Long-Cleared Algerian Prisoner Ahmed Belbacha Released from Guantánamo

I’m delighted to report that Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian prisoner, has been released from Guantánamo. It’s always good news when a prisoner is released, and in Ahmed Belbacha’s case it is particularly reassuring, as I — and many other people around the world — have been following his case closely for many years. I first wrote about him in 2006, for my book The Guantánamo Files, and my first article mentioning him was back in June 2007. I have written about his case, and called for his release, on many occasions since.

Ahmed was cleared for release from Guantánamo twice — by a military review board under the Bush administration in February 2007, and by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, appointed by the president shortly after taking office in 2009.

Nevertheless, he was terrified of returning home, and, from 2007 onwards, tried to prevent his forced repatriation in the US courts. This seems to have annoyed the authorities in Algeria, as, in 2009, he was tried and sentenced in absentia, receiving a 20-year sentence for membership of a foreign terrorist group abroad. As his lawyers at Reprieve noted, despite repeated requests, no evidence was produced to support the conviction. Read the rest of this entry »

US Appeals Court Rules that Guantánamo Prisoners Can Challenge Force-Feeding, and Their Conditions of Detention

In the latest news from Guantánamo, the court of appeals in Washington D.C. ruled yesterday that hunger-striking prisoners can challenge their force-feeding in a federal court — and, more generally, ruled that judges have “the power to oversee complaints” by prisoners “about the conditions of their confinement,” as the New York Times described it, further explaining that the judges ruled that “courts may oversee conditions at the prison as part of a habeas corpus lawsuit,” and adding that the ruling “was a defeat for the Obama administration and may open the door to new lawsuits by the remaining 155 Guantánamo inmates.”

In summer, four prisoners, all cleared for release since at least January 2010 — Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian and Nabil Hadjarab, another Algerian, who was later releasedasked federal court judges to stop the government from force-feeding them, but the judges ruled (see here and here) that an existing precedent relating to Guantánamo prevented them from intervening. The prisoners then appealed, and reports at the time of the hearing in the D.C. Circuit Court indicated that the judges appeared to be inclined to look favorably on the prisoners’ complaints.

As was explained in a press release by Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent the men involved in the appeal, along with Jon B. Eisenberg in California, the D.C. Circuit Court “held that the detainees should be allowed a ‘meaningful opportunity’ back in District Court to show that the Guantánamo force-feeding was illegal.” They also “invited the detainees to challenge other aspects of the protocol.” Read the rest of this entry »

Today, As Guantánamo Hunger Strikers Seek Relief in Washington Appeals Court, A US Protestor Will Be Force-Fed Outside

Today, at 11 am Eastern time (4 pm GMT), lawyers for three prisoners still held at Guantánamo Bay — including the last British resident, Shaker Aamer — will ask the appeals court in Washington D.C. to order the government to end the force-feeding of prisoners, denounced by the World Medical Association and the UN, in which, as the legal action charity Reprieve explained in a press release, “a detainee is shackled to a specially-made restraint chair and a tube is forced into his nostril, down his oesophagus, and through to his stomach.”

At the height of the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo this year, 46 men were being force-fed. That total has now fallen to 15, but twice a day those 15 men are tied into restraint chairs, while liquid nutrient is pumped into their stomachs via a tube inserted through their nose.

As well as Shaker Aamer, the other petitioners in the appeal are Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian, and Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian. All three were cleared for release by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010, and are represented by Reprieve and Jon B. Eisenberg. Read the rest of this entry »

Watch the Shocking New Animated Film About the Guantánamo Hunger Strike

Below is a powerful new animated film, six minutes in length, which tells the story of the hunger strike at Guantánamo that began in February, and involved the majority of the 164 prisoners still held over the six-month period that followed. At its height, 46 prisoners were being force-fed, and even though just 17 prisoners are still taking part in the hunger strike, 16 of them are being force-fed. Force-feeding is a brutal process, condemned by the medical profession, but it is difficult to understand what is happening at Guantánamo because no images are available of prisoners being force-fed.

To overcome the difficulty for people to empathize with people whose suffering is deliberately kept hidden, the new animated film, “Guantánamo Bay: The Hunger Strikes,” produced by Mustafa Khalili and Guy Grandjean of the Guardian, and the animation company Sherbet, features the testimony of four prisoners, all of whom have been cleared for release but are still held (a situation in which 84 of the remaining 164 prisoners find themselves). The film, which depicts life in the prison, including the horrible reality of force-feeding, is narrated by the actors David Morrisey and Peter Capaldi. See here for an account of the making of the film in today’s Observer, and see here for David Morrissey’s comments about it.

