If the president of the United States had kept his word, Guantánamo Bay would have closed down by this day last year. Signing a decree to this effect was one of the first things Barack Obama did upon becoming president in 2009. Hisactions since then tell a completely different story. Protests held recently in London and Washington D.C. marked the sombre ninth anniversary of the illegal prison camp which still houses 173 prisoners.
Over the past two years, only a few dozen prisoners have been released from Guantánamo Bay and it appears unlikely that many others will be leaving any time soon. At the end of last year, Congress passed legislation to prevent the transfer and trial of prisoners on the US mainland following the legal success of the first such trial in New York in November. President Obama is also allegedly seeking to impose "indefinite detention" on over 50 prisoners who are deemed "dangerous" but cannot be tried as the evidence against them is too flimsy or has been obtained through “enhanced interrogation techniques”.
Guantánamo Bay continues to serve its purpose as a bastion of national security against an unspecified “threat” and the cited reason behind breaches of international and domestic law by the government, providing an extralegal solution to the problem of “terrorism”. The implications of this are not lost on a British government currently grappling with its own regime of detention without trial or charge through control orders and national security deportation bail conditions.
The official lack of acknowledgement of the ninth anniversary of Guantánamo Bay on both sides of the Atlantic shows that closing Guantánamo is no longer considered a priority. The remaining 173 prisoners would no doubt beg to differ. They include the last British resident in Guantánamo Bay, Shaker Aamer.
Although his case was recently raised with Hillary Clinton by William Hague and Nick Clegg, he does not appear to be any closer to rejoining his family in south London after over nine years of detention without trial or charge. The failure to secure his release and return to the UK reflects badly on both the former and current British governments.
Closing Guantánamo Bay, a mockery of the law and due process, is an international matter, through the collusion of many states in its existence, and not just the USA. With one British resident remaining there, a man with a British wife and children, this issue is very much a British concern.
Yet much indifference has been shown by British politicians. An EDM on Guantánamo Bay tabled by Caroline Lucas MP in November stating what action the British government should take has attracted only 22 signatories so far, mostly from Liberal Democrat MPs. Consisting of demands we wholly support, the London Guantánamo Campaign has called on all London MPs to sign.
One particular London Labour MP, in a debate in Parliament just one week before the motion was published, stated, “The Labour party has been, and will remain, completely opposed to Guantánamo Bay” (source: Hansard, 16 November 2010). Sadiq Khan has yet to corroborate this with his own signature.
The small efforts by the government will only translate into Shaker Aamer’s release when the pressure across the political spectrum is strong enough to call for nothing less. As the world looks forward to a decade of Guantánamo Bay and its extralegal regime, which trickles down into softer options in domestic law, nothing will change unless those who are in a position to change it take action and take it now. We call on everyone to urge their politicians, regardless of their political colours, to take action now for the broken prisoners and their families, men like Shaker Aamer.
Aisha Maniar belongs to the London Guantanamo Bay Campaign.