Gitmo 12 Years Later

As of this writing, 155 men remain in Guantanamo, most of whom are not charged with anything: 77 are cleared for release, six are being tried in military commissions, two are serving sentences after being convicted in the commissions and nearly three dozen might be tried. However, Guantanamo chief prosecutor Brig. Gen. Mark Martins told reporters in June 2013 that only 20 could be “realistically prosecuted.” Around four dozen prisoners are designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial – a practice that violates international law – until the War on Terror ends. The indefinite prisoners are deemed too dangerous to release but too difficult to prosecute because much of the evidence against them is inadmissible, having been produced through torture.

In recent weeks, the United States released more prisoners from Guantanamo. Around half a dozen were repatriated to AlgeriaSaudi Arabia and Sudan. The Saudi and Sudanese repatriations were comparatively smooth. That was not the case for the Algerian repatriations.

Two Algerians, Belkacem Bensayah and Djamel Ameziane, were sent back to Algeria against their will in early December 2013. They feared persecution upon return to Algeria, a country with a bleak human rights record. Both men fled Algeria during the country’s civil war in the 1990s. According to a Reuters report, Bensayah, now 51 years old, “was a grocer who moved to Bosnia in the mid-1990s and married a Bosnian woman. The US military accused him of being a financier and facilitator for Muslim extremists headed to Afghanistan.” He “was one of six Algerians investigated by the Bosnian government on suspicion of plotting with al-Qaeda to attack the US embassy in Sarajevo in 2001.” After Bosnian police exonerated them, the six men, including Bensayah, “were turned over to US authorities and sent to Guantanamo. The other five were released from Guantanamo several years ago.”

The US military alleged that now 46-year-old Ameziane “was part of an al Qaeda-affiliated force that fought against US-led troops in late 2001, then fled into Pakistan. The group surrendered to Pakistani authorities, who turned them over to the United States.” according to Reuters.

However, a Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) document profiling Guantanamo detainees tells a different story. After fleeing Algeria, Ameziane initially went to Austria, working as a chef in an Italian restaurant, then lived for five years in Canada, where he sought, but was later denied, political asylum. Left with few options, Ameziane “traveled to Afghanistan because it was the only country he could think of where, as a Muslim man, he might live peacefully and without constant fear of being returned to Algeria,” the CCR document says. He fled Afghanistan after the US invasion, but “was captured by a local Pakistani tribe” that “turned him over to Pakistani authorities,” who then sold him to the US military for a bounty.

At the time, the US military offered lavish bounties for any suspected militant captured in Afghanistan or Pakistan – $2,000 for those captured in Afghanistan, $5,000 for ones in Pakistan, according to CCR. This led to many tribes and local authorities snatching and handing over random people to the US for monetary gain. In fact, according to a Seton Hall study, “Only 5% of the [Guantanamo] detainees were captured by United States forces. 86% of the detainees were arrested by either Pakistan or the Northern Alliance and turned over to United States custody.”

CCR, which represents Ameziane, condemned the forced repatriation in a press release. CCR Executive Director Vince Warren stated that the organization demands “that the Algerian Government immediately release Djamel Ameziane from secret detention, treat him humanely, and respect his human rights. We further call on the international community to demand transparency and accountability from the Algerian Government and to ensure that Mr. Ameziane does not suffer persecution now or in the future.” The CCR also pointed out that Ameziane “fears persecution by the Algerian security services based on several factors, including his minority, Berber ethnicity.” Bensayah’s lawyer, Rob Kirsch, “also urged the State Department to resettle him in another country out of fear he could face further imprisonment,” according to The Associated Press.

Almost two weeks after the Algerians were repatriated forcibly, two detainees were sent back to Saudi Arabia. Saad Muhammad Husayn al-Qahtani, now 35 years old, and Hamoud Abdullah Hamoud, now age 48, both Saudis, had been held in Guantanamo since 2002. According to Reuters, “US military documents say [al-Qahtani] was an al Qaeda member who volunteered to become a suicide bomber.”

But al-Qahtani was never a threat to the United States. In the CCR document, his lawyer, Patricia A. Bronte, explains that al-Qahtani “has never engaged in hostilities or combat operations, never fired a weapon at anyone, and never had any intention of taking up arms against the United States or its allies.” He only fought “when he intervened to stop Taliban soldiers from beating an Afghan truck driver.” Before 9/11, al-Qahtani traveled to Afghanistan because “he was curious about the Taliban government (recognized by his home country as legitimate), and because he wanted to help the Afghan people, who had endured decades of war.” After the US invasion, al-Qahtani fled Afghanistan for Pakistan and “went to the first police station he could find, and asked for help in returning home.” However, Pakistani authorities turned him over to US forces for a bounty. [more]

Interrogation Log Detainee 063 [Mohammed al-Qahtani] []