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British Government Lobbies for Gitmo Detainee’s Release

The Bush and Obama administrations determined that Shaker Aamer was too dangerous to release. The Brits want him freed anyway.

2:55 PM, Nov 24, 2010 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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Will the Obama administration cave to international pressure and transfer a Guantanamo detainee it has previously found too dangerous to release?

British Government Lobbies for Gitmo Detainee’s Release

Amnesty International has launched a major public relations campaign on behalf of Shaker Aamer, a citizen of Saudi Arabia who established residency in the U.K. Aamer was captured in Afghanistan in December 2001 and in early 2002 he was transferred to Guantanamo, where he has been detained ever since.

The British government has actively lobbied for Shaker’s release for years, and, in a move timed to coincide with Amnesty’s new campaign, a top UK official recently repeated the request.

In a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week, according to Reuters, British Foreign Secretary William Hague requested Aamer’s release. “I have been discussing that with Secretary Clinton today and reiterated our position that we would like to see this gentleman returned to the United Kingdom and that is under consideration by the United States,” Hague said on November 17 during an appearance at Georgetown University.

According to an article published in the Washington Post that same day, however, the Obama administration’s interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force “recommended that Aamer not be released.” (Aamer reportedly declined to be repatriated to his native Saudi Arabia.)

The Bush administration declined to release Aamer as well. This in and of itself is remarkable as every other Guantanamo detainee with any connection to the U.K. whatsoever (including U.K. citizens, residents, or some who were even denied residency) has been transferred.

In other words, successive American administrations have determined that of all the detainees with ties to the U.K. who have been held at Gitmo, Aamer is the sole one who is too dangerous to transfer.

That hasn’t stopped human rights organizations and the British government from lobbying on his behalf.

Hague’s request has been backed up with what Amnesty calls a “two-pronged” strategy: pressuring British MPs and lobbying other American officials. The Amnesty U.K. web site says that “Amnesty activists” are “also lobbying the U.S. official responsible for Guantánamo - Ambassador Daniel Fried, special envoy for the closure of Guantánamo Bay - asking Mr Fried to expedite Aamer’s release and return to the U.K.”

There is really a third prong to Amnesty’s campaign too: favorable media coverage. Journalists in the U.K. have been especially friendly to Amnesty and Aamer. Press outlets have repeatedly published a photo of Aamer holding two of his children. The photo is undoubtedly intended to portray Aamer as a simple family man. The U.K. press coverage has also generally downplayed or outright ignored the nefarious details of Aamer’s biography, with only a few noteworthy exceptions. Some press outlets have even repeated the specious claim that Aamer was merely a charity worker in Afghanistan when he was captured.

Who is Aamer in reality?  As I’ve written previously, when British officials approached the U.S. about Aamer in 2007, then Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs Sandra Hodgkinson described the intelligence accumulated against Aamer in an interview with the Associated Press.

Hodgkinson said that Aamer shared an apartment with Zacarias Moussaoui in London in the 1990s. Moussaoui was later scheduled to take part in either the September 11 attacks or a similar follow-on plot at the time of his arrest in August 2001. Aamer had also met with convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid, Hodgkinson said, and received a stipend directly from Osama bin Laden.

“He has been involved in a lot of significant terrorist plots,” Hodgkinson explained.

Documents prepared for Aamer’s hearings at Guantanamo further outline the allegations against him. Aamer “was an advisor to Osama bin Laden and organizer at Tora Bora, Kandahar and Kabul,” a memo produced for Aamer’s first administrative review board hearing reads. Aamer “was very close to Osama bin Laden and would ask him for advice.”

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