never been charged with any crime and was cleared for release in 2007, would be freed, but gave Congress a month's notice before actually releasing prisoners.

Aamer's release late on Thursday night followed the announcement of the release of another detainee, Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, a Mauritanian, earlier in the day.

Aamer, who was detained in Afghanistan in 2001, was alleged by the US to be a key recruiter for the al-Qaeda network. But he has denied those allegations, and says he has been subjected to torture and threats while detained at Guantanamo.

When the decision to release Aamer was announced in September, UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond welcomed the move, saying Aamer's return had been a "long-standing priority".

Hammond on Friday confirmed that Aamer had been released and would shortly return to the UK.

The Prime Minister's office confirmed that Aamer would not be detained on his return to the UK. A former Guantanamo Bay detainee who was released without charge in 2005, Moazzam Begg, was arrested by UK police after his plane touched down on British soil.

However, a spokesperson said that "everything to ensure public safety is in place," without giving further details.

Aamer is a national of Saudi Arabia, but has indefinite leave to remain in the UK as he is married to a British national.

During nearly 14 years of imprisonment Aamer, who has four children living in the UK, was never been put on trial, and was cleared twice by Presidents George W. Bush and Obama respectively.

Upon his return Aamer will meet for the first time his son Faris, who is now 14, and was born after his father's capture in Afghanistan in 2001.

'Bounty hunters'

The Save Shaker Aamer campaign, which has long campaigned for his release, alleges that he was captured by bounty hunters who had been offered $5,000 to hand over foreign nationals following the US-led invasion.

Amnesty International, which has campaigned for his release, said in a statement that they would not "really believe Shaker Aamer is being returned... until his plane touches down on British soil".

According to the statement, Aamer was cleared for release by prison authorities in 2007 but, for reasons that were never made clear, remained detained for a further eight years.

Aamer was captured in Jalalabad in 2001, and later accused by US authorities of leading a unit of Taliban fighters.

He has always maintained that he was in the country doing charity work, and has alleged that he was tortured in Guantanamo Bay with the knowledge of British authorities.

According to a report released last month by Reprieve, a UK-based human rights organisation that has campaigned for his release, Aamer was repeatedly ill-treated by US interrogators, who threatened to rape his five-year-old daughter.

On Friday morning Reprieve welcomed news of his release, calling it "long, long past time".

Cori Shrider, Shaker's lawyer in the US and a Strategic Director at Reprieve, said in a statement that Aamer's priorities will be to see a doctor, and then to "spend time alone with his family as soon as possible".

Aamer went on a hunger strike earlier this month to protest his ongoing ill-treatment.

David Davis, a high-profile Conservative MP who has backed the British resident, told Middle East Eye at the time that he was "very worried that [Aamer] would harm himself just shy of coming home".

Commenting on his release on Friday, Davis told Middle East Eye he hoped Aamer would be given "peace and quiet" to recover from 14 years of incarceration.

"And then I hope he will tell the world about how he was treated."

Aamer was flown back to the UK on a private GulfStream jet, which online flight-tracking software shows has recently embarked on trips between Guantanamo Bay, Miami International Airport and Fort Lauderdale, a coastal resort in Florida.

Supporters say Aamer will seek immediate medical treatment on his return, before spending time with his family.

'Blanket of secrecy'

In the longer term, experts say Aamer has enough evidence to launch a case in the British courts over his ill treatment at Guantanamo Bay, which Obama has promised to shut down before he leaves office in 2017. Aamer's release leaves 112 people still detained at the facility.

"There’s evidence that the British knew of his mistreatment, and he has testified to his lawyers that a British agent was present when he was subjected to abuse," Ruth Blakely, professor of International Relations at Kent University and director of the Rendition Project, told Middle East Eye.

"There should be accountability for the British government and the intelligence services based on what they knew and when, and the extent to which they may have turned a blind eye to what was being done to him."

Andy Worthington, director of the Stand With Shaker campaign, told Middle East Eye that Aamer, who was interviewed by the UK's Metropolitan Police while in Guantanamo Bay over a case he was launching against British authorities, wants an investigation into why he was detained for so long without trial or charge.

"His lawyers have told me that he is not interested in punishment being meted out for what has happened. But he does want the truth to come out.

"We have an almost total blanket of secrecy in this country. But one way or another, either through an impartial judge-led inquiry or, as per Aamer's suggestion, a truth and reconciliation commission, we need to get to the bottom of British involvement with the US since 11 September 2001."