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.

Review Boards Approve Ongoing Imprisonment of Three More Prisoners at Guantánamo, Even As Lawmakers Urge Donald Trump to Scrap Them

Protestors with Witness Against Torture outside the Supreme Court on January 11, 2017, the 15th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the first two months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the 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 problem with Guantánamo has never been what right-wingers delude themselves into thinking it is — that it’s a perfect acceptable, secure facility for holding terrorists whose existence is undermined by liberals constantly trying to close it down, endangering America’s national security.

Instead, the problem is Guantánamo itself, a place of arbitrary detention, where very few of the 779 people held there by the military over the last 15 years have genuinely been accused of any involvement with terrorism, but where, because of the Bush administration’s contempt for internationally recognized laws and treaties regarding imprisonment, the majority of the men held — overwhelmingly, foot soldiers for the Taliban, and civilians, many sold for bounties — have been deprived of any rights whatsoever, and can only be freed at the whim of the executive branch.

For a brief period from 2008 to 2010, those held could appeal to the US courts, where judges were able to review their habeas corpus petitions, and, in a few dozen cases, order their release, but this loophole was soon shut down by politically motivated judges in the court of appeals in Washington, D.C., and the Supreme Court has persistently refused to revisit the positive rulings it made regarding the prisoners’ habeas corpus rights in 2004 and 2008, hurling the men back into a disgraceful legal limbo in which their only hope for release lies, yet, again, with the presidential whim. Read the rest of this entry »

Four “High-Value Detainees” Have Their Ongoing Imprisonment at Guantánamo Upheld by Periodic Review Boards

Afghan prisoner Muhammad Rahim, in a photo taken in Guantanamo by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available to his family, who made it publicly available via his lawyers.

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On September 8, as I reported here, Hassan bin Attash, a former child prisoner and the younger brother of a “high-value detainee,” became the 64th and last prisoner to have his case considered by a Periodic Review Board. Set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners who are not facing trials (just ten men) or who had not already been approved for release by an earlier review process (2009’s Guantánamo Review Task Force), the PRBs began in November 2013, and function like parole boards. If prisoners can demonstrate contrition, and can also demonstrate that they bear no malice towards the US, and have coherent post-release work plans, and, preferably, supportive families, then they can be recommended for release.

Noticeably, of the 64 prisoners whose cases have been considered, 33 — over half —have had their release approved (and 20 of those have been freed), while 23 others have had their ongoing imprisonment approved. Eight decisions have yet to be taken. See my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website for further details.

At the time of Hassan bin Attash’s PRB, just 19 men had had their ongoing imprisonment approved, but in the last three weeks four more decisions were announced — all decisions to continue holding the men whose cases had been reviewed. Fundamentally, this was not a surprise — the four men were all “high-value detainees,” men held and tortured in CIA “black sites” before their arrival at Guantánamo, and although seven HVDs have had PRBs, none have yet been approved from release (the three others are awaiting decisions). Read the rest of this entry »

Eroding Hyperbole: The Steady Reclassification of Guantánamo’s “Forever Prisoners”

Mansoor-al-Zahari at Guantanamo, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.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.

Despite the relentless fearmongering of Republican supporters of Guantánamo, claims that the prison holds a significant number of people who pose a threat to the US continue to be eroded; primarily, in recent years, through the deliberations of Periodic Review Boards — panels consisting of representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who hear from the prisoners, their lawyers and their military representatives via video-link from Guantánamo, where the men are able to make a case for why they should be approved for release.

The men in question have, with some accuracy, been dubbed “forever prisoners” by the media. Originally numbering 71 men, they comprised two groups: 46 men assessed to be “too dangerous to release” by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009 to recommend whether the men he inherited from George W. Bush should be released or prosecuted. This third alarming option — “too dangerous to release” — was, as far as we know, dreamt up by the task force itself, for prisoners regarded as a threat but against whom insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.

