October 24, 2016

Blair and Straw face questions over complicity in Shaker Aamer’s treatment

Tony Blair and Jack Straw must reveal what they knew about the alleged torture of the former Guantánamo Bay detainee Shaker Aamer, Alex Salmond has said.

In his first interview since returning home to London in October after being detained without charge for 14 years in the US military facility in Cuba, British resident Shaker Aamer suggested the former prime minister and the former home and foreign secretary were aware that he was being tortured.

“The not unreasonable allegation that Shaker Aamer makes is that both the [then] prime minister Tony Blair and then home secretary [subsequently foreign secretary] Jack Straw must have known not just about his illegal abduction, but also about his torture at the hands of the US authorities,” Salmond told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

The SNP foreign affairs spokesman and former Scottish first minister said that “as with so many other things”, Blair and Straw had a great deal to answer for. “They have to be asked the straight question of how could they possibly not have known about the fate that had befallen a British citizen,” he said.

“Governments have many responsibilities, but the primary responsibility of all governments is to keep their own citizens safe from harm, and governments aren’t meant to collaborate on the illegal abduction and the torture of one of their own citizens. So both the then prime minister and home secretary have to face up and tell us exactly what they knew and when they knew it.”

Straw said Salmond’s comments were completely untrue. “The British government was never complicit nor condoned torture or other ill-treatment of detainees wherever they were held,” he said.

“I spent a large part of my time as foreign secretary making strong representations to the US government to get British detainees out of Guantánamo Bay and the US government’s ill-treatment and torture of detainees remains a terrible stain on its record.”

Straw pointed out that the only reference made to Shaker Aamer in the Gibson inquiry – which looked at allegations that the UK intelligence services were complicit in the torture of detainees – was in relation to representations made by Straw and David Miliband, who also served as foreign secretary, to get him out.

A spokesperson for Blair said: “Tony Blair has always been opposed to the use of torture, has always said so publicly and privately, has never condoned its use and thinks it is totally unacceptable. He believes the fight against radical Islamism is a fight about values and acting contrary to those values, as in the use of torture, is therefore not just wrong but counterproductive.”

Aamer was detained in Afghanistan by bounty hunters in December 2001, shortly after 9/11, and was handed over to the US forces as a potential al-Qaida suspect and transferred to Guantánamo Bay in 2002. Allegations were dropped against Aamer in 2007 but it was another eight years before he was released.

During his time in captivity, Aamer’s lawyers said he was tortured and held in solitary confinement for 360 days. In 2005, he lost half his body weight during a hunger strike.

In his interview with the Mail on Sunday, Aamer alleges that he had about 200 interrogations during the 14 years that he was held. He claims to have been tortured using methods including sleep deprivation and being shackled to the floor in sub-zero temperatures.

He alleges that his head was banged against a wall at the US Bagram airbase where he was first held and that a British intelligence officer was present at the time the “enhanced interrogation technique”, which had not been approved by the UK, was carried out.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “The UK government stands firmly against torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment.

“We do not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone it for any purpose. Neither does the UK make use of any so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. We have consistently made clear our absolute opposition to such behaviour and our determination to combat it wherever and whenever it occurs.”

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