Imprisoned and tortured for over 13 years without charge or trial. What happened to Human Rights?
The last British resident to be kept prisoner at Guantánamo Bay, Shaker Aamer, has at last been freed and returned to Britain. Mr Aamer, who has never been charged or tried for any crime, has described being tortured in the presence of British agents.
Mr Aamer told his story to a doctor at the USA detention camp and she quoted him extensively in her medical reports, which were publicly released last year. Dr Emily Keram, a psychiatrist, described how Mr Aamer was beaten, shackled in painful ‘stress positions’, deprived of sleep, given frostbite and mentally ‘destroyed’ by his interrogators.
It was reported that Mr Aamer told the doctor of one occasion when a British MI5 agent was in a room with 10 other interrogators, one of whom allegedly repeatedly slammed his head into a wall. The doctor recorded in her notes that Mr Aamer told her, “They do that until you are shivering, until they have broken you, until your mind is completely empty.”
Shaker Aamer was released only after more than a decade of pressure by Amnesty International supporters, dedicated campaign groups and parliamentarians.
Mr Aamer hadn’t seen his British wife and children for over 13 years whilst he was incarcerated in the American prison in Cuba without charge or trial. Only now for the first time will he meet his youngest son, now a teenager, who was born whilst he was imprisoned.
Whatever happened to the Human Rights Act – yes the one that the British government has pledged to scrap – which is based on the European Convention on Human Rights? The Convention was championed and promoted by Britain's war leader, Winston Churchill, and is regarded as his greatest peacetime legacy.
• Article 3 of the Human Rights Act contains an absolute prohibition of torture.
• Article 6 of the Human Rights Act guarantees the right to a fair trial.
Whatever happened to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which preceded the European Convention? It’s called ‘Universal’ for a reason – because human rights are meant to apply to all humans, to you, to me, to everyone, without exception. The Declaration was championed and promoted by Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of US President Franklin Roosevelt, and is regarded as her greatest legacy to humanity.
After the appalling atrocities of the Second World War, the United Nations came into existence and one of their first tasks was the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s been translated into more languages than any other document.
• Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that there shall be no unfair detainment. Nobody has the right to put us in prison without good reason and keep us there, or to send us away from our country.
• Article 10 of the Universal Declaration states that everyone has the right to a trial. If we are put on trial this should be in public. The people who try us should not let anyone tell them what to do.
• Article 11 of the Universal Declaration states that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Nobody should be blamed for doing something until it is proven. When people accuse us of doing a bad thing, we have the right to show it is not true in a fair trial.
• And Article 30 of the Universal Declaration states that no one can take away your human rights.
But without adherence or enforcement, ‘Human Rights’ is just an empty, meaningless phrase isn’t it?
If the birthplace of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can so easily abandon them (USA), and if the country that drafted and first signed the European Convention on Human Rights can ignore them (UK), then what hope is there?
It’s reported this weekend that Shaker Aamer may be in line for one or two million pounds in compensation resulting from his unlawful imprisonment and torture. But that seems too small a sum for being detained and tortured without charge or trial for over 13 years.
And there is surely no sum adequate to compensate humanity for the betrayal of human rights by so-called ‘civilised countries’. If one human is denied human rights in countries that have signed up to them, then it means all of us have been denied our rights.
Because as soon as one human is excluded from those rights, it means in principle that any one of us could be too. And isn’t it the principle here that counts most of all?
(There are still over 100 detainees being held in Guantánamo Bay without charge or trial.)
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Posted by Jon Danzig