Reading between the lines, this meant tainted evidence — in other words, men regarded as unprovably dangerous because the evidence against them was derived through the use of torture or other forms of abuse, making it fundamentally untrustworthy — or, in some (perhaps many) cases, a perceived attitude problem: prisoners who, though perhaps understandably aggrieved at being held without charge or trial for over a decade in abusive conditions, had threatened retaliation, however hollow those threats may have been, that were taken seriously by the authorities. Read the rest of this entry »

97-Pound Yemeni Hunger Striker Appears Before Periodic Review Board As Saudi is Approved for Release from Guantánamo

Muhammad al-Shumrani, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.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.

After months of inaction on Guantánamo, there has, in recent weeks, been a flurry of activity, with two prisoners released (one to Morocco and one to Saudi Arabia), and with the approval of two prisoners for release by Periodic Review Boards (Omar Mohammed Khalifh, a Libyan, and Fayiz al-Kandari, the last Kuwaiti in the prison, who was recommended for ongoing imprisonment by a PRB last year, but was given a second opportunity in July to persuade the board that he is no threat to the United States, which was successful).

On Friday, it was also revealed that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo (who I have written about extensively for Close Guantánamo, and for whom I co-founded a high-profile campaign in the UK, We Stand With Shaker), will be freed within the next month, and it is expected that a Mauritanian, Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, long approved for release like Shaker, will also be freed soon, along with two the prisoners whose cases are with defense secretary Ashton Carter, but who have not been publicly identified.

Adding to all this news, last week — largely unnoticed in the media — another prisoner was approved for release by a Periodic Review Board, the review process established two years ago to review the cases of all the men who were not previously approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office, and who are not facing trials. Read the rest of this entry »

War Is Over, Set Us Free, Say Guantánamo Prisoners; Judge Says No

Guantanamo prisoner Mukhtar al-Warafi, in a photo from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.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.

Back in March, as I explained in an article at the time, lawyers for five Afghan prisoners still held at Guantánamo wrote a letter to President Obama and other senior officials in the Obama administration, in which they sought their release, on the basis that, as the lawyers put it, “Their continued detention is illegal because the hostilities in Afghanistan, the only possible justification for detention, have ended. Therefore, these individuals should be released and repatriated or resettled immediately.” They referred to President Obama’s State of the Union Address, on January 20 this year, at which the president said, “Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over.”

In my article, I also mentioned a federal court filing submitted on behalf of a Yemeni prisoner, Mukhtar al-Warafi, at the end of February calling for his release for similar reasons. I stated, “One of al-Warafi’s lawyers is Brian Foster, who, with colleagues at the law firm Covington & Burling, represents prisoners accused of being involved with the Taliban as well as others accused of having some involvement with al-Qaeda. Foster said they ‘chose al-Warafi’s case as a first test because he was only ever named as a member of the Taliban, offering a clearer argument for why he should be set free now,’ as opposed to men accused of having al-Qaeda connections.”

As I also discussed recently, al-Warafi was approved for release by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010, but had his habeas corpus petition subsequently challenged by the Justice Department, in an example of a lack of joined-up thinking within the government. Al-Warafi’s habeas petition was subsequently turned down by a judge in March 2010. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo “An Endless Horror Movie”: Hunger Striker Appeals for Help to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Muaz al-Alawi (aka Moath al-Alwi), in a photo included in the classified military files from Guantanamo that were released by WikiLeaks in 2011.In the long struggle for justice at Guantánamo — a prison intended at its founding, 13 years ago, to be beyond the law — there have been few occasions when any outside body has been able to exert any meaningful pressure on the US regarding the imprisonment, mostly without charge or trial, of the men held there.

