It’s interesting that in a year where Donald Trump’s Presidential programme is casting light on the dubious foreign policy of the USA, the last British prisoner in Guantanamo Bay detention centre for those of questionable guilt has finally been released. Following a lengthy campaign marred by bureaucratic interference and high profile campaigning, it does lead to one pertinent question – is the US really the bastion of democracy it portrays itself to be?
Shaker Aamer, a Saudi national, was released back to Britain after being held for thirteen years in possibly the world’s most controversial detention centre – all without charge. And why was he there in the first place? Because the US government believed he was participating in terrorist activity: evidence of which, the Bush government would later admit, was sorely lacking.
Through letters sent to the outside world whilst still in Guantanamo, Aamer communicated that he’d been taking part in a hunger strike to protest against the conditions – conditions which have apparently led to repercussions for both his physical and mental health. Aside from this, he now suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which isn’t surprising considering the (incredibly triggering) stories of torture that have come out since the centre opening in 2002.
So, what exactly do the US have to answer for here? Well, as far as I can see, as well as the myriad breaches of international human rights legislation, one of their biggest crimes has to be hypocrisy. The ongoing failure of the USA to rectify the cognitive dissonance between their self-perception and their actions makes for quite a baffling state to analyse. On this theme, Malcolm X’s notorious ‘Democracy is Hypocrisy’ speech, addressing brutality against black citizens of the US, still holds sway today, over 50 years after its delivery. In the speech, he asks, ‘if democracy means justice, why don’t we have justice?’
Why don’t people like Shaker Aamer have justice? The cyclical, virulent and (if we’re being honest with ourselves) failing war on terror is part of the reason – a set of policies built on a platform of Islamophobia that I would argue does more to radicalise than anything else could. What’s going to make you hate the western world more than seeing an innocent Muslim man unlawfully tortured for a huge portion of his adult life?
And the UK isn’t innocent, either – despite efforts from people such as Jeremy Corbyn to bring Aamer home sooner than the five years(!) it took from him being cleared to him touching down, the bureaucratic procedures were highly flawed and our country becoming more and more hostile to Muslim citizens. Our policy handbook on How To Stop Terrorism for Dummies is becoming closer and closer to the toxic US version, especially with the spread of the Prevent initiative. The only way that we, and the US, can make it up to people like Shaker Aamer, is to make sure these miscarriages of justice never happen again. At the moment, being able to promise that looks less and less likely.