The Man They Never Knew: Said Bakush Is Repatriated from Guantánamo to Algeria; 30 Men Now Remain, 16 Also Approved for Release


A prisoner at Guantánamo (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images). No photo of Said Bakush has been made public, and, as noted below, a photo that the US military claims is of him is of another unidentified prisoner instead.

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On April 20, the last Algerian in Guantánamo, Said Bakush (also known as Saeed Bakhouche), was repatriated after being held for nearly 21 years without charge or trial.

Bakush, a Berber, who is now 52 years old, was freed just over a year after his approval for release, when a Periodic Review Board (a parole-type process established under President Obama) “determined that continued law of war detention [was] no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the national security of the United States,” and it is to be hoped that he will somehow be able to pick up the pieces of his broken life, even though he was not married, and has no children, and no one seems to know whether he has any relatives who are in a position to provide him with the support that will be needed after he lost over a third of his life in Guantánamo.

30 men now remain at Guantánamo, and 16 of them, like Bakush, have been approved for release. His release is to be commended, but it is imperative that these other men are also freed as swiftly as possible, although the release of the majority of them is complicated by the fact that they cannot be repatriated, because of provisions preventing their return to their home countries that have been included by Republicans in the annual National Defense Authorization Act for over a decade, and third countries must be found that are prepared to offer them new homes.

Bakush’s attorney, Candace Gorman, who has represented him since 2006, worked assiduously to secure his release, but after his first PRB approved his ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, in July 2016, he “became withdrawn,” as Gorman explained to me last year, and, in 2017, he stopped seeing her, although he continued to receive correspondence from her.

I covered Bakush’s story extensively when he was approved for release last year, in an article entitled, Algerian Suffering from PTSD, and Mistakenly Identified as an Associate of Abu Zubaydah, Is Approved for Release from Guantánamo, and I recommend that article for anyone who wants the most detailed account available anywhere of how shamefully he was treated by the US.

Said Bakush’s story

Briefly, however, Bakush had been captured in a house raid on March 28, 2002, in Faisalabad, Pakistan, which had led to the capture of Abu Zubaydah, who was mistakenly regarded as a senior figure in Al-Qaeda, and subjected to the CIA’s notorious “black site” torture program. Although Bakush proclaimed his innocence, when his habeas corpus case came before a District Court judge in Washington, D.C., in 2010, the judge in question, Judge Richard Leon, accepted unsubstantiated claims by Justice Department lawyers that he was part of a “force” associated with Al-Qaeda, and had traveled with Zubaydah from Afghanistan to Pakistan, despite protestations by Bakush that the had never been in Afghanistan, and was not associated with Abu Zubaydah.

Bakush appealed, but three years later, in 2013, the D.C. Circuit Court upheld the earlier ruling, with Judge Brett Kavanaugh (subsequently, and contentiously promoted to the Supreme Court under Donald Trump) claiming that he “more likely than not was part of Abu Zubaydah’s force.”

As I explained last year, “The ruling came despite a strenuous objection by Judge Harry T. Edwards, formerly the court’s chief judge, who stated that the court’s ‘guilt by association’ ruling was ‘well beyond’ the detention definition authorized by Congress in the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, passed in the days after the 9/11 attacks, which only authorized the imprisonment of those who ‘planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such persons.’”

“It seems bizarre, to say the least,” Judge Edwards stated, “that someone like [Bakush], who has never been charged with or found guilty of a criminal act and who has never ‘planned, authorized, committed or aided any terrorist attacks,’ is now marked for a life sentence.” He said the circuit had “stretched the meaning” of the congressional enactments “so far beyond the terms of these statutory authorizations that habeas corpus proceedings like the one afforded [Bakush] are functionally useless.”

Those were powerful words, but they didn’t help Bakush, who had now become a “forever prisoner,” his fate in the hands of a Periodic Review Board, consisting of “senior officials from the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State; the Joint Staff; and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.”

