Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Ground-Breaking Decision in the Case of Former Guantánamo Prisoner Djamel Ameziane


Former Guantánamo Prisoner Djamel Ameziane and his response to a a recent and important decision taken by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), criticizing the US for his treatment during 12 years in US custody (Image by the Center for Justice and International Law).

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I’ve had a busy few weeks, and haven’t been able, until now, to address a recent and important decision taken by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in the case of Djamel Ameziane, an ethnic Berber from Algeria who was imprisoned at Guantánamo for nearly 12 years, from February 2002 to December 2013, after an initial two month’s imprisonment at Kandahar air base in Afghanistan. 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.

As his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) explained in a press release on May 28, the IACHR’s decision (available here) determined that the United States was “responsible for Mr. Ameziane’s torture, abuse, and decade-long confinement without charge,” and issued a series of recommendations — namely, that “the United States should provide ‘adequate material and moral reparations’ for the human rights violations suffered by Mr. Ameziane for his 12 years of confinement.”

As CCR added, “Some of these measures include the continuance of criminal investigations for the torture of Mr. Ameziane at Kandahar Airbase and Guantánamo Bay detention center; compensation for his years spent in arbitrary detention to address any lasting physical and psychological effects; medical and psychological care for his rehabilitation; and the issuance of a public apology by the United States president or any other high-ranking official to establish Mr. Ameziane’s innocence.”

The decision was, as CCR also explained, “the first decision ever made by a major regional Human Rights body regarding the human rights violations committed at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp,” and marked “a historic victory for Mr. Ameziane and the rights of others detained at Guantánamo Bay to judicial reparations.”

Responding to the decision, Djamel Ameziane said, “I was tortured for more than a decade at Guantánamo, and still suffer from the trauma of my horrible experience. The Commission’s decision is a significant step towards reparations for me and for other Muslim men and boys who were unjustly detained and abused in Guantánamo Bay during the dark days of the ‘War on Terror.’”

He added, “I urge the United States to honor the Commission’s recommendations, acknowledge the serious harms that we suffered, and close the prison camp. Guantánamo Bay must end. I am especially concerned about my fellow Algerian, Sufyian Barhoumi, who has been cleared for transfer for many years but continues to be held indefinitely. Sufyian, we have not forgotten you, and pray for your safe return home.”

“Tea on a Checkered Cloth,” artwork by Djamel Ameziane, made in Guantánamo, 2010. Djamel was one of the prisoners whose art was featured in “Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay,” an exhibition that ran at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York in 2017-18.

Ameziane, born in 1967, had left Algeria in 1992 to escape persecution, ending up in Austria, where he became a prominent chef at an Italian restaurant in Vienna. In 1995, however, as CCR explained in a profile of him in 2008, “more restrictive immigration policies kept Djamel from extending or renewing his visa, and his work permit was denied without explanation.” He then traveled to Canada, applying for asylum, and working “for an office supply company and for various restaurants in Montreal.” However, in 2000, his asylum application was turned down, and so, “fearful of being forcibly returned to Algeria and with few options, Djamel went to Afghanistan, where he felt he could live freely without discrimination as a Muslim man, and where he would not fear deportation to Algeria.”

As CCR added, “Once in Afghanistan, he did not participate in any military training or fighting and, as soon as the war started, he fled to escape the fighting. He was captured by local police while trying to cross the border into Pakistan, and was turned over to US forces for a bounty. Later, in Guantánamo, soldiers told Djamel that the Pakistanis sold people to them in Afghanistan for $2,000, and in Pakistan for $5,000.”

Nevertheless, like everyone who ended up in US custody at this time, Djamel was treated appallingly in Kandahar, and then at Guantánamo. Describing one experience, in the prison’s early years, when horrible abuse was widespread, CCR described how, “In one incident, guards sprayed him all over with cayenne pepper and then hosed down with water to accentuate the effect of the pepper spray and make his skin burn. They then held his head down and placed a running water hose between his nose and mouth, running it for several minutes over his face and suffocating him, repeating the operation several times.” Recalling that experience, he stated, ‘I had the impression that my head was sinking in water. Simply thinking of it gives me the chills.’”

As CCR added, “Following that episode, the guards bound him in cuffs and chains and took him to an interrogation room, where he was left for several hours, writhing in pain, his clothes soaked while air conditioning blasted in the room, and his body burning from the pepper spray. He has spent as many as 25 and 30 hours at a time in the interrogation room, sometimes with techno music blasting, ‘enough to burst your eardrums.’”

Ac CCR explained in its recent press release, “the IACHR determined that Mr. Ameziane suffered abuse and torture at the hands of prison camp officers; dealt with long periods of solitary confinement; was beaten during interrogation; did not receive medical care for injuries sustained during his confinement; was prevented from practicing and insulted for his religious beliefs; and was denied regular contact with his family.”

