There is one salient fact about Shaker Aamer which is in danger of being overlooked. He is not British. The word “British” has been artfully attached to his residency status dating from the 1990s, but Aamer happens to be a citizen of Saudi Arabia.
True enough, he lived in Britain for five years after 1996. He then chose to move to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, a decision which – I put the point delicately – suggests that Aamer had no great attachment to this country.
Almost everything that may or may not have happened to him over the next 14 years is disputed, save for the fact that he was locked up in Guantanamo without charge or trial. That was, of course, profoundly wrong.
But I find it hard to understand why the British taxpayer must provide the compensation payment that Aamer now seems likely to receive - or why our ministers spent so much time on his case.
I have been legally resident in a number of countries over the years, most recently South Africa. Suppose I had left my home in Johannesburg and chosen to move to an area of a distant land ruled by a group of fanatics who were sworn enemies of South Africa and all it stood for. Suppose I had then been locked up by a third country.
I’m not sure how South African ministers would have reacted if they had been asked to take up my case. Would the foreign ministry in Pretoria have raised my plight with the leaders of the country that was holding me? Would they have invested great time and effort on my behalf? If this diplomacy had succeeded in winning my release, would the South African taxpayer have forked out my compensation money?
Great news. Huge congratulations to his family, Reprieve, Shaker campaign! Shaker Aamer released from Guantánamo Bay https://t.co/p1UJPoucEK— Jeremy Corbyn MP (@jeremycorbyn) October 30, 2015
The answer to all of these questions is so obvious that it does not need to be stated. I understand that Aamer’s wife and children are British. Suppose I had started a family with a South African before choosing to leave the country and live under its most dedicated enemies. Would that have changed the attitude of South Africa's government? I think not.
The citizens of dozens of nations have been held in Guantanamo. I’m not sure how many countries have accepted responsibility for securing the freedom of a foreigner, on the basis that he spent some years living in their capital. So does the Shaker Aamer case prove that Britain has something to be ashamed of – or, rather, does it demonstrate the opposite?