[Author note: Written for a Daily Kos audience, I'm reposting here the better to call attention to the issue, and to update those in the Firedoglake/Seminal community on some of the latest developments in this scandal.]
In an editorial posted by the New York Times on Saturday afternoon, the editorial board condemned the Obama administration’s involuntary deportation of a Guantanamo prisoner to Algeria. The prisoner, 35-year-old Abdul Aziz Naji, was cleared of any charges in a wide-ranging review of Guantanamo prisoner status last year. Naji begged not to be sent back to Algeria, a country he fled after being attacked himself at age 17 or 18 by extremists. Naji feared the Algerian government could not protect him against the Islamic fundamentalist rebels that have been fighting the somewhat more moderate Islamic government for some twenty years now.
The Times editorial continues the story:
Though he offered to remain at the prison, the administration shipped him home last weekend and washed its hands of the man. Almost immediately upon arrival, he disappeared, and his family fears the worst.
It is an act of cruelty that seems to defy explanation.
The response of the Obama administration has been terse and self-serving. They say they have gotten assurances from the Algerian government that Mr. Naji, who was never charged with any crime, would not be mistreated or tortured when sent back. The Times notes that a 2008 Supreme Court decision gives "broad discretion to decide when to accept such promises from a foreign government." But human rights groups have long derided such assurances.
According to a diary at Daily Kos by geomoo, Doris Tennant, one of Mr. Naji’s attorneys, states she and Naji’s other attorney, Ellen Lubell, were informed by the Algerian ambassador "that his government cannot protect him from extremists, who he very much fears will attempt to recruit him because of his association with Guantanamo."
The Times editorial picks up on information about country conditions in Algeria that I had noted in an article at Firedoglake last Tuesday. According to the Times:
The State Department’s human rights report on the country, issued in March, said that reports of torture in Algeria have been reduced but are still prevalent. It quotes human rights lawyers there as saying the practice still takes place to extract confessions in security cases. People disappear in the country, the report said, and armed groups — which obviously made no promises to the administration — continue to act with impunity.
Even more outrageous is the fact that the Obama administration ignored the fact that Mr. Naji had applied for political asylum in Switzerