Return to torture: act now for Ahmed Belbacha, a British resident in Guantánamo


Horrible news from British human rights group Cageprisoners, which announces in a press release that Guantánamo detainee and British resident Ahmed Belbacha is to be forcibly repatriated to Algeria, the country of his birth, following refusals by a US federal judge, and by the British government, to intervene on his behalf.

Ahmed BelbachaBelbacha, who is 37 years old, is a former professional footballer. After retiring from the game, he worked as an accountant for a government-owned oil company, Sonatrach, but was called up for military service and threatened by members of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), the Islamist militants opposed to the government. Fearing for his safety, he fled to the UK in 1999, and settled in the seaside town of Bournemouth, where he found a job as a waiter in a hotel, and where, after being vetted by MI5, he was working during the Labour Party conference in 1999. According to a Guardian article in 2006, “His friends recall[ed] his pride at receiving a £30 tip and a personal letter of thanks from John Prescott,” after he had helped the Deputy Prime Minister during the conference.

In autumn 2001, Belbacha took a month’s vacation to visit Pakistan and an Afghan refugee camp, but was captured near Peshawar, after crossing back into Pakistan, by villagers who sold him to the Pakistani authorities. Once he was in American custody, he was transported to the prison in Kandahar airbase, where he was “repeatedly beaten,” and was then taken to Guantánamo, where he was falsely accused of attending a training camp in Jalalabad and meeting Osama bin Laden on two occasions, even though, at the time of his vacation, he was waiting to hear from the British government if his application for asylum had been successful. With a grim irony, his application was turned down, but he was granted exceptional leave to remain in the UK in June 2003, when he had already been in Guantánamo for over a year.

In February 2007, his lawyers at Reprieve (a British-based legal charity) were informed that both he and another British resident, Ahmed Errachidi –- a Moroccan-born chef who had been living in the UK for 16 years, and who was also captured in Pakistan, where he had travelled with the intention of buying jewelry to sell in Morocco to raise money for a heart operation for one of his sons –- had been “approved to leave Guantánamo, after diplomatic arrangements for their departure had been made,” because they had been “cleared by a panel of military officers whose job was to determine whether a prisoner represented a threat to the US or its allies and whether there were other factors that could form the basis for continued detention, including intelligence value and any law-enforcement interest.”

Despite both men’s innocence, however, the Foreign Office callously refused to accept them back. “We’re not making any moves with these individuals or the other British residents at Guantánamo,” a spokesman said in March. “Because they are not British citizens, we’re not providing any consular or diplomatic assistance.” When asked how he imagined they might ever be able to leave Guantánamo, the official replied, “It has got nothing to do with us.”

In April, Errachidi, who suffers from bipolar disorder, was returned to Morocco, where, despite fears for his safety, he was reunited with his wife and his two sons. With the help of vigorous representation on his behalf from his lawyers at Reprieve, he has so far avoided excessive impositions on his liberty, which the US administration regularly attempts to force on governments who accept returned detainees, even when it is apparent that they never did anything wrong.

Belbacha, on the other hand, is far less optimistic about his fate if he is forcibly returned to Algeria. In discussions with one of his lawyers, Zachary Katznelson, he made clear that he would prefer to remain in Guantánamo, where he is held in isolation for 22 hours a day, than returning to Algeria. As Katznelson described it, in a recent article in the Times, “He says his cell in Guantánamo is like a grave and that although it sounds crazy he would rather stay in those conditions than go back to Algeria. The fact is that he is really, really scared about what might happen to him in Algeria.” In an earlier article for the Independent, Katznelson pointed out that Islamist extremists are not the only threat to Belbacha’s safety, explaining, “The Algerian intelligence services have told Reprieve that if Ahmed returns, they cannot ensure that he will be safe –- from their own personnel.”

Last week, after hearing about proposals to return Belbacha to Algeria against his wishes, Katznelson and his colleagues at Reprieve filed an emergency motion at the US Court of Appeals in Washington DC asking for his transfer out of Guantánamo to be halted, but on Thursday, as SCOTUSblog described it, the Court “lifted a temporary stay on his impending transfer to Algeria and denied a motion to keep the case on hold while an appeal proceeds, but did order that appeal to proceed ‘on an expedited basis.’” The author added, “The order does not make clear what is to happen to Belbacha in the meantime.”

Cageprisoners explained more, pointing out that, although the judge indicated that she “would likely have granted an order barring his refoulement (illegal return) to Algeria, based on evidence presented by his lawyers,” she explained that, under the terms of the reviled Military Commissions Act passed by Congress last year, she was “powerless to prevent his forcible return to face torture.”

According to Cageprisoners, Belbacha –- and three other Algerian detainees, who have not been named –- could be returned to Algeria in the next few days. The human rights group also notes, “Diplomatic assurances from the Algerian government [that the men will be treated humanely] are highly unreliable given its past record of flagrant human rights violations. Mr. Belbacha has already suffered heavily at the hands of the United States military for over five years –- without charge or trial –- and only intervention by the Supreme Court can prevent him being forwarded for the next chapter of abuse in Algeria.” As Cageprisoners also note, “The probability of his persecution has only been enhanced by false accusations and assumptions against him coupled with the stigma that accompanies most Guantánamo returnees’ re-entry into society.” Or, as Zachary Katznelson put it, “Even though the Americans say he poses no threat, Ahmed fears that he has the stamp of Guantánamo Bay on him and he will be treated by the authorities as a terrorist if he is returned to Algeria. It is a bizarre situation because the reason he left in the first place was because the Islamist terrorists were threatening to kill him.”

Readers are urged to write to representatives of the British and American governments –- especially the British Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith (, and the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice ( –- demanding that they prevent Ahmed Belbacha’s forcible repatriation to Algeria. Further details can be found on the website of the National Guantánamo Coalition, and those who are particularly aware of the British government’s hypocrisy with regard to the British residents in Guantánamo would do well to point out to Jacqui Smith (as politely as possible) that the government’s persistent refusal to act on behalf of the British residents was completely undermined in March, when –- fearing negative publicity surrounding the British intelligence service’s complicity in the capture, “extraordinary rendition,” torture and illegal imprisonment of a man who had actually been working for them as an informer, monitoring the whereabouts of radical cleric Abu Qatada –- they accepted the return of Bisher al-Rawi, who told his harrowing story for the first time to David Rose in the Observer last week.

For more on Ahmed Belbacha and the other British residents in Guantánamo, see my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

10 Responses

  1.   Return to torture: act now for Ahmed Belbacha, a British resident … by says...

    […] With the help of vigorous representation on his behalf from his … article continues at Andy Worthington brought to you by Depression and Clinical […]

  2. Benamar Benatta says...

    Our world is really going over the edge. Have you heard about the torture that happened on American Soil, at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) Brooklyn, known in the Media as Brooklyn Abu Ghraib and the Black hole. It still fascinate me that despite the torture and the abuse that happened there in the aftermath of 9/11 events, which are well documented by the Inspector General of the U.S department of Justice who recommended that those responsible have to be prosecuted, as well as reports from the United Nations and the Magistrate Shroeder in the Western District of New York, nobody attempted to write about it or bring it in the Media attention like nothing happened. For your information, I was one of the detainees detained in that black hole. I encourage you to visit my website to find more information, and hopefully you will join me in my compaign to bring such atrocities to the public attention. A Crime happened there and had to be documented and addressed and I will keep campaigning to bring it to the Limelight no matter what.

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  6. Repatriation as Russian Roulette | says...

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  8. Britain’s Guantánamo by Andy Worthington -- says...

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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