I met Shaker Aamer for the first time three weeks after his release, at his lawyers’ offices in Camden, London. When the door first opened, he stood beaming and expansive, wearing a huge infectious grin framed by a luxuriant beard. ‘Ah, David,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry I kept you waiting so long.’
I had written many times about this man, stuck for 14 years in Guantanamo’s ‘legal black hole’. But through all those years, he had been an almost spectral presence, knowable only at great distance. Now he was present, and manifestly real.
He’d once been a chef in various diners in the US – and like most people from his cultural heritage, he is proud of offering hospitality. There were nuts and squares of cake on the table, and before we got started, he urged me to eat.
At first, his accent sounded almost Italian, and as we spoke – on that first occasion for two intense hours – one could easily imagine him as a commanding guest on a TV chat show. We broke our interview when he stopped to pray.
After further conversation, I accompanied him to Waterloo station on the Tube – one of many things that have changed in the years of his absence: in 2001, the year he was captured, there were no electronic Oyster cards, smart phones, or much else. Even the internet was still in its relative infancy. He is still coming to terms with the new world he is now in.
For most people, the ordeal endured by Aamer for the past 14 years is almost unimaginable. He has been tortured, beaten and severed from all he holds dear, a victim of institutionalised injustice.