When he tried and failed to secure approval for release in July 2016, that decision came despite Gorman, as I described it last year, “pointing out that the government had failed to demonstrate in any credible manner that he was involved with Abu Zubaydah or Al-Qaeda, and despite Bakush’s military representatives (assigned to represent him in Guantánamo) noting that he was ‘a quiet, compliant detainee,’ and that they were ‘confident’ that his ‘desire to pursue a peaceful way of life if transferred from Guantánamo Bay is genuine and that he does not harbor negativity towards anyone.’ They added that they were also ‘convinced’ that he ‘does not pose a significant threat to the security of the United States or any of its interests.’”

After Bakush became withdrawn, refusing to meet with Gorman or his military representatives, he boycotted his next PRB, in August 2018 (as did the majority of those eligible for the PRBs because they correctly concluded that, under Trump, it had become a sham), and also refused to take part in his next PRB, under President Biden, on January 11, 2022 — ironically, the 20th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo.

However, Gorman not only submitted a powerful statement explaining the circumstances of his capture, in what he genuinely thought was a guest house for those seeking to return to their home countries; she also “secured a psychological report about her client’s mental state, produced by Spyros Orfanos, a licensed psychologist in New York State and New Jersey State, who, after reviewing ‘the available Guantánamo records,’” concluded that Bakush had been subjected to torture after his capture, and was “likely suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to almost 20 years of detention and to traumas both prior to and after arriving at Guantánamo (i.e., torture, sleep deprivation),” and that “[h]is suffering from PTSD has likely been continuous.”

On April 13, when the review board finally approved his release, they did so on the basis of his “lack of a leadership role in al Qaida, [his] compliance while in detention, and the support available to [him] on transfer.”

Candace Gorman discusses Said Bakush’s release

When I contacted Candace Gorman for some comments on Bakush’s release, she focused on a particular aspect of his story that she had first alerted me to in 2016 — the fact that, as I described it at the time, “to the best of my knowledge he is the only prisoner whose classified military file, compiled in 2008 and released by WikiLeaks in 2011, has a photo that purports to be him, but is not him at all. No one seems to know who it is, but it is not Saeed Bakhouche.”

As Gorman explained to me in an email, “Something that we spoke about many times in relation to Saeed is that the government has never had an actual photo of my client. It is amazing and depressing that we held this man for more than 21 years based on supposed identifications of him by other detainees who were shown photos of someone who was not him and asked to identify his misdeeds. These men, who were torture victims, then identified that individual from the photo as having been in different places and doing various misdeeds. Those misdeeds of someone who was not Saeed were then used to hold Saeed for these 21 years.”

She added, “Whether or not the information was even accurate for the person in the photo is for the most part unknown — although I do happen to know that one of the individuals in one of the photos was actually Algerian and had been in Afghanistan and then Guantanamo and was released to Algeria early on. I was able to document the photo problem by using the military’s own documents because the military knew for years that identifications were made of Saeed based on wrong photos, but of course the military did not care because they are not held accountable.”

As she also explained, “That brings me to the other amazing and depressing part of Saeed’s case — the judiciary didn’t (and doesn’t) care either. Saeed had, in my opinion, an awful judge (Leon) but even the so-called good judges refused, and still refuse to seriously question clearly documented errors in the military’s own investigations of these men.”

Finally, she noted, “I am so happy Saeed is home now but what we did to him (and so many others) is a travesty and my government should be held accountable. I, of course, do not hold out hope that anyone in the US will ever be held accountable, but I will not stop trying.”

I thank Candace Gorman for all her work on Saeed Bakhouche’s behalf, and I too continue to pledge that I will not stop trying to hold the US government accountable for their crimes at Guantánamo.

