The Foreign Secretary has defended the Government’s efforts to release the last British resident held in Guantanamo Bay - as his family prepares to mark the 3,000th day he has been imprisoned in the Cuban jail without charge.
In an exclusive interview with the Wandsworth Guardian, David Miliband said the Government was “actively engaged” in pursuing the case of Shaker Aamer and said the UK had asked for his release “without fear or favour”.
Mr Miliband said UK’s trackrecord on getting its citizens and residents released countered claims the Government was not exerting real pressure on the US for his return, and Mr Aamer’s plight was high on his agenda.
Despite never being charged with any offence Mr Aamer - who claims he has was repeatedly tortured in Guantanamo and in Afghanistan, at which an MI6 officer was present - has, according to lawyers, spent three of the eight years imprisoned in isolation.
Mr Aamer, who lives in Battersea and has never met the youngest of his four children, was cleared for release in 2007, but is still regarded as a risk by the US and is waiting for the outcome of a US Guantanamo Task Force hearing.
Defending the Government’s efforts on campaigning for Mr Aamer’s release, Mr Miliband said: “I can't interfere with an American judicial process but what I can be absolutely clear about is that the position of the British Government, communicated to the American Government at political and official level regularly is that Shaker Aamer should be released from Guantanamo.
“We have been absolutely consistent in our position on this. Martin Linton and Said Khan (Labour MP’s in Battersea and Tooting who have campaigned for his release) have made strong representations on this, our position is the right position.”
the Foreign Secretary dismissed claims from Mr Aamer’s lawyers that the Foreign Office was not pushing the US hard enough for his release.
“I don't accept that. The lawyers in any case are there to exert maximum pressure for their side of the argument. I am telling you that we are the only country in the world that has got of its citizens and all but one of its residents released from Guantanamo,” he said.
“And there's one British resident to be released. We have shown our commitment to get citizens and residents released without fear or favour, and we continue to make our case in a very appropriate way.
“Our position has been absolutely clear it has been communicated without fear or favour publicly and privately and it continues to be so . . . we are pushing in a very strong way and a very appropriate way. Our commitment to effectiveness has been shown in our other cases.”
Mr Miliband did appear moved when asked how the Government justify the detention of a man for eight years without charge.
“I understand the passion the humanity the commitment that you and the paper and the MPs bring to this issue,” he said.
“I am not going to get into a public negotiation about this but what I'm saying is that our position is clear and it is understood by the Americans and in the Guantanamo process it is not an accident that Binyam Mohamed was the first to be released under the Obama administration and its not an accident that the Shaker Aamer case is getting the degree of attention.
“I can tell you that the American Government, at political and official level, is absolutely clear about our position, and our position has not just been put on a shelf for future reference. It is very well known, the case is under active engagement.”
He added: “Sometimes people come to me as Foreign Secretary and they are trying to persuade me to do something, in this case I am doing what you are asking me to do. The commitment is absolutely clear and we are more than fulfilling our commitments to in this case a British resident.”
Mr Miliband, who has asked the US for Mr Aamer’s release, added: “What you should tell the family [of Mr Aamer] is that their concern to have Shaker Aamer released from Guantanamo is reflected in the actions of the British Government.
“Anyone who tells them they have a magic answer to get him out they should treat with a large degree of scepticism . . . there is a human story in all of these cases and its important not to forget that, as foreign policy is about human stories as well as about great international issues, but we are engaging in the way that I have described.”
Look out for more in our series of articles in the coming days at www.wandsworthguardian.co.uk