“Guantánamo Was Created to Destroy People, to Destroy Muslims”: Ex-Prisoner Djamel Ameziane’s Powerful Statement to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Djamel Ameziane, photographed after his release from Guantanamo by Debi Cornwall.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Three days ago, I published an article about former Guantánamo prisoner Djamel Ameziane, and specifically about a hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), in Mexico City, at which, via his lawyers, and via a statement he had written, he asked the Commission members: “Please issue a merits decision and decide my case. I ask you to order reparations and other relief so that I can get the assistance that I need and move forward with my life, and put Guantánamo behind me forever. I also want an apology. I ask the representatives of the US: Will you say on behalf of your government that you are sorry for what the US Government did to me?”

The IACHR is a key part of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mission is “to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere,” and whose resolutions are supposed to be binding on the US, which is a member state, although the US, of course, has little regard for anyone trying to tell it what to do.

As CCR described it, Ameziane also “urged OAS member states to remain involved in the issue given the current context in the US, and assist in the transfer of Guantánamo detainees and supporting efforts to close the detention center, among others.”

Below, I’m taking the opportunity to cross-post the whole of Djamel Ameziane’s statement, because it provides a powerful indictment of the manner in which the US, after 9/11, abandoned all adherence to the rule of law, setting up a global network of prisons — including at Guantánamo Bay, where Muslim men and boys, largely rounded up without any sense or any application of intelligence, were horribly abused and deprived of hope. Read the rest of this entry »

At Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Former Guantánamo Prisoner Djamel Ameziane Asks US to Apologize, and Calls for Prison’s Closure

Former Guantanamo prisoner Djamel Ameziane, in an infographic put together by his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Last week, in Mexico City, a symbolically powerful blow was dealt to the United States’ notion of itself as a nation founded on the rule of law, which respects the rule of law and also respects human rights.

The occasion was a hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a key part of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mission is “to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere,” and whose resolutions are supposed to be binding on the US, which is a member state.

The hearing last Wednesday was for Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian citizen, and an ethnic Berber, who was held at Guantánamo for nearly 12 years.

In the hearing last week, at which Ameziane was represented by the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the lawyers representing him urged the IACHR to “hold the US accountable for the abuse” of Ameziane and the “discrimination” against him. CCR explained, in a press release, that it was “a landmark hearing,” and the following brief explanation of his story:

For nearly 12 years, Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian citizen, was arbitrarily detained without charge at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp. During his detention, Ameziane was tortured and suffered from other forms of abuse. In 2008, the US approved his release from Guantánamo, yet he remained imprisoned for another five years. In December 2013, Ameziane was forcibly repatriated to Algeria despite having fled from violence and persecution for belonging to a minority ethnicity.

As CCR also explained:

The hearing marked the first time the IACHR was asked to issue a merits report based on human rights violations suffered by a former detainee at the Guantánamo Bay detention center. Throughout their presentation, the petitioners highlighted the importance of the Commission’s role in addressing the impunity and lack of reparations in Ameziane’s case, and also highlighted that his detention and torture were never contested by the State. Moreover, the petitioners noted that the decision itself would mark a historic victory for Ameziane and other victims of the War on Terror.

Crucially, the lawyers also “voiced Ameziane’s own requests, which he had previously submitted in writing,” and which have particular relevance because Donald Trump has repeatedly stated his intention to not only keep Guantánamo open, but also to bring new prisoners there. In his statement, as CCR described it, “Ameziane urged OAS member states to remain involved in the issue given the current context in the US, and assist in the transfer of Guantánamo detainees and supporting efforts to close the detention center, among others.”

Ameziane stated, “Members of the Commission, what I respectfully ask of you today is this: Please issue a merits decision and decide my case. I ask you to order reparations and other relief so that I can get the assistance that I need and move forward with my life, and put Guantánamo behind me forever. I also want an apology. I ask the representatives of the US: Will you say on behalf of your government that you are sorry for what the US Government did to me?”

Speaking about the hearing, Elsa Meany, Senior Attorney at CEJIL, said, “This is not a case with complicated considerations of law, as all the violations detailed were committed against Djamel by state actors, while in state custody. The Commission has, in fact, already undertaken much of the legal analysis necessary to decide this case. However, the current legal framework in the US provides civil and criminal immunity for those responsible that effectively provides an amnesty for grave violations of human rights, in contravention of clear Inter-American standards. A decision by the Commission will constitute a decisive step towards accountability and recognition of Djamel’s fight for justice and reparations.”

