Subscribe to Secularism is a Womens Issue

Secularism is a Women’s Issue

Home > fundamentalism / shrinking secular space > USA: Prisoners Fight U.S. Over Repatriation From Guantanamo Bay: Effort to (...)

USA: Prisoners Fight U.S. Over Repatriation From Guantanamo Bay: Effort to Close Prison Hits Snag as Some Detainees Resist Transfer to Home

Saturday 30 November 2013, by siawi3


By Jess Bravin

Nov. 28, 2013 11:00 p.m. ET

U.S. officials say Guantanamo currently holds 164 prisoners. Associated Press

The Obama administration’s effort to close the Guantanamo Bay prison has hit a snag: detainees who don’t want to be repatriated.

The Obama administration’s effort to close the Guantanamo Bay prison has hit a snag: detainees who don’t want to be repatriated. Jess Bravin has details on the News Hub. Photo: Getty Images.

Two Algerian citizens held at the naval base in Cuba are fighting a transfer to their homeland, people familiar with the situation say. The two men say they fear that Islamist extremists will try to recruit them and may attack or kill them when they discover the detainees don’t share their commitment to violence, these people say.

Robert Kirsch, a lawyer for one of the two, Belkacem Bensayah, said the U.S. government has ignored the protests of his client and another detainee, Djamel Ameziane. The planned repatriation is “the most callous, political abuse of these men,” Mr. Kirsch said.

Mr. Ameziane’s lawyer didn’t return messages.

The repatriation is being hastened, Mr. Kirsch said, so that the administration can show progress on its troubled campaign to close the offshore prison, which opened under President George W. Bush in January 2002.

Mr. Kirsch said delegates from the International Committee of the Red Cross visited both men for exit interviews this week, a routine procedure ahead of transfer from Guantanamo. Both men told the Red Cross officials of their objections to repatriation; the agency has asked the U.S. to reconsider its decision, Mr. Kirsch said.

Red Cross officials couldn’t be reached Thursday.

U.S. officials say Guantanamo currently holds 164 prisoners, 84 of whom have been cleared for release, though significant restrictions apply. Last week, the administration convened a review hearing for the first of 71 additional detainees eligible to seek such clearance. Nine other detainees either are serving sentences or facing charges before a military commission.

U.S. officials declined to comment on the individual cases and said they take pains to ensure security and humane treatment when detainees are transferred. In past years, officials have said they put off repatriation to several countries, including Tunisia, Syria and Uzbekistan, as well as Algeria, when detainees said they feared mistreatment at home.

“Consistent with the Convention Against Torture and our own commitment to human rights, the United States is firm in its commitment to not transfer detainees to countries where we believe they would face torture. The United States takes seriously all credible claims of mistreatment,” said Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a Defense Department spokesman.

Cliff Sloan, the State Department’s special envoy for Guantanamo closure, declined to comment Thursday on specific cases. “We are moving ahead on the president’s commitment to close Guantanamo responsibly, and we are making progress,” he said.

Human-rights activists who have called to close Guantanamo said it was improper to transfer detainees against their will. “When you hear people say they would rather spend the rest of their lives in Guantanamo than go to a particular place, you have to take that seriously,” said Andrea Prasow, a counterterrorism counsel with Human Rights Watch.

She said Aziz Abdul Naji, an Algerian detainee who was involuntarily repatriated in 2010, had been imprisoned upon his return. An advocacy group that represents Mr. Naji confirmed his detention.

Ms. Prasow said the U.S. focus on Algerian repatriations stemmed from a determination that the country met the security conditions for transfer Congress imposed after President Barack Obama took office. But while the U.S. moves to forcibly repatriate the Algerians, cleared detainees from other countries haven’t been released, she said.

Mr. Sloan, a Washington lawyer Mr. Obama tapped for the Guantanamo job this year, arranged for the repatriation of two other Algerians in August. This month, the administration scored a victory when the Senate approved legislation loosening restrictions on Guantanamo transfers. The measure, part of a defense budget bill, faces an uncertain reception in the House.

A senior Obama administration official said Thursday that while the U.S. considers a detainee’s concerns in making transfer decisions, some prisoners have been forcibly repatriated in the past. The official said 14 detainees previously have been repatriated to Algeria without incident.

Mr. Bensayah, 51 years old, is one of six Algerians arrested in Bosnia in 2001 in connection with an alleged plot to blow up U.S. and British embassies. The Sarajevo government handed them over to the U.S. in January 2002, despite Bosnian court orders that there were no grounds to hold them.

Mr. Kirsch and his firm, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr LLP, began representing the six detainees in 2004. In 2008 the team won a Supreme Court ruling that Guantanamo inmates have a constitutional right to habeas corpus proceedings to challenge their detention.

Following that decision, Boumediene v. Bush, a federal district judge in Washington ordered five of the men released after concluding there was insufficient evidence to hold them as enemy combatants. But the judge found the government had adequately demonstrated Mr. Bensayah was an al Qaeda “facilitator” who had planned to go to Afghanistan to take up arms against the U.S. and assist others in the same.

The government later backed away from some of the claims it had made against Mr. Bensayah. In 2010 a federal appeals court in Washington ordered the district judge to reconsider the case.

Defense and intelligence officials later concluded that Mr. Bensayah also was eligible for release. Mr. Kirsch said, however, that Mr. Bensayah wishes to be returned to Bosnia, where his wife and daughters are citizens and still live, or some third country where he could be reunited with his family.

Mr. Bensayah isn’t a Bosnian citizen. Washington’s preference is to repatriate detainees to the country where they are citizens, the senior U.S. official said.

Mr. Kirsch wrote this week to the Algerian ambassador in Washington, imploring his government not to accede to an involuntary repatriation. “Mr. Bensayah fears he will be targeted by Muslim extremists in Algeria. He believes those extremists will expect him to sympathize with them—only because he was held at Guantanamo—and that they will attack or even kill him when they learn he opposes their violent ways,” Mr. Kirsch wrote. He also said those fears “have been confirmed to us by a representative of the Algerian government.” The Algerian Embassy spokeswoman couldn’t be reached Thursday.

Mr. Ameziane, who lived in Austria and Canada, was captured trying to enter Pakistan from Afghanistan following the U.S. invasion after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York advocacy group that represents Mr. Ameziane, he is an ethnic Berber who left Algeria to avoid oppression. Court documents indicate he has been fighting repatriation to Algeria since at least 2009, and has applied for resettlement in Canada. The documents say Mr. Ameziane, 46, fears persecution if repatriated.

Jess Bravin