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Student Group Action : January 2010

Amnesty International


11 January 2010 marks the eighth anniversary of the opening of Guantnamo Bay, the US military base that has illegally detained more than 750 people, some of whom have been children.

Amnesty has campaigned for its closure since the start, on the basis that detainees have not had fair trials and many have been subjected to torture.


When President Barack Obama took power on 20 January 2009 he announced that the US would finally close Guantnamo Bay. This seemed to signal an important human rights victory. In addition, he declared an end to secret detention, torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment. But was this all as positive as it seemed?


Reading between the lines and watching the emerging picture has sparked concerns from Amnesty and others.
Although President Obama immediately outlawed secret detention, shockingly he said he would continue the rendition programme. A year ago President Obama ordered the suspension of military commission trials, but these trials are set to be restarted after only minor changes. In Amnesty Internationals view, these are not fair trials.


And what about Guantnamo itself? The date for its closure has already slipped, and nearly 200 men remain imprisoned without charge. At the end of 2009 we heard that some prisoners may be relocated to prison in the US state of Ilinois, but apparently some of these may be held indefinitely and again without charge. This would be Guantnamo with a different post-code.


There have been some major successes in the campaign against abusive practices in the US-led war on terror, but there is much still to be done and Amnesty believes European countries must play their part. For the UK, that should mean ensuring that Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha are safely released to the UK. You can continue to help us work to finally close the doors at Guantnamo Bay and to deal with the legacy of war on terror human rights abuses once and for all.

Rendition The term 'rendition' is used to refer to a variety of practices that involve transferring individuals from one country to another without consent, or any form of judicial or administrative process. The practice of rendition within the 'war on terror' has led to numerous men being secretly flown to countries where they have suffered torture or other ill-treatment and have been detained for long periods without charge. Secret detention The USs Central Intelligence Agency (the CIA) ran a secret detention programme under President Bush where they detained individuals in secrecy, indefinitely and without access to lawyers.

Military commission trials Run by the US army, rather than in normal civilian courts (federal courts) Allow evidence obtained under duress, which means that threats or coercion were used to force the accused person to give evidence that they may not otherwise have given Also allow evidence from illegal secret detention centres, and can refuse to disclose sources of 'evidence'. If they impose the death penalty, the people accused have only limited means of appeal
In Amnestys view, these are not fair trials.

Definition of a fair trial
This is a simplified version of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

Everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a court where the judge or jury do not favour one side of a case over another and are able to do the job well. Article 14(1)
Anyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to go to court, in order that the court may decide without delay on the lawfulness of his/her detention (imprisonment) and order his/her release if the detention is not lawful. Article 9(4) Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons of his/her arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him/her. Article 9(2)


Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall have the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law. Article 14(2)
A person shall be entitled to defend himself /herself in person or through the help of a lawyer of his/her own choosing; He/she should not have to pay for a lawyers help if he/she cant afford it. Article 14(3)(d) The accused shall be entitled to adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence and to communicate with a lawyer of his own choosing. Article 14(3)(b) No one may be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Article 7 All persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. Article 14(1) The accused shall have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court. Article 14(3)(f)


In total, nine UK residents have been detained in Guantnamo Bay since 2002. Seven have been transferred out, but Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha remain there.


Shaker Aamer is a national of Saudia Arabia who moved to the UK in 1996. He and his British wife have four children the youngest of whom Shaker has never seen. Faris hadn't yet been born when Shaker was captured by Northern Alliance fighters in Afghanistan and handed over to the US army in 2001. Shaker says that he was in Afghanistan to do voluntary charity work. He was subsequently transferred to Guantnamo Bay, where he remains to this day.


Shaker's children desperately want their father to come home. His daughter, Johina, has written a personal letter to Gordon Brown to ask him to intervene. She points out that her father has never been charged with a crime, and makes a heartfelt plea for his return.


In August 2007 the UK asked the USA for Shakers release from Guantnamo and return to the UK.

In December 2007 the UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband told Parliament that the US had refused this request, because of significant additional security concerns, and negotiations were halted for a period.
However, since then the UK government has said that it has made additional efforts, without success, to seek Shakers release from detention in Guantanamo.

Ahmed Belbacha fled his native Algeria after, he says, receiving death threats, and sought asylum in the UK
According to the UK government his application was initially refused While his appeal against this refusal was being considered, he travelled to Pakistan, for the purpose, he says, of studying there While in Pakistan he was arrested, turned over to US forces, and eventually transferred to Guantnamo Bay.


The UK government has stated that they have not requested the release and return to the UK of Ahmed Belbacha because he was not legally resident in the UK prior to his detention. Amnesty continues to urge the UK government to make interventions on behalf of Ahmed Belbacha whatever his legal status in the UK prior to detention in order to facilitate his safe release from Guantnamo. If returned to Algeria, Ahmed Belbacha would be at risk of torture, unfair trial, or other serious human rights violations at the hands of the Algerian authorities.

Write to David Miliband (Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) asking him to take action on behalf of Shaker Abdur-Raheem Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha. Start your letter: Dear Secretary of State Send your letter to: The Rt Hon David Miliband MP Foreign Secretary Foreign and Commonwealth Office King Charles Street London SW1A 2AH

Dear Secretary of State, I am writing to you to support Amnesty International UK in requesting the UK government make further representations for the return of Mr Shaker Aamer, UK resident, to his family in the UK. As you will be aware Shaker Abdur-Raheem Aamer is a national of Saudi Arabia and has been resident in the UK since 1996. He is married to a British citizen and has four children, the youngest of whom he has never seen. He has been held in US detention since 2001 and is currently reported to be held in isolation in Guantanamo Bay. It is understood that in August 2007 the UK government made an initial request of the US authorities for his release and return to the UK; this was refused. The UK government stated it has made additional efforts to return Shaker. These efforts need to be both genuine and vigorous. I write to urge the UK government to enhance their efforts to achieve the release of Shaker Aamer. Mr Aamer is reportedly in poor health and held in unacceptable conditions. He has never been charged or granted access to a fair trial by the US authorities; his detention is therefore unlawful and must be brought to an end. Mr Aamers wife and young children have been deeply affected by the separation from a husband and a father. Mr Aamers 12-year-old daughter has written to the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown requesting his assistance in this matter. I would also like to request that the UK government make representations to secure the return of Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian national with links to the UK. Mr Belbacha, of Algerian origin is at risk of torture and illtreatment if returned to Algeria. My thanks for your attention in this matter; I look forward to your response. Yours sincerely,

Barack Obamas Executive Order to close Guantnamo Bay: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/ClosureOfGuantana moDetentionFacilities
BBC news report on the order to close Guantnamo: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/7844176.stm Poems From Guantnamo: An extraordinary anthology of poems from inside Guantnamo, many were initially scratched on styrofoam cups and passed from cell to cell, with little expectation they would ever reach an audience outside. http://www.amnesty.org.uk/books_details.asp?BookID=89