Wells Dixon, Senior Staff Attorney at CCR, said, “Over the past 16 years, the Commission has not yet issued a Merits Report in relation to the violations committed by the United States within the framework of the War on Terror, despite having multiple pending cases regarding rendition, unlawful and arbitrary detention and torture at Guantánamo. We urge the Commission to build on existing jurisprudence and decide the present case, consolidating a set of standards that will have implications in this region and globally.”

CCR also explained that, at the hearing, “the Commissioners stated they would continue to study the issue and expressed consternation at Ameziane’s prolonged detention at the camp without any charges, indicating that reparations should be made, including, at a minimum, that his personal belongings be returned.”

CCR added, “If the IACHR rules in favor of Ameziane, it would be the first case regarding human rights violations committed at the Guantánamo Bay prison that a regional human rights body issues a decision on. The decision would mark a historic victory for him and Guantánamo Bay detainees and their right to judicial reparations.”

The IACHR and Guantánamo: the background

Djamel Ameziane’s case has, memorably, been before the IACHR before. In April 2012, as I reported at the time, the IACHR accepted jurisdiction over his case, the first time the organization had accepted jurisdiction over the case of a Guantánamo prisoner.

President Obama responded by forcibly repatriating Ameziane (and another Algerian) in December 2013, even though, when the IACHR was first notified go Ameziane’s case in 2008, they had stated, unambiguously, that “[a]ll necessary measures must be taken to ensure Djamel Ameziane is not transferred to a country where he would face persecution” — a requirement that, objectively, the Algerian government could not be trusted to uphold.

Since then, two more Guantánamo prisoners have submitted their cases to the IACHR. The first, as I reported in an article entitled, Guantánamo “An Endless Horror Movie”: Hunger Striker Appeals for Help to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, is Muaz al-Alawi, identified in Guantánamo as Moath al-Alwi, who, in February 2015, urged the IACHR to “issue precautionary measures to end his indefinite detention,” and the second, in March last year, as I reported at the time in an article entitled, US Military Lawyer Submits Petition to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Behalf of Mohammad Rahim, CIA Torture Victim Held at Guantánamo, was on behalf of one of the so-called “high-value detainees” at the prison.

In March 2015, the IACHR issued a resolution in al-Alwi’s case calling for the US to undertake “the necessary precautionary measures in order to protect the life and personal integrity of Mr. al-Alwi,” on the basis that, “After analyzing the factual and legal arguments put forth by the parties, the Commission considers that the information presented shows prima facie that Mr. Moath al-Alwi faces a serious and urgent situation, as his life and personal integrity are threatened due to the alleged detention conditions.”

Nevertheless, al-Alwi continues to be held, and in February, Judge Richard Leon, a district court judge, denied his efforts to be released based on a plausible argument that, as Buzzfeed described it, “he could no longer be held because the US combat mission in Afghanistan was over,” in which he cited statements to that effect by President Obama.

Meanwhile, on August 9, in Mohammad Rahim’s case, Maj. James Valentine sent out an email noting that the IACHR had issued precautionary measures against the United States on July 25, 2017 relating to his indefinite detention, torture and lack of medical treatment, and requesting that the US respond, within 15 days from the date of August 2, with “pertinent observations” regarding the precautionary measures. There is no news about whether or not the Trump administration has responded.

Note: In a second article to accompany this one, I’ll post Djamel Ameziane’s full statement.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

Sufyian Barhoumi, An Extremely Well-Behaved Algerian, Seeks Release from Guantánamo Via Periodic Review Board

Guantanamo prisoner Sufyian Barhoumi as a boy and as a prisoner in Guantanamo, in a composite photo made available by his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights.Last Thursday, two days after Saeed Bakhouche, an Algerian, sought release from Guantánamo via a Periodic Review Board, a high-level, inter-agency US government review process, established in 2013, another Algerian, Sufyian Barhoumi, also went before a PRB to ask for his freedom, and was the 41st prisoner to do so. Of the 30 decisions already taken, 23 have resulted in recommendations for the prisoners’ release, while just seven have resulted in recommendations for the men’s continued detention — and even those are subject to further review. This is a success rate for the prisoners of 77%, thoroughly undermining the excessive caution and misplaced zeal for prosecution that, in 2010, led the previous high-level review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, to describe the men who were later made eligible for PRBs as “too dangerous to release” or as candidates for prosecution.

