Shaker Aamer's Lawyer: Obama Must Now Free the Remaining Guantanamo Inmates

Gitmo
Detainees sit together inside the Camp 6 detention facility at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba on May 31, 2009. Brennan Linsley/Pool/Reuters

The first contact between a Guantanamo prisoner and a lawyer is often dramatic. You have had plenty of time to worry about how your new client is, and you will have wondered whether he will accept you. Will a man imprisoned without charge or trial and tortured by the U.S. government trust me, a lawyer from rural Texas?

Years ago, I sat in the brutal Cuban sun and imagined what Shaker Aamer would be like. It is hard to believe that today—over a decade on—Aamer has finally been sent home to London, to his British wife and children.

The minders at Camp Echo are bored young military police. Many regard the "detainee lawyer" as a curious species. They have been told the lie that all detainees are somehow connected to 9/11, so any American who has chosen to help them is one step from Osama bin Laden. If anyone has told them the truth—that the majority of Gitmo prisoners, like Shaker, should never have been sent there and pose no threat—they give no sign of it.

"You here for 239?" the sergeant of guard drawled. This was Shaker's prison number. Throughout his time in Gitmo, he had no name.

A guard escorted me through a warren of chain-link fences and gestured toward a shack. He unbolted and pulled open the cell door. I peered inside, but the contrast between the sun where I stood and the shade of the meeting room was such that I could not make Shaker out at first: He was a shadow at the back of the room.

You can tell a lot about a client from the first moment you look at each other. Some men are withdrawn, depressed. Some look away. Some don't even lift their heads, they are so tired and sad.

Not Shaker. After the famous photo of him, rotund and serious, the last thing I expected was a massive expanse of grinning teeth. Hard years and intermittent hunger-striking had shrunk him to nothing. I saw a thin, aging man—but my very first memory of Shaker is his smile.

We got to know each other—though the meeting belonged to Shaker, and he had a lot he wanted to say to me. He was warm, engaging, but also defiant, and over our years together, I came to realize the reason Shaker Aamer so irritated the authorities at Gitmo. He stood up to them, in their own language—and he has a quintessentially British sense of fair play.

Shaker also has a Briton's compassion for the underdog. If a prisoner was punished unfairly or abused, Shaker was the first to object. This got him into trouble—he was one of the first and few to protest in English, and he paid for it dearly, with 14 years of abuse.

While Shaker is, thankfully, set to settle back in London with his family and begin the long journey of recovery and recuperation, we at Reprieve, where we represent prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay and provide legal assistance to many more, have serious work to do to help other men who've faced the same ordeal—both those still stuck in Guantanamo and others who've had the misfortune to be released only to be detained on arrival.

Among these is my client Younous Chekkouri, a Moroccan man who was just transferred back to his home country after some 14 years of detention at Guantanamo. Since his release three weeks ago, the Moroccan authorities have detained him—violating their assurances to the U.S. that he would not be detained more than 72 hours. Now it appears the Moroccan authorities may even charge this innocent, traumatized man on the basis of evidence so faulty that even the U.S. could never build a case. The Moroccan authorities have steadfastly refused to let me see him, even though I am his lawyer.

In 14 years of imprisonment, Younous was never charged with a crime by the U.S.—like all the men at Gitmo, he was taken there on the basis of a tissue of lies and distortions fed to the U.S. by tortured and coerced prisoners at notorious black sites like Bagram and Kandahar. Last week, the U.S. State Department finally admitted, in an unclassified letter to Reprieve, what we knew all along—that years ago it "withdrew all reliance" on its own faulty "evidence" during secretive U.S. court proceedings, ultimately accepting that Younous should be released.

If Morocco—a close ally—charges Younous on the selfsame charges, it will be to the eternal shame of the U.S. government.

Shaker paid the bitterest price for insisting on the rights enshrined in Britain's Magna Carta. The Obama administration has finally freed him to his home country, but Guantanamo remains open—and Younous catastrophically imprisoned based on the mistake of the U.S. Now that Shaker is home, the U.S. must urgently turn to the many others whose rights it has trampled on for 14 years.

Cori Crider is one of Shaker Aamer's lawyers. She is also the strategic director at Reprieve, an international human rights organization that represents prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and others.

Shaker Aamer's Lawyer: Obama Must Now Free the Remaining Guantanamo Inmates | Opinion