Ian Cobain, Caroline Davies, Jessica Elgot and Ed Pilkington
Shaker Aamer, the British resident finally set free after spending almost 14 years incarcerated at Guantánamo Bay, is to bring legal proceedings against the British government over its alleged complicity in his mistreatment.
The case will include a claim for damages from the UK’s security and intelligence agencies, whose officers interrogated him three times while he was at the US detention facility in Cuba and who are alleged to have been present while he was being tortured at a prison in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11.
As the 48-year-old father-of-four landed back on UK soil, members of his legal team indicated to the Guardian that they expected the government to settle the claim as quickly as possible rather than suffer the embarrassment of seeing further allegations of the UK’s involvement in human rights abuses being aired in court.
Aamer may be questioned by a team of Metropolitan police detectives who have been investigating those abuses; his lawyers disclosed that members of the police team spent three days interviewing him at Guantánamo in 2013.
The last British detainee at Guantánamo Bay, Internee No 239, landed on board a Gulfstream IV jet at Biggin Hill airport in south-east London shortly before 1pm on Friday. The aircraft taxied to a hangar, its window blinds pulled down hiding the interior from view and offering no glimpse of any passenger to waiting media. Two members of Aamer’s legal team met him inside the airport.
In a statement, Aamer paid tribute to his supporters, saying: “Without their devotion to justice, I would not be here in Britain now.”
Thanking Allah, his family and lawyers, he said: “I feel obliged to every individual who fought for justice not just for me but to bring an end to Guantánamo.
“The reason I have been strong is because of the support of people so strongly devoted to the truth. If I was the fire to be lit to tell the truth, it was the people who protected the fire from the wind.”
He left the airport in an ambulance and his first priority was to undertake a thorough medical checkup. Having spent prolonged periods of his detention on hunger strike, there were concerns about his health and he was examined by trusted doctors who offered to assist.
It was unclear when he was due to be reunited with wife, Zin Siddique, who was not at the airport and is said to be suffering from influenza, or their four children, the youngest of whom was born on the day he was transferred to Guantánamo and whom he has never met.
His father-in-law, Saeed Siddique, 73, a retired imam, described the day as “delightful” and “a miracle” but said he did not yet know when he would see Aamer.
He said Aamer was offered compensation during the latter stages of his detention, but did not disclose any details. “The important thing is the freedom. We wanted his freedom and money doesn’t matter,” Siddique said at his home in south-west London. “Justice came, but really late. Too late.”
Aamer’s British lawyers, Irene Nembhard and Gareth Peirce, described him as an “extraordinary man who determined for 14 years that he would return to Britain”.
Clive Stafford-Smith, director of Reprieve, who fought the detainee’s case, said Aamer planned to set up a charitable foundation. He did not want to exact revenge, said Stafford-Smith. “He hopes to start a foundation, the Shaker AamerFoundation for Peace and Philanthropy to ensure people know the history and to ultimately campaign to make sure this never happens again.”
Aamer, who was born in Medina, Saudi Arabia, but is a British resident with his British wife and children living in London, was detained in Afghanistan in 2001.
He has said he was originally seized by bounty hunters while working as a charity worker in Afghanistan shortly after the 9/11 attacks and was handed over the US forces.
Although the US leaked claims – some extracted from the torture of other detainees – that Aamer fought for al-Qaida and was paid by Osama bin Laden, he was never tried for any offence and he denied the claims.
He has said British officials were aware – and, on one occasion, present – when he was being beaten by US interrogators. The Foreign Office has said it “did not accept allegations of … complicity in his mistreatment”.
In 2007, the allegations against him were dropped and he was cleared for release, but he remained imprisoned.
In 2010, officials from six US government agencies – the Guantánamo Interagency Review Taskforce – recommended he should be freed from the military camp. Yet it took another five years for the defence secretary, Ashton Carter, to sign the “notification package” ordering his release, triggering a 30-day period which ended on Friday.
News of his release was confirmed on Friday morning by the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond.
Aamer was expected to go through standard immigration checks but it was not known if he would be questioned by counter-terrorism police or M15 officers. Given that ministers – including the prime minister, David Cameron – had campaigned for his release, he was unlikely to be detained on arrival.
Cameron, who raised Aamer’s case with Barack Obama in the White House in January and won an assurance that he would prioritise the issue, welcomed the release. Cameron’s official spokeswoman said: “It is a case that he has personally raised with the president. He also wanted to support the president’s efforts to close Guantánamo Bay.
“As soon as he is returned to the UK, he is no longer in detention. He is free to be reunited with his family. The prime minister has been clear that the public should be reassured that everything to ensure public safety is in place.”
Cori Crider, Aamer’s US lawyer and strategic director at Reprieve, said it would be up to his client “how much of his story and the terrible things he witnessed that he wants to tell”. She told Sky News he was a “very outspoken prisoner” and “woe betide the person who tries to silence Shaker Aamer”.
He can be expected to receive compensation, perhaps as much as £1m, as 15 other British residents and citizens did in 2010, in return for dropping a civil case for unlawful imprisonment. They abandoned their demands for evidence that they said would back their case that M15 and M16 were involved in their rendition to Guantánamo Bay.
In 2010, officers from the Metropolitan police visited Aamer at Guantánamo where they questioned his allegations of British security and intelligence agency complicity in his mistreatment. Aamer has said that a British intelligence officer was present on one occasion when US interrogators banged his head against a wall.
The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, were among those who had called for his release. Corbyn said: “Now that Shaker has been released, the scandal of the Guantánamo detention camp itself must be brought to an end.”
Green party MP Caroline Lucas said the case “reinforced the urgent need for the judge-led inquiry into UK complicity in torture that the prime minister promised in 2010 but then backtracked on”.
Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the campaign group Liberty, said: “Why did it take us so many years to persuade our closest ally to behave decently? How many young Britons have been radicalised, at least in part, by kidnap, internment and torture in freedom’s name?”
But David Rivkin, a former White House legal adviser, said there was “plenty of evidence” that Mr Aamer was an “enemy combatant”. He told BBC 2’s Newsnight: “The fact he has not been charged does not signify anything. He was held as an enemy combatant.”