The former were largely groundless claims, in a prison full of statements obtained through torture and other forms of coercion, while the latter was based on a mistaken understanding of what constitutes war crimes, spelled out in a number of appeals court rulings in 2012 and 2013, which humiliated the government by dismissing some of the handful of convictions secured in the military commission trial system on the embarrassing basis that the war crimes for which the men in question has been convicted had actually been invented by Congress.

Barhoumi, whose prisoner number is 694, is 41 years old, and, as his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights explain, he was “born and raised in Algiers, where his mother still lives and his late father practiced law.” CCR also explain that, as a young man, he “lived in various countries in Europe – Spain, France, and England – as a farm worker and then a street merchant for about four years,” before traveling to Afghanistan, and then Pakistan, where he ended up in US custody. Read the rest of this entry »

The Shocking Story of Y: Imprisoned in the UK Without Charge or Trial on the Basis of Secret Evidence Since 2003

The status of Lady Justice on the Old Bailey in the City of London.The “war on terror” declared by the Bush administration after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 has, primarily, been an American obsession, with the prison at Guantánamo Bay operating as its most well-known icon. Other notable aspects of the US’s cruel and disproportionate response to 9/11 are Bagram in Afghanistan, eventually handed over to the Afghan authorities, but the site of several deaths of prisoners in the early years of the “war on terror,” the network of secret CIA “black sites” most recently exposed in the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report about the CIA’s torture program, and, it should be noted, Camp Bucca in Iraq, where ISIS was formed.

As an op-ed in New York Times explained last October, “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, spent nearly five years imprisoned at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq. A majority of the other top Islamic State leaders were also former prisoners, including: Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, Abu Louay, Abu Kassem, Abu Jurnas, Abu Shema and Abu Suja. Before their detention, Mr. al-Baghdadi and others were violent radicals, intent on attacking America. Their time in prison deepened their extremism and gave them opportunities to broaden their following. At Camp Bucca, for example, the most radical figures were held alongside less threatening individuals, some of whom were not guilty of any violent crime. Coalition prisons became recruitment centers and training grounds for the terrorists the United States is now fighting.”

It has long been known that the assistance of many other countries was required for the “war on terror” — from sharing intelligence and turning a blind eye to rendition flights to, in some cases, hosting “black sites.” In a report for the United Nations in 2010, on which I was the lead writer, 39 countries were identified, and in 2013, in “Globalizing Torture,” the Open Society Justice Initiative identified 54 countries complicit in the rendition, torture and indefinite detention without charge or trial of “war on terror” prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »

President Obama Forcibly Repatriates Two Algerians from 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.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we are disappointed to hear that Djamel Ameziane and Belkacem Bensayah, two Algerian prisoners at Guantánamo — amongst 84 men who have long been cleared for release — were repatriated last week. We are disappointed because both men did not wish to return home, as they fear ill-treatment by the government and threats from Islamist militants, and yet sustained efforts were not made to find new homes for them. We are also disappointed that other cleared prisoners, who do not fear repatriation, continue to be held.

Lawyers at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, who represent Djamel Ameziane, have been fighting his enforced repatriation for years, taking his case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which, last year, issued a damning verdict on the US government’s detention policies at Guantánamo. Ameziane’s lawyers also devoted a considerable amount of time to seeking a third country that would offer him a new home instead. However, as the New York Times noted in a powerful editorial criticizing the Obama administration for repatriating Ameziane and Bensayah: Read the rest of this entry »

Meet the Cleared Algerian Prisoners in Guantánamo Who Fear Being Repatriated

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 Thursday, the Wall Street Journal ran a story by Jess Bravin looking at an important  — and depressing — development at Guantánamo, concerning the Obama administration’s plans to repatriate two Algerian prisoners against their will.

As Jess Bravin described it, he had spoken to people familiar with the stories of the two men — Belkacem Bensayah and Djamel Ameziane — who had told him that both men “fear that Islamist extremists will try to recruit them and may attack or kill them when they discover [they] don’t share their commitment to violence.”

Robert Kirsch, one of the attorneys for Belkacem Bensayah, said that the US government has “ignored the protests” of his client and of Djamel Ameziane. He called the proposed repatriation “the most callous, political abuse of these men.”

Kirsch added that the repatriation was being speeded up so that the Obama administration “can show progress on its troubled campaign” to close Guantánamo, as Jess Bravin decribed it. 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 »

If Abu Qatada is Guilty of Crimes, Why Not Prosecute Him in the UK?

