The last British resident in Guantánamo Bay, , still does not fully believe he will be freed from the US detention camp despite his promised release, his lawyer has said.
Aamer, 46, who is married to a British woman and lived in London before his detention by US forces in Afghanistan in late 2001, will spend time in hospital on his return to the UK, his lawyer said, as his health is so poor after 14 years in captivity.
Just over a week ago Barack Obama’s administration and return him to Britain where his wife and four children still live.
Stafford Smith said Aamer, to whom he spoke on the phone soon after the news, remained sceptical: “It’s not so much a matter of disbelieving, as him saying: ‘I’ll believe it when I see it, and I’m not going to get my hopes up till it happens.’”
He added: “He was cleared in June 2007. That’s eight years and three months ago. So he’s been told for 3,000 days or so he’s going to be freed, and the fact that I come along and tell him he’ll be freed – why would he believe it? He believes it when he touches down at RAF Northolt, and gets to see his wife.”
, a law professor at the City University of New York who, with his students, co-represents Aamer, told Aamer the news of his impending release in person at Guantánamo. Aamer initially did not believe him, he said.
“I explained it all to him and that under US law we had a 30-day countdown, and at the end of that period the path was clear for his return home,” Kassem said. “He kind of sat there silently, for what felt like an eternity but was probably only 10 seconds. And then he started telling me about his shoes, how they were falling apart and held together by duct tape. He undid the tape and the shoes basically fell apart.
“It dawned on me that he hadn’t really taken in the news, it went in one ear and out the next, and maybe he kind of dismissed it. For some people when you’ve been in that situation for so long it’s the only rational response, that you must have heard wrong.
“I repeated everything and then he looked at me and said: ‘Are you being serious now?’ I said yes, and then he had this huge smile on his face. So we started talking about how he would envision wanting to return home.”
Aamer alleges he was subjected to sustained torture and mistreatment from the moment he was passed to US authorities in late 2001 in . Aamer insists he was in the country to do charity work. Although the US has described him as a senior al-Qaida figure who knew Osama Bin Laden, he has never been charged with an offence.
Stafford Smith said Aamer was still being mistreated in Guantánamo and had told him he feared he would not be allowed to leave alive: “Totally. He told me to make clear to everyone that if he doesn’t make it, it’s not because he did anything.”
Separately, a transcript of Aamer’s recent phone call with Stafford Smith was , which has campaigned for the British resident’s release. In this Aamer expresses similar sentiments: “I know there are people who do not want me ever to see the sun again. It means nothing that they have signed papers, as anything can happen before I get out. So if I die, it will be the full responsibility of the Americans.”
The newspaper also two years ago in which he detailed the alleged brutality he has faced, part of a Met investigation into allegations of UK complicity in torture and rendition. Aamer said he was interrogated by British agents at Bagram airbase, who would have known he and others were being tortured there.
But Stafford Smith said Aamer did not now want to assist any prosecutions. “One of the remarkable things about him is that he really, really doesn’t want any revenge or consequences on people,” he said.
“He’s told the Metropolitan police that he won’t cooperate in any prosecution of one of the small fry who was told to take part in his torture, because he doesn’t think it’s their fault. What he does want, very much, is a sort of truth and reconciliation process, just to make sure no one goes through this sort of nonsense again.”
Once in the UK Aamer would not immediately return to his family: “He’ll go to hospital first. Shaker is very unwell in many ways, and he needs to have a complete medical checkup.”
Reintegration into family life could be long and difficult, he added: “Shaker has some very human fears. He’s been called ‘239’ for so long that he’s worried that he won’t respond to anything else. Indeed, whenever he talks to me he keeps referring to this chap ‘239’. One of Shaker’s greatest fears is that one of his kids will say, ‘Daddy’, and he won’t reply, because he’s not being called 239.”
Kassem said it may be some time before Aamer speaks publicly: “As appreciative and grateful as he is to everyone who has supported him and protested on his behalf, and wants to thank them, he doesn’t think that’s going to be right when he arrives.”
In his statement to police Aamer recounted being flown to the US’s Bagram airbase in Afghanistan shortly before Christmas 2001, where he was stripped naked and kept in a cage inside a hangar. Once there, Aamer said, he was subjected to sleep deprivation and beatings, including having his head knocked repeatedly against a wall.
The maltreatment had not stopped even now, Stafford Smith said: “They’ve certainly got something personal against him. On the other hand it’s not like anyone else there gets treated nicely.
“One of the things Shaker said to me was that when people talk about torture you tend to think about pulling out people’s fingernails and so forth. But as far as he’s concerned the worst aspect of the torture is the day in, day out mistreatment, and if you don’t do exactly as you’re told you’re beaten up.”