POSTSCRIPT (October 5, 2023): After being sent back to Algeria, Said (Saeed) was, shamefully, imprisoned and then taken before a hostile judge, as former prisoner Mansoor Adayfi explained in an article for Middle East Monitor in May:

In Algeria, an inside source said that Saeed’s interrogators immediately started questioning him about the 21 years he spent in Guantánamo, from the time he arrived in diapers and shackles at the Cuban Island, to the day he was released 21 years later, with no charges against him. He was never offered a lawyer. After ten days of intense interrogation, he found himself standing before yet another judge in yet another court, who would decide again whether to release him or send him to prison, and this would all be based on his interrogators’ report and no evidence other than this. The source described the judge as “ill-tempered”. Saeed answered all the questions posed to him by the judge, but he did not admit to the accusations in the file – not to his interrogators and not to the judge. Saeed’s military supervisors in Guantánamo described him on record as “quiet” with a “desire to pursue a peaceful way of life”. When he did not admit to the accusations, the judge said to him: “You will be stripped of all your civil rights.” To which Saeed replied: “Then send me back to Guantánamo.” That’s the last we heard of him. We only know he was sent to a new prison, with new interrogators.

In July, Elise Swain of the Intercept provided an update, looking at how the State Department’s assurances that “he would be treated humanely” had collapsed, and speaking to Candace Gorman who told her that, “for nearly three months, he [had] been held under brutal conditions. His hair and beard were forcibly shaved; he [was] physically assaulted; and he [was] deprived of his Guantánamo-issued medications to treat his injured heel.” She added that, “If anyone had ever given me any hint at the State Department that they have no authority once he steps off the plane, I would have put the brakes on because I know Saeed trusted that I wouldn’t let him go unless I was assured that he would be treated right. And so the fact that they are now claiming that there’s nothing they can do and that this is a different country and we have no control over that — then why the f*ck are you telling me you have their assurances.”

Swain also made reference to UN Special Rapporteur Fionnuala Ní Aoláin’s devastating report about Guantánamo, published in June, in which she specifically dealt with repeated broken diplomatic assurances, and also shared a letter from numerous human rights groups “urgently pressuring the State Department to intervene.”

Finally, today, I have heard, via Mansoor Adayfi, that Saeed has been released, but my hopes that the Algerian authorities would now allow him to try and put back together the pieces of his shattered life have been somewhat dashed by Candace Gorman, who has been able to ascertain that, unfortunately, he has only been freed “pending his trial which is expected sometime in the coming months.”

