Shaker Aamer, the last British resident to be held at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, landed in the United Kingdom on Friday after being released following nearly 14 of years imprisonment. He returns to his wife and four children, one of whom he has never met. Aamer was first captured in 2002 by bounty hunters who were going after al-Qaida suspects to turn over to U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The U.S. accused him of fighting with the Taliban and having met with Osama Bin Laden. He maintains he was there doing charity work. He was cleared for release back to his native Saudi Arabia by the Bush administration in 2007 and again by a task force that reviewed his case in 2009, but fearing the fate that would befall him there, lawyers and successive British governments have pushed for him to be sent to Britain where he moved in 1996 and has permanent residency thanks to his wife, a U.K. citizen. Prime Minister David Cameron raised the case in January at a White House meeting. The administration only gave final clearance for his release in September and he had been awaiting a mandatory 30-day congressional review period.
The unusually long delay in resolving his case raised suspicions among his supporters that he was being singled out for punishment as a particularly uncooperative prisoner, or that the U.S. and British governments were worried about the political trouble he could make once he was out.
Aamer has claimed that he was abused during his detention at both Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan and Guantanamo including beatings, forced blood withdrawals, prolonged solitary confinement, and being kept in freezing conditions. He also says a British intelligence officer was present at an interrogation in Afghanistan during which his head was repeatedly slammed into a wall by his American interrogators. He may be entitled to as much as $1.5 million from the U.K. government under a settlement with 15 other British residents and citizens over government involvement in their renditions. At Guantanamo he was reportedly known as the “professor” for his eloquence and for leading protest actions including several hunger strikes.. (He complained in 2013 after Gitmo authorities confiscated his copy of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago.)
Aamer’s release leaves 112 detainees at the facility, 52 of whom have been approved for transfer. The majority of those left in the prison are from Yemen, and the ongoing conflict in the country has complicated U.S. efforts to send them home.
The administration is fighting both Congressional Republican—Sen. John McCain being a notable exception—and the clock in an effort fulfill the pledge Obama made in the first week of his presidency to close the facility. The president vetoed a defense authorization bill last week in part because of restrictions it put on his ability to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo. However, under the budget deal reached with Congress this week, Obama may end up having to sign the act, despite the Gitmo provisions.
Defense Department officials have been looking at Colorado’s supermax prisons as well as military brigs in Charleston, South Carolina and Fort Leavenworth, Kansas as possible relocation sites for the prisoners not cleared for transfer to other countries, but Republicans at both the state and national levels are staunchly opposed to housing ex-Gitmo detainees in the United States.