The men whose stories are featured are Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, Younus Chekhouri (aka Younous Chekkouri), a Moroccan who has strong ties to Germany, Samir Moqbel (aka Mukbel), a Yemeni whose op-ed in the New York Times in April drew attention to the hunger strike, and Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian who lived in the UK before his capture. The film also includes testimony from Nabil Hadjarab, one of just two prisoners released since President Obama promised to resume releasing cleared prisoners in May, and all of the statements were provided by the men’s lawyers at Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity. Read the rest of this entry »

Algeria’s Ongoing Persecution of Former Guantánamo Prisoner Abdul Aziz Naji

Three weeks ago, two Algerian prisoners were released from Guantánamo, who were the first prisoners to be released without a court order or a plea deal since September 2010, when Congress raised obstacles that President Obama refused to challenge or overcome until this year, when a prison-wide hunger strike, and widespread criticism of his inaction, both domestically and internationally, obliged him to promise, in a major speech on national security issues in May, that he would resume releasing prisoners.

This was the very least that he could do, given that, at the time, 86 of the remaining 166 prisoners had been cleared for release, since January 2010, by an inter-agency task force that the president had established when he took office in 2009, and many of these men had also been cleared for release years before, under the Bush administration. With the release of the Algerians, that number is down to 84, but this is clearly no occasion for satisfaction on the part of the Obama administration, and every day that these 84 men are still held further erodes President Obama’s credibility.

As for the Algerians, all that has been heard about the two men since their repatriation is that, back in Algeria, they were placed “under ‘judicial control,’ a type of supervised parole,” after being “detained pending interrogation by a prosecutor.” Joseph Breham, the French lawyer for one of the men, Nabil Hadjarab, who was featured in a New York Times op-ed by John Grisham just before his release, told the Associated Press that he was “working on getting him resettled in France, where his whole family lives.” Breham said, “We are overjoyed he has been cleared (for parole) and now we are going to work to return him to France.” He added that Hadjarab “would have to check in with [the] authorities every month.” Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the Two Guantánamo Prisoners Released in Algeria?

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email. The portrait on the left is by the artist Molly Crabapple, who has been visiting Guantánamo this year, and is one of seven portraits, with accompanying text, commissioned and published this week by Creative Time Reports and also published by the Daily Beast

Last week, President Obama released the first two prisoners from Guantánamo since he promised to resume releasing cleared prisoners in a major speech on May 23. That speech was prompted by high-level domestic and international criticism, which, in turn, arose in response to a prison-wide hunger strike that the prisoners embarked upon in February, in despair at ever being freed or receiving justice.

The release of these two prisoners, both Algerians, is to be applauded, as President Obama has been so paralyzed by inertia for the last few years that only five prisoners were freed between October 2010 and July 2013 (either through court orders or through plea deals in their military commission trials) and the last prisoners to be freed as a result of the president’s own intentions were released three years ago, in September 2010, when two men who could not be safely repatriated were released in Germany.

Since then, Congress has raised serious obstacles to the release of prisoners, and the administration was required to certify to lawmakers that it was safe to release the men. As the Miami Herald reported after their release last week, “Last month, the White House announced that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, for the first time, had certified the release under requirements imposed by Congress’ current National Defense Authorization Act with the approval of Secretary of State John Kerry and the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.” Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer and Other Guantánamo Prisoners Call Force-Feeding Torture, Ask Appeals Court for Help

On June 30, as I reported here, lawyers for four prisoners in Guantánamo — Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, Nabil Hadjarab and Ahmed Belbacha, both Algerians, and Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian — filed a motion with the District Court in Washington D.C., asking a judge to issue a ruling compelling the government to “stop force-feeding in the prison and stop force-medicating prisoners, particularly with Reglan, a drug used by the US during the force-feeding process that when used for extended periods of time can cause severe neurological disorders, including one that mimics Parkinson’s disease,” as it was described in a press release by Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers filed the motion, along with Jon B. Eisenberg in the US.

The men are amongst the 86 prisoners (out of the 166 men still held), who were cleared for release by the inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, established by President Obama when he took office in 2009. In addition, all are involved in the prison-wide hunger strike that began six months ago, and both Nabil Hadjarab and Ahmed Belbacha are amongst the 41 prisoners who are being force-fed.