* * * * *

See the following for articles about the 142 prisoners released from Guantánamo from June 2007 to January 2009 (out of the 532 released by President Bush), the 196 prisoners released from February 2009 to January 2017 by President Obama, the one prisoner released by Donald Trump, and the first nine prisoners released by President Biden, whose stories are covered in more detail than is available anywhere else – either in print or on the internet – although many of them, of course, are also covered in The Guantánamo Filesand for the stories of the other 390 prisoners released by President Bush, see my archive of articles based on the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011: June 2007 – 2 Tunisians, 4 Yemenis (herehere and here); July 2007 – 16 Saudis; August 2007 – 1 Bahraini, 5 Afghans; September 2007 – 16 Saudis1 Mauritanian1 Libyan, 1 Yemeni, 6 Afghans; November 2007 – 3 Jordanians, 8 Afghans14 Saudis; December 2007 – 2 Sudanese; 13 Afghans (here and here); 3 British residents10 Saudis; May 2008 – 3 Sudanese, 1 Moroccan, 5 Afghans (herehere and here); July 2008 – 2 Algerians1 Qatari, 1 United Arab Emirati, 1 Afghan; August 2008 – 2 Algerians; September 2008 – 1 Pakistani, 2 Afghans (here and here); 1 Sudanese, 1 Algerian; November 2008 – 1 Kazakh, 1 Somali, 1 Tajik2 Algerians; 1 Yemeni (Salim Hamdan), repatriated to serve out the last month of his sentence; December 2008 –- 3 Bosnian Algerians; January 2009 – 1 Afghan, 1 Algerian, 4 Iraqis; February 2009 — 1 British resident (Binyam Mohamed); May 2009 —1 Bosnian Algerian (Lakhdar Boumediene); June 2009 — 1 Chadian (Mohammed El-Gharani); 4 Uighurs to Bermuda; 1 Iraqi; 3 Saudis (here and here); August 2009 — 1 Afghan (Mohamed Jawad); 2 Syrians to Portugal; September 2009 — 1 Yemeni; 2 Uzbeks to Ireland (here and here); October 2009 — 1 Kuwaiti, 1 prisoner of undisclosed nationality to Belgium; 6 Uighurs to Palau; November 2009 — 1 Bosnian Algerian to France, 1 unidentified Palestinian to Hungary, 2 Tunisians to Italian custody; December 2009 — 1 Kuwaiti (Fouad al-Rabiah); 2 Somalis4 Afghans6 Yemenis; January 2010 — 2 Algerians, 1 Uzbek to Switzerland1 Egyptian1 Azerbaijani and 1 Tunisian to Slovakia; February 2010 — 1 Egyptian, 1 Libyan, 1 Tunisian to Albania1 Palestinian to Spain; March 2010 — 1 Libyan, 2 unidentified prisoners to Georgia, 2 Uighurs to Switzerland; May 2010 — 1 Syrian to Bulgaria, 1 Yemeni to Spain; July 2010 — 1 Yemeni (Mohammed Hassan Odaini); 1 Algerian1 Syrian to Cape Verde, 1 Uzbek to Latvia, 1 unidentified Afghan to Spain; September 2010 — 1 Palestinian, 1 Syrian to Germany; January 2011 — 1 Algerian; April 2012 — 2 Uighurs to El Salvador; July 2012 — 1 Sudanese; September 2012 — 1 Canadian (Omar Khadr) to ongoing imprisonment in Canada; August 2013 — 2 Algerians; December 2013 — 2 Algerians2 Saudis2 Sudanese3 Uighurs to Slovakia; March 2014 — 1 Algerian (Ahmed Belbacha); May 2014 — 5 Afghans to Qatar (in a prisoner swap for US PoW Bowe Bergdahl); November 2014 — 1 Kuwaiti (Fawzi al-Odah); 3 Yemenis to Georgia, 1 Yemeni and 1 Tunisian to Slovakia, and 1 Saudi; December 2014 — 4 Syrians, 1 Palestinian and 1 Tunisian to Uruguay4 Afghans2 Tunisians and 3 Yemenis to Kazakhstan; January 2015 — 4 Yemenis to Oman, 1 Yemeni to Estonia; June 2015 — 6 Yemenis to Oman; September 2015 — 1 Moroccan and 1 Saudi; October 2015 — 1 Mauritanian and 1 British resident (Shaker Aamer); November 2015 — 5 Yemenis to the United Arab Emirates; January 2016 — 2 Yemenis to Ghana1 Kuwaiti (Fayiz al-Kandari) and 1 Saudi10 Yemenis to Oman1 Egyptian to Bosnia and 1 Yemeni to Montenegro; April 2016 — 2 Libyans to Senegal9 Yemenis to Saudi Arabia; June 2016 — 1 Yemeni to Montenegro; July 2016 — 1 Tajik and 1 Yemeni to Serbia, 1 Yemeni to Italy; August 2016 — 12 Yemenis and 3 Afghans to the United Arab Emirates (see here and here); October 2016 — 1 Mauritanian (Mohammedou Ould Slahi); December 2016 — 1 Yemeni to Cape Verde; January 2017 — 4 Yemenis to Saudi Arabia8 Yemenis and 2 Afghans to Oman1 Russian, 1 Afghan and 1 Yemeni to the United Arab Emirates, and 1 Saudi repatriated to Saudi Arabia for continued detention; May 2018 — 1 Saudi to continued imprisonment in Saudi Arabia; July 2021 — 1 Moroccan; March 2022 — 1 Saudi (Mohammed al-Qahtani); April 2022 — 1 Algerian; June 2022 — 1 Afghan; October 2022 — 1 Pakistani (Saifullah Paracha); February 2023 — 1 Pakistani to Belize(Majid Khan); 2 Pakistanis; March 2023 — 1 Saudi.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer (of an ongoing photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London’), 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 you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.50).

