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 »

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 »

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 »

Meet the Guantánamo Prisoner Who Wants to be Prosecuted Rather than Rot in Legal Limbo

Throughout the spring and summer, while the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo raged, taking up most of my attention, as I reported prisoners’ accounts, and campaigned to get President Obama to release the 86 prisoners cleared for release in January 2010 by his own inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, I missed some other developments, which I intend to revisit over the next few weeks, beginning with an article by Jess Bravin for the Wall Street Journal in July.

Bravin, the Supreme Court correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and the author of the acclaimed book The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay, wrote an article entitled, “Guantánamo Detainee Begs to Be Charged as Legal Limbo Worsens,” which perfectly captured the Alice in Wonderland-style absurdity of the prison, eleven and half years after it opened, with the remaining 164 prisoners no closer to securing justice than they were when George W. Bush set up the prison, which, at the time, was intended to be a place where they could be held without any rights whatsoever.

Highlighting one aspect of this ongoing injustice, Bravin looked at the case of Sufyian Barhoumi, identified in his article as Sufiyan Barhoumi, who, as he described it, “has decided to plead guilty to war crimes, throw himself on the mercy of the court and serve whatever sentence a US military commission deems just.” As Bravin added, however, “There’s just one problem: The Pentagon refuses to charge him.” 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 »

GTMO Clock: 100 Days Since President Obama Promised to Resume Releasing Prisoners from Guantánamo, Just Two Men Freed

Getting men released from Guantánamo has become more difficult than getting blood out of a stone, even though over half of the 164 men still held were approved for release in January 2010 by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force.

Please visit, like, share and tweet the GTMO Clock website, which I launched a month ago, and which shows that it is now 100 days since President Obama promised to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, in a major speech on national security issues on May 23, but, to date, just two men have been released.

President Obama only made his promise because he had been provoked into action by a barrage of domestic and international criticism, which was in turn prompted by the prisoners embarking on a prison-wide hunger strike in February, to raise awareness of their ongoing and unacceptable imprisonment without charge or trial.

The difficulty in releasing prisoners has arisen in part because of severe obstacles raised by Congress, and in part because of President Obama’s unwillingness to spend political capital overcoming these obstacles. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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