Even though 35 year-old Abdul Aziz Naji said he’d rather stay at Guantanamo than be deported to his home country of Algeria, the Obama administration forcibly deported him anyway, despite Mr. Naji’s fears that "he would be targeted by violent groups who would kill him if he refused to join their battle against the country’s government." The U.S. Supreme Court refused to block the deportation in a ruling last week. Now Naji takes on the notoriety and the tragic fate to be the first involuntary transfer from Guantanamo.
In the past, the Obama administration was loathe to repatriate prisoners to countries where they feared persecution, as in the case of the Chinese Uighurs. But the administration has refused to do this in the case of the Algerians, despite ample evidence that both the Algerian government and violent opponents of the Algerian government have engaged in torture and killings in an on-again, off-again civil war going back 20 years now.
The Supreme Court also refused to block the involuntary transfer of Farhi Saeed Bin Mohammed, age 49, who was won his habeas suit in a decision last year. Lyle Denniston at ScotusBlog has been covering the clash of decisions between the D.C. Circuit Court and lower Federal judges over the right of the latter to block transfers or releases of Guantanamo prisoners (h/t powwow). Mohammed could also be involuntarily deported back to Algeria at any time. Note that the text of the Circuit Court’s order overruling the Senior Judge Gladys Kessler’s halt of the transfer of the Mr. Mohammed has been kept secret.
The Talking Dog interviewed Naji’s attorney, Ellen Lubell, last March:
Our client, Abdul Aziz Naji, is from Algeria. His family is there and we’ve spoken with them a number of times. Aziz is 34 and he has been imprisoned at Guantanamo for nearly eight years. He’s very likeable. He is an observant Muslim. Despite having attended school only through the sixth grade, he is bright, insightful, and has an excellent memory. He readily expresses his feelings and views on issues. He is extremely appreciative of our efforts on his case and lets us know this frequently. He loves children and very much wants go get married and have his own.
When Aziz was living in Algeria, around the time he was 17 or 18, he and his brother were attacked by a group of terrorists. After that, his brother left the country and so did Aziz, after completing his required military service. He went first to Mecca on a pilgrimage, and then traveled to Pakistan to perform "zakat"- charitable work – as is required of observant Muslims. Aziz worked for a charitable organization in the mountains of Kashmir for only a few months when he accidently stepped on one of the many landmines still buried left in this war-torn region. The explosion blew off the lower half of his right leg. He was taken to a hospital in Lahore, where he was treated, and over the course of a year received rehabilitation and a prosthetic leg. He decided then that he would try to find a wife. He was directed by friends to another Algerian man living in Peshawar, who was known to be helpful in arranging marriages. Aziz visited the man and while he was there, the man’s house was raided by the Pakistani police. The raid may have been the result of the bounties that were offered by the US at the time to local people if they identified possible “terrorists” among them. The Pakistanis interrogated Aziz, concluded that he had done nothing wrong, and told him they would release him. Instead, they turned him over to the Americans. Aziz was taken to the US prison at Bagram, Afghanistan, where he was tortured, and then on to Guantanamo.
When we took Aziz’s case, we were provided a file from the U.S. Department of Defense that included a list of allegations against him, with alleged “confessions.” None of the allegations or confessions was backed by any credible evidence. Ultimately, our view that the U.S. had no case against Aziz was validated by the Obama Administration, which cleared him in June 2009.
The court’s decision and the actions of the Obama administration are an outrage and another blow against the international position of non-refoulement, or non-return of refugees and the persecuted, as described in the UN Convention Against Torture and other international treaties and protocols. This action marks the U.S. as an uncivilized nation, a nation busily disassembling the rule of law in the name of empire building.
Algeria is a holy mess, with a slow-burning civil war continuing, and massive violence. The 2006 U.S. State Department Country Report on Algeria (released March 6, 2007) states:
Terrorists targeted civilians, security forces, and infrastructure. Press reports estimated that 135 civilians and 174 members of the security forces were killed in terrorist attacks, most of which were attributed to the [Islamic fundamentalist] Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC)…. The total number of disappeared during the 1990s continued to be debated. During the year, the government estimated that 6,546 persons were missing or disappeared as a result of government actions between 1992 and 1999, with some 10,000 additional persons missing or disappeared from terrorist kidnappings and murders….
The country’s 1992-2002 civil conflict pitted self-proclaimed radical Muslims belonging to the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and its later offshoot, the GSPC, against moderate Muslims. During the year  radical Islamic extremists issued public threats against all “infidels” in the country, both foreigners and citizens. The country’s terrorist groups generally did not differentiate between religious and political killings.
Looklex Encyclopedia notes that after the some of the Islamist parties signed a peace accord with the government in 1999, at least 1,000 or more individuals were killed in related clashes in 2002.
From Carol Rosenberg’s article on the SCOTUS decision paving the way for the Naji deportation:
In Naji’s case, his Boston lawyer, Ellen Lubell, said by e-mail Saturday that “he fears extremists will try to recruit him — associating him with Guantánamo — and will torture or kill him if he resists.”
“He has nothing against the Algerian government,” Lubell added, “but he fears that the government will be unable to protect him from Algerian extremists.”
What follows is a press release on the involuntary deportation of Mr. Naji by the Center for Constitutional Rights.
CCR Statement on U.S. Announcement that it Forcibly Repatriated a Guantánamo Detainee to Algeria
July 19, 2010, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) issued the following statement in response to the announcement by the U.S. government that it forcibly repatriated a Guantánamo detainee to Algeria:
“We condemn the forcible repatriation of Abdul Aziz Naji to Algeria. Although Mr. Naji has long been cleared of any connection with terrorism, we are deeply concerned that he will disappear into secret detention and face the threat of persecution by terrorist groups in Algeria. He bears no ill will toward the Algerian government, but fears that it will be unable to protect him from extremists in Algeria.
“Mr. Naji fled various forms of persecution in Algeria many years ago, including having been attacked by an extremist. His attempt to avoid forced repatriation and remain at Guantánamo Bay, after nearly a decade of detention without charge or trial, rather than return to Algeria underscores the depth of his fears. Regrettably, our government repatriated him against his will and despite credible fears of future persecution, in violation of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and other international law.
“CCR supports the ongoing efforts of the U.S. State Department to close Guantánamo Bay, particularly in the face of unyielding resistance from Congress and the seemingly detached indifference of the White House to the continuing plight of the men held in our notorious prison. However, the solution to Guantánamo Bay does not rest on forcing detainees to return to countries where they fear torture and persecution. It is not only illegal, but also bad policy. It is another unnecessary stain on our country’s human rights record, and certain to upset our friends and allies around the world. Forced repatriations make the United States appear complicit with repressive regimes and are certain to outrage Arabs and Muslims around the world at a time when our government needs their support.
“Attorneys for Mr. Naji have fought tirelessly for their client over the course of many years. Unfortunately, their efforts to prevent the forced repatriation of their client ended late Friday night with the Supreme Court’s denial of an application to stay his transfer. We admire their selfless dedication, and our thoughts are with their client in Algeria.”