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 struggle for housing justice — and against environmental destruction — continues.

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, The Complete Guantánamo Files, 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.

17 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, about the release from Guantanamo of Said Bakush (aka Saeed Bakhouche), the last Algerian in the prison, who was held for nearly 21 years without charge or trial.

    Bakush, as I have reported previously, was misidentified by the US military, who used a photo that purported to be of him, but was not him at all, and he was also analyzed as suffering from PTSD by a psychologist contacted by his attorney, Candace Gorman, who continued to work on his behalf, even though he has not seen her since 2016, because he became so depressed about his predicament.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Kevin Hester wrote:

    I don’t believe in Angels but the people, the human beings, the innocents incarcerated in this hideous gulag have a guardian angel in Andy.
    Huge respect bro.
    Drop into my little slice of paradise at Rakino Island before this shit show unravels!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, as always, for your support, Kevin.

    Rakino Island looks amazing! If it wasn’t halfway around the world from me, I’d be there like a shot!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Donna Nassor wrote:

    Thank you Andy for this article and for all your efforts to share truth.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks very much for the supportive words, Donna!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Kevin Hester wrote:

    Here’s another addendum to your research mate.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Kevin. Yes, I saw that ICRC report, which is hugely significant, as they only speak out when something is very badly wrong – as they did nearly 20 years ago, when they first spoke out publicly about their concerns regarding the effect on the prisoners’ mental health of a program of open-ended imprisonment without charge or trial. I’ll be following up on this soon – and on the UN’s recent concerns about the health of Guantanamo’s most gravely ill prisoner, Nashwan al-Tamir (aka Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi):

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Many more interesting comments here, on my Facebook post announcing Said Bakush’s release, posted on April 20:

  9. Claude Marks says...

    please add me to your elist news. thanks for your great work

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Claude, good to hear from you. I don’t have an e-list for this website – which is clearly a situation that I should remedy at some point – but there is a mailing list for the Close Guantanamo website, which will hopefully be of interest:

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    For a Spanish translation, on the World Can’t Wait’s Spanish website, see ‘El hombre que jamás conocieron: Said Bakush ha sido repatriado desde Guantánamo a Argelia, 30 hombres quedan, 16 aprobados para ser liberados’:

  12. Long Overdue – The Talking Dog says...

    […] In context, this means a couple of things. For various reasons (most of them simply our domestic living situation, as we have had a family member living with us who requires a great deal of attention, albeit last year the Loquacious Pup has moved out of the house for a post-college job, my focus on my alternate persona, the never ending plague of COVID-45 and other factors), I have gone without posting for almost four months, last posting on the GTMO 21st anniversary. But the real overdue event is, of course, the release of Candace’s Algerian client, Saeed Bakhush, after almost 21 years at GTMO, finally sent home to Algeria. Our friend Andy has more. […]

  13. Ethan Winters says...

  14. From Guantanamo to an Algerian jail – TOS - TOS says...

    […] Bakhouche was caught up in a post-9/11 US-Pakistani bounty hunt on a guesthouse; he was tenuously linked to Abu […]

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    That is very sad news, Ethan. Thanks for alerting me to it.

  16. Ethan Winters says...

    Mansoor Adayfi announced that Said Bakush was released from an Algerian prison yesterday.

    I hope Ravil Mingazov is next.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for that, Ethan. We must now hope that the Algerian authorities leave him in peace.

    As for Ravil Mingazov, I too hope that his release from an undisclosed prison in the UAE – where he has been languishing for absolutely no reason for nearly seven years – is next. It’s absolutely shameful that it’s so difficult to get the three countries that can deal with this flagrant injustice to fix it: the UAE itself, the US, whose diplomatic assurances were so blatantly broken, and the UK, which can, and should bring him here to be reunited with his family.

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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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