A Saudi Arabian Guantanamo detainee with links to Britain is to be granted a £1 million payout by the British government as compensation for his time served at the detention centre, despite the American intelligence services insisting that he has links to al Qaida. Meanwhile, it has emerged that up to 4,000 injured British veterans are having to pay for ongoing care from their meagre compensation awards.
Shaker Aamer is the last British resident to be released from Guantanamo, having been held there for 13 years, the Telegraph has reported. The father of four was arrested in Afghanistan after travelling to the country with his family from their home in South London, he says to open a school and charity. The US authorities, however, maintain that he was a senior al-Qaida operative, trained in explosive-making, with links to terrorist groups in the UK an US.
Now, after ongoing pressure from David Cameron, and a campaign for his release which attracted support from celebrities including Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, TV presenter Janet Ellis and her singer daughter Sophie Ellis-Bextor, and the actress Juliet Stevenson, Aamer has been cleared for release.
He will rejoin his family in London, and is in line for a compensation payout of £1 million from British taxpayers, under the terms of an agreement brokered in 2010 by then Justice secretary, Conservative MP Kenneth Clarke, despite the Americans holding a detailed 15 page dossier of allegations against Aamer.
The dossier includes suggestions that he fought alongside Bin Laden in Tora Bora as an al-Qaida sub-commander, and that he was close to a number of UK based terrorists before first visiting Afghanistan in 1998; an allegation which his lawyer insists can be easily disproved.
His lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, who also founded the human rights charity Reprieve, said: “He hasn’t got any money and he can’t do anything while he is locked up.”
Mr Smith insisted that the allegations brought against Aamer by the Americans amounted to defamation, and were baseless. “They have made more stuff up about Shaker as time has gone on. The Americans have no meaningful allegations against Shaker. That is best proven by the fact he has been cleared for release by two different groups, once by Bush and once by Obama,” he said.
“The reason they hate him is he is oppositional and non compliant with all their rules. [But] the allegations are totally false. Shaker arrived in Afghanistan in late June 2001 and they [the US] say he is Osama bin Laden’s translator. He was only there two months and had never been in Afghanistan before. I have considered bringing a defamation case against the US based on that document.”
Robin Simcox of the foreign policy think tank The Henry Jackson Society was less convinced of Aamer’s innocence, saying “The US government has clearly had a multitude of good reasons to detain Shaker Aamer. His connections to al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and other jihadists are well established, and the charities that Aamer said he worked for are known to be al-Qaeda support groups.
“Aamer’s formidable reputation among the other detainees at Guantanamo Bay shows that he remains highly influential. There is far more to Aamer than the benign image his supporters portray.”
Criticising the deal struck to compensate Guantanamo detainees, Mr Simcox said “The Government agreed a settlement with the Guantánamo detainees because it feared a lengthy litigation process could reveal secret intelligence and damage national security.
“Yet – as the Aamer case shows – the consequences of the Government choosing not to fight its corner and simply cutting a deal are hugely damaging. It should be a source of great embarrassment to the Government that Aamer will earn more for his time in Afghanistan than any British soldier ever did.”
The payout is particularly acutely embarrassing for the government coming at a time when Armed Forces charities are criticising the government for changes to guidelines for social care which has seen up to 4,000 injured veterans having to pay for their own ongoing care out of their war pensions.
One such veteran is Keith Clarke, who 15 years ago suffered a crushing spine injury whilst tackling a blaze aboard a Royal Navy submarine, leaving him paralysed and reliant on carers. Mr Clarke received approximately £900 a month for his war pension, but was told by Norfolk County Council last year that he must pay £100 a week towards the cost of care.
Under government guidelines, which are followed by nearly 90 percent of all councils, nearly all of a war pension awarded before 6 April 2005 can be treated as income for the purposes of calculating contributions towards the cost of care. However, those awarded compensation under the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme have their pensions discounted by councils.
Mr Clarke told the Telegraph “If I had been injured five years later than I was, I wouldn’t have to use any of my compensation to pay for my care. How is that fair?”
After his injury Mr Clarke separated from his wife, and now looks after his two sons, one of whom is himself disabled, full time. He relies on carers coming into the home to assist with day to day living, including accompanying the family on trips into town.
“Life would be different for both myself and the boys if I didn’t have part of my compensation taken away from me each month,” he said. “My war pension is basically what I live on and then my local authority turn around and said we want half of it for your care. They told me ‘If you don’t pay the bills, then we will take it away’.”
“I feel angry and frustrated. It’s definitely an injustice, to be treated as a second-class citizen. The military covenant is not worth the piece of paper it’s written on, because the Government and local councils don’t honour it.”
Chris Simpkins, director general of the Royal British Legion, who are running a campaign calling on government to ensure that all injured veterans are treated fairly, said: “Not only is it unfair that war pensioners such as Keith are treated less favourably than a veteran injured at a later date, but it’s also unfair that war pensioners’ compensation is seen as normal income in means tests for social care.
“In contrast, civilian compensation is not treated in this way. This goes against the Armed Forces Covenant which states that there should be ‘no disadvantage (by comparison with civilians) due to Service’.”