Although the prisoners made a compelling argument for the need for intervention, the judge ruling in Abu Wa’el Dhiab’s case, Judge Gladys Kessler, was unable to grant the motion, because of a legal precedent from February 2009, when, in the case of Mohammed al-Adahi, a Yemeni who sought to stop his force-feeding, a court ruled that “no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider any other action against the United States or its agents relating to any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of confinement of an alien who is or was detained by the United States and has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant.” Read the rest of this entry »

Justice Department Tells Court that Force-Feeding Guantánamo Hunger Strikers is “Maintaining the Status Quo”

What a disgrace the Justice Department lawyers dealing with Guantánamo are. On Wednesday, Andrew Warden, Timothy Walthall and Daniel Barish of the Civil Division’s Federal Programs Branch argued in federal court in Washington D.C. against a motion submitted on behalf of four of the prisoners involved in the prison-wide hunger strike that is nearing its sixth month, asking Judge Rosemary Collyer to order the government to stop force-feeding prisoners engaged in the hunger strike, and also to stop administering medication without the prisoners’ consent.

45 of the prisoners are currently being force-fed, and according to the government 106 of the remaining 166 prisoners are on a hunger strike. The prisoners themselves claim that around 120 of them are refusing food. Two of the four men represented in the motion are being force-fed — Ahmed Belbacha and Nabil Hadjarab, both Algerians — while the other two are taking part in the hunger strike but are not being force-fed. They are Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian.

All four were cleared for release from the prison in January 2010, by the inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established when he took office, and all but Abu Wa’el Dhiab were also cleared for release under President Bush. 86 men in total were cleared for release by Obama’s task force, but are still held. Read the rest of this entry »

In Court Submission, Hunger Striker Ahmed Belbacha Tells Obama, “End the Nightmare that is Guantánamo”

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us – just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

On Sunday June 30, 2013, attorneys for four prisoners at Guantánamo filed a motion with the District Court in Washington D.C. The motion was submitted in response to the authorities’ force-feeding and forced medication of hunger strikers engaged in a prison-wide hunger strike that began in February 6, and that involves 106 of the remaining 166 prisoners according to the authorities, and at least 120 according to the prisoners. 44 of those men are being force-fed.

The four prisoners are Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, Ahmed Belbacha, and Nabil Hadjarab, both Algerians, and Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian, and both the Algerians are currently being force-fed.

All of them are amongst the 86 men (out of 166 prisoners in total) who were cleared for release by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010, but are still held. This is partly because of severe restrictions imposed by Congress, but President Obama promised to overcome these restrictions and to resume releasing prisoners in a major speech on national security issues on May 23, although not a single prisoner has been released since that promise was delivered.

The motion was submitted by the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, and Jon  B. Eisenberg, an attorney in Oakland, California, and as Reprieve explained in a press release, the lawyers asked the court to issue a ruling to compel the government to “stop force-feeding in the prison and stop force-medicating prisoners, particularly with Reglan, a drug used by the US during the force-feeding process that when used for extended periods of time can cause severe neurological disorders, including one that mimics Parkinson’s disease.” Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer and Other Prisoners Ask US Court to Stop the Force-Feeding and Forced Medication at Guantánamo

Lawyers at the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, and co-counsel Jon B. Eisenberg, an attorney in Oakland, California filed a motion with the District Court in Washington D.C. on Sunday evening, on behalf of four prisoners in Guantánamo, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison. The motion was submitted in response to the authorities’ force-feeding and forced medication of hunger strikers engaged in a prison-wide hunger strike that will enter its sixth month on Saturday. According to the authorities, 106 of the remaining 166 prisoners are taking part in the hunger strike, protesting about their indefinite detention, but according to the prisoners themselves the total is at least 120.

The motion, available here, asks Judge Rosemary Collyer to issue a ruling to compel the government to “stop force-feeding in the prison and stop force-medicating prisoners, particularly with Reglan, a drug used by the US during the force-feeding process that when used for extended periods of time can cause severe neurological disorders, including one that mimics Parkinson’s disease,” as Reprieve put it in a press release. Please also see additional submissions by Cori Crider, Reprieve’s Strategic Director, and by Steven Miles, Professor of Medicine at the University of Minnesota, and by Stephen Xenakis, a retired brigadier general and Army medical corps officer with 28 years of active service, who is now an Adjunct Clinical Professor at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences.

Shaker Aamer is one of 86 prisoners cleared for release by an inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, appointed by President Obama, which issued its recommendations three and half years ago. The three other prisoners represented in the motion — Nabil Hadjarab and Ahmed Belbacha, both Algerians, and Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian — were also cleared for release three and a half years ago, but are still held despite President Obama’s promise to overcome restrictions imposed by Congress and resume releasing prisoners, which he made in a major speech on national security issues on May 23; in other words, nearly six weeks ago. Since that time, not a single prisoner has yet been released. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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