On 24 April 2013, the British House of Commons held a debate regarding Shaker Aamer, a Saudi national and permanent resident of the United Kingdom being held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay.
Aamer has been detained by the US since 14 February 2002, without having been charged. According to an article on guardian.co.uk’s “Defence and Security Blog” (dated 23 April 2013), Aamer:
was twice cleared for release by US authorities before Washington introduced a new obstacle whereby the American defence secretary had to certify that Britain is a safe place for him to return to, and that he will commit no future crimes. Despite British government protests, this is something the US military has been unwilling to do.
The debate was led by Jane Ellison, whose aim was to understand:
what more the British Government and the US authorities can do to make the release of Mr Shaker Aamer, my constituent, and his return back to his family in London – the clearly stated policy of the British Government – more likely.
She declares the debate of great importance as many of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, including Aamer, have embarked upon hunger strikes which she believes are having a negative impact on their health. The US government, however, has assured British authorities that Aamer is in good health and has ready access to medical care.
During their debate, Ellison and her colleagues liken Aamer’s situation to “internment without due process,” calling such a situation a “stain on a democracy” that is “akin to the treatment in Soviet gulags.” Ellison goes on to say that “In our country, even those convicted of very serious crimes know what they must serve before that can be released.” Her colleague, John Woodcock asked if she agreed “that it is the lack of transparency that is so damaging, and the sense that justice is being perpetually denied and delayed?” Further, he said “Ultimately, that gives succor to the enemies of Britain and the US.” Ellison agreed, replying “it is a stain on democracy. A man should know why he is being deprived of his liberty and what he must do to win it back. That is how I come at it; that is one of the functional principles on which mature democracies base their thinking.”
I could go on and on quoting similar statements, which seemingly suggest that Britain would never conduct itself in such a manor. But in fact, it does, right in its own backyard. Take for example, the case of Martin Corey, of Lurgan, Northern Ireland.
16 Tuesday 2013 marked the third anniversary of Martin Corey’s internment in Maghaberry Prison, during which time no charges have been entered against him. The police have neither questioned nor interviewed Corey regarding any incident, occurrence or event relating to his imprisonment, yet he continues to be held. The following is an excerpt of a letter from Corey’s lifelong friend and advocate, Jim McIlmurray:
How is it that British politicians care more for a permanent resident than one of their own naturally-born citizens? And let us be clear, Britain does claim Martin Corey as a citizen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as they do all citizens of Northern Ireland. Is it perhaps that the Northern Irish continue to be seen as second-class citizens, less worthy of protection of the law and the rights of citizenship? Have all the nice words spoken around the Good Friday Accords of 1998 been just that – empty words, with no real meaning?“Martin Corey is a 62 year old man who served 19 years of his life in Long Kesh as a republican prisoner. He was released by the prison authorities in 1992 and began to rebuild his life. He is a popular figure from a well respected, hard-working family in the town. It was a proud day for Martin when he was granted a loan to purchase his own mechanical digger. After a time, he gained the contract as the parish grave digger, covering several cemeteries in the greater Lurgan area. Many people, myself included, will recall his compassionate approach and professionalism during the time of families' bereavement.On Friday, April 16th, 2010, the police arrived at his O’Neill’s Terrace home and told him they had a warrant for his arrest. Martin was brought to Lurgan PSNI station and later that day transferred to Maghaberry Prison. It was stated he broke the terms of his Life Licence release. When his solicitor requested to know what Martin was alleged to have done, he was told it was a matter of National Security and the subject of closed file information.For the past three years, his solicitor and barristers have challenged his unlawful detention on numerous occasions in the High Court. On Monday, the 9th of July, 2012, a High Court judge, Justice Seamus Tracy, who has a background in the European Human Rights Courts, ordered Martin’s immediate release, stating that his Human Rights had been breached under sections 4 and 5 of the European Human Rights Act and that there were no charges for which he should answer. I waited for 4 hours outside Maghaberry with Martin’s family that day, only to be told at 4:15pm that the then-Secretary of State, Owen Patterson, had overruled the High Court judge and blocked Martin's release. I was 25 yards away from Martin when I received that call. I watched him step out of the prison van at the reception centre and watched him walk back to the van to be returned to his cell. As he got into the van, he paused and stared at me; that will always be one of the hardest and cruelest moments I have ever witnessed in my life.Martin has a legal entitlement to an annual Parole Board review every twelve calendar months to re-evaluate the reasons for his continued detention. I have been accepted to speak on Martin’s behalf; however, every date set for a hearing for Martin last year was followed by a cancellation by the Parole Board, citing numerous excuses. Martin hasn’t received a parole review in 18 months, an action deemed illegal by the Court of Human Rights in Strasburg. We are currently awaiting a date to take this case to the High Court for a judicial review.Martin’s case has been in the High Court in Belfast several times over the past three years, without any finding of criminal offence with which to charge him. Had Martin been charged with possession of an illegal firearm during his arrest three years previously, he would have been released six months ago. There is no other name for his illegal detention other than internment without trial.”
Is the situation in Northern Ireland reverting to what it was before the Troubles, when the Irish were denied basic human rights? As leaders in the UK discuss how to deal with dissident republicans (and, one hopes, dissident loyalists as well) they need to think about the way they treat people they claim as their own. Perhaps then, their example will lead to the release of Shaker Aamer.