One exception is 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 IACHR has long taken an interest in Guantánamo (as this page on their website explains), and three years ago delivered a powerful ruling in the case of Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian who was still held despite being approved for release (a situation currently faced by 56 of the 122 men still held). Read the rest of this entry »

“It Is All Theater, It Is All A Game,” Yemeni “Forever Prisoner” Says from Guantánamo

It is, I believe, impossible to argue with the logic of Muaz al-Alawi, a Yemeni prisoner in Guantánamo, who recently told his lawyer, Ramzi Kassem, that, when attempting to make sense of Guantánamo, only one analysis is necessary: “It is all political,” al-Alawi told him. “It is all theater, it is all a game.”

The US has such disdain for the prisoners at Guantánamo that, 12 and a half years on from the prison’s opening, they are still identified by the names given to them at the time of their capture, by personnel unfamiliar with the languages of their home countries — Arabic, for example. As a result, al-Alawi is identified as Moath al-Alwi.

His comments, made to Kassem, an associate professor of law at the City University of New York who directs the Immigrant and Non-Citizen Rights Clinic, which represents prisoners at Guantánamo and elsewhere, were in the context of the manufactured hysteria regarding the release of five Taliban prisoners in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, which I have written about here, here and here (and also see my Democracy Now! appearance). Read the rest of this entry »

Long-Term Guantánamo Hunger Striker Emad Hassan Describes the Torture of Force-Feeding

Yesterday, two disturbing letters from Guantánamo were released by Reprieve US, the US branch of the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent 15 of the 154 men still held at the prison, and I’m posting them below, because they shed light on what Reprieve described in a press release as the “escalating, brutal punishment of hunger strikers,” who continue to be force-fed, even though the World Medical Association denounced force-feeding in the Declaration of Malta, in 2006, calling it “unjustifiable,” “never ethically acceptable,” and “a form of inhuman and degrading treatment,” if inflicted on a patient — or a prisoner — who is capable of making a rational decision about his refusal to eat.

The letters were written by Emad Hassan, a Yemeni prisoner who has been on a hunger strike — and force-fed — since 2007, even though he was cleared for release by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010. 77 of the men still held have been cleared for release — 75 by the task force, and two in recent months by a Periodic Review Board — and 57 of these men are Yemenis, but they are still held because of US fears about the security situation in Yemen — fears which may be legitimate, but which are an unacceptable basis for continuing to hold men that high-level review boards said should no longer be held.

In February, I made available a harrowing letter written by Emad, and in March he launched a historic legal challenge, becoming “the first Guantánamo Bay prisoner to have his claims of abuse at the military base considered by a US court of law,” as Reprieve described it. Read the rest of this entry »

Although Two Men Weigh 75 Pounds or Less, Guantánamo Prisoner Moath Al-Alwi Says, “We Will Remain on Hunger Strike”

Moath al-Alwi (aka Muaz or Moaz al-Alawi), in a photo included in the classified US military documents (the Detainee Assessment Briefs) released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.For six months, Guantánamo managed to be in the news on a regular basis, as a prison-wide hunger strike succeeded in pricking the consciences of the mainstream media. Unfortunately, since the numbers of those involved fell (from 106 on July 10 to 53 a month later), the media largely moved on. At the height of the hunger strike, 46 prisoners were being force-fed, a process condemned by medical professionals, but although the US authorities state that just 15 prisoners are currently on a hunger strike, all of them are being force-fed.

Moreover, as was explained this week in an op-ed for Al-Jazeera America by Moath al-Alwi, a Yemeni prisoner also known as Moaz al-Alawi, the men who are still hunger striking have no intention of giving up, even though, as al-Alwi explains, some have lost so much weight that their appearance would send shockwaves around the world if a photograph were to be leaked. As he states, “one of my fellow prisoners now weighs only 75 pounds. Another weighed in at 67 pounds before they isolated him in another area of the prison facility.”

The situation for the prisoners who are still on a hunger strike is clearly horrific. As al-Alwi states in his op-ed, which I’m posting below, the force-feeding remains “painful and horrific,” as it was when he described it previously, in another op-ed for Al-Jazeera in July that I’m also posting below. 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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