CCR added that the IACHR recognized that the US had also “violated the principle of non-refoulement, when it forcibly returned Ameziane to his home country of Algeria, which he had fled from fear of violence and persecution, particularly for being a member of the Berber ethnic minority.” As CCR also noted, “At the time, Mr. Ameziane was the beneficiary of protective measures issued by the Commission.”

This was indeed the case. The IACHR had first been alerted to Djamel’s case in 2008, when they had stated, “All necessary measures must be taken to ensure Djamel Ameziane is not transferred to a country where he would face persecution.” In 2010, after CCR hooked up with CEJIL (the Center for Justice and International Law), an organization advocating for the defense and promotion of human rights in the Americas, whose main objective is “to ensure full implementation of international human rights standards in the Member States of the Organization of American States,” Djamel became the first Guantánamo prisoner to have a hearing before an international body, when the IACHR heard his case, and in March 2012, as I reported at the time, the IACHR issued “a landmark admissibility report” in his case, marking the first time the organization had accepted jurisdiction over the case of a Guantánamo prisoner.

The IACHR then began to “move to gather more information on the substantive human rights law violations suffered by Djamel Ameziane — including the harsh conditions of confinement he has endured, the abuses inflicted on him, and the illegality of his detention,” and in September 2017 held a hearing in Mexico City, which I wrote about here, to which Djamel submitted a statement, which I published here, in which he pointed out that “Guantánamo was created to destroy people, to destroy Muslims.”

I’m delighted that, ten years after Djamel’s case was first submitted to the IACHR, the Commission has issued such a powerful ruling, and I note too that, as CCR described it in their press release, they also made “several conclusions about the prison camp more broadly: that the United States should establish a truth commission to investigate the prison camp and prosecute all those implicated in acts of torture between 2002 and 2008, among other measures”, and also urged the US “to take all steps necessary to comply with the recommendations made in 2015,” in the IACHR report. “Towards the Closure of Guantánamo,” including “providing detainees with adequate medical, psychiatric, and psychological care, access to justice, and ultimately, the closure of Guantánamo.”

Of course, Donald Trump has no interest in the IACHR’s powerful decision in Djamel Ameziane’s case, but all decent people in the US and around the world — as well as human rights organizations globally — do care, and should take heart that this decision will strengthen calls for the prison’s closure when, one day, Donald Trump is no longer in charge.

As J. Wells Dixon, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Mr. Ameziane’s long-time counsel, said, “Guantánamo Bay is a human rights disaster and should be closed with the urgent assistance of OAS Member states.” Francisco Quintana, program director for the Andean Region, the Caribbean, and North America at CEJIL, added, “Djamel Ameziane’s case is not only emblematic of the abuses committed against men arbitrarily detained during the so-called War on Terror, but of the long struggle towards truth, justice, and reparations many of these men will face and the possibility of obtaining some measure of peace. We will continue to stand in solidarity with Mr. Ameziane and monitor the situation at Guantánamo Bay until the center is shut down and those who suffered abuse at the camp are repaired in full.”

* * * * *

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 see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison 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, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from seven years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

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3 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, providing some rare good news on the Guantanamo front, as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), 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, has determined that the US was responsible for the “torture, abuse, and decade-long confinement without charge” of Djamel Ameziane, who was held for nearly 12 years at Guantanamo, from 2002-13.

    The IACHR has also recommended that the US should provide “adequate material and moral reparations” for the human rights violations that he suffered, and while we all know that Donald Trump doesn’t care what the IACHR thinks, “all decent people in the US and around the world — as well as human rights organizations globally — do care,” as I describe it in my article, adding that we “should take heart that this decision will strengthen calls for the prison’s closure when, one day, Donald Trump is no longer in charge.”

  2. Jan Strain says...

    Hi Andy,

    Really happy to hear IACHR has finally made this decision….A very long time coming.

    I suspect, under the current regime in the US, it will have little effect. I hope it doesn’t result in a negative impact on the rest of those in Guantanamo. With this nutter in the White House, who knows. It is an election year and his dwindling base is made up of those who support oppression of anyone not quite white enough.

    Here’s hoping for a kinder, gentler White House by 2021

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Jan. Yes, ten years to get to this decision. The wheels of justice grind slowly.
    You’re right, of course, that it will have little effect in practical terms right now. I suspect that Trump might not even know about it. I think it would be better that way; otherwise, as you say, he may decide to use Guantanamo negatively as he flails around trying to work out how to win a second term after the most disastrous four years imaginable (and no, I’m not rehabilitating George W. Bush, but Trump is in a league of his own for incoherence). Fingers crossed for a slightly less bad 2021, and someone in the White House who’ll dare to show some shame when Guantanamo marks the 20th anniversary of its opening on January 11, 2022.

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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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