When it comes to dealing with Muslim “terror suspects” in the UK, and recent rulings by the European Court of Human Rights preventing the British government from deporting Abu Qatada to Jordan, but approving the extradition to the US of Abu Hamza, Babar Ahmad, Talha Ahsan and two other men, it is often difficult to discern notions of justice, fairness and a sense of proportion when the opinions of so many politicians and media outlets are clouded by hysteria and — often — racism that is either thinly-veiled, or not even hidden at all.

The problems with the planned deportation of foreign nationals to their home countries, and the extradition of foreigners and British nationals to the US, began under Tony Blair, when, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the government implemented a policy of detention without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence, and also signed an extradition treaty with the US that required little, if anything in the way of evidence to be provided before “suspects” could be extradited to the US.

In a follow-up article, I will look at the cases of Abu Hamza, Babar Ahmad, Talha Ahsan and the two other men whose extradition to the US was approved last week, but for now I want to focus on the case of Abu Qatada, and his planned deportation to Jordan.

Tony Blair’s policy of detention without charge or trial involved rounding up a number of foreign nationals alleged to be terror suspects — including Abu Qatada —  and imprisoning them on the basis of secret evidence that was not disclosed to them. The intention — as well as removing their right to a trial in the country that had exported habeas corpus around the world — was to deport these men to their home countries, ignoring the fact that the UN Convention Against Torture (to which the UK is a signatory) prohibits the return of anyone to a country where they face the risk of torture. Read the rest of this entry »

An Update on the Plight of Former Guantánamo Prisoner Abdul Aziz Naji, Sentenced to Three Years in Prison in Algeria

Last week, I wrote about the plight of Abdul Aziz Naji, an Algerian, held in Guantánamo for eight years, who had been cleared for release from Guantánamo by the US authorities, but was repatriated against his will in July 2010. Three weeks ago, Naji, who is also an amputee, and in ill health, was sentenced to three years in jail at what can only be described as a show trial. He was convicted for “past membership in an extremist group overseas,” but afterwards the London-based legal action charity Reprieve and the NGO Cageprisoners both complained about the conduct of the trial and its outcome (and Cageprisoners made details available of how concerned readers can contact the Algerian government to request his release).

Now, further details have emerged in an article on Al-Arabiya’s English language site, in which reporter Eman El-Shenawi spoke to Ellen Lubell, one of his US attorneys (along with Doris Tennant), who explained, “In our view, the accusations made against him were baseless and false, and could readily be proved.” Lubell was appalled that, as Al-Arabiya put it, “Before [the] Algerian authorities handed down the guilty verdict, Naji was not permitted to speak at his court case.”

The Al-Arabiya article ran through the story of how Naji arrived in US custody, explaining how, in 2002, he “traveled to Pakistan to work with a charity providing humanitarian assistance to Muslims and Christians in Kashmir,” but after being “advised by acquaintances to visit an Algerian residing in the city of Peshawar to help find a wife, both he and his host were arrested during a raid by the Pakistani police.” Read the rest of this entry »

Why Algeria Is Not A Safe Country for the Repatriation of Guantánamo Prisoners

Since July 2008, when the first Algerian prisoners were repatriated from Guantánamo, the position taken by the US government — first under George W. Bush, and, for the last three years, under Barack Obama — has been that Algeria is a safe country for the repatriation of prisoners cleared for release.

Lawyers and NGOs aware of Algeria’s poor human rights record disagreed, as did some of the Algerian prisoners themselves, to the extent that the last two Algerians sent home — Abdul Aziz Naji in July 2010 and Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed in January 2011 — had actively resisted being sent home, and had taken their cases all the way to the US Supreme Court, which had paved the way for their enforced return by refusing to accept their appeals.

In assessing whether or not it was safe for Algerians to be repatriated from Guantánamo, the US government was required to weigh Algeria’s established reputation for using torture against the “diplomatic assurances” agreed between Washington and Algiers, whereby, as an Obama administration official told the Washington Post at the time of Naji’s repatriation, the Algerian government had promised that prisoners returned from Guantánamo “would not be mistreated.” The US official added, “We take some care in evaluating countries for repatriation. In the case of Algeria, there is an established track record and we have given that a lot of weight. The Algerians have handled this pretty well: You don’t have recidivism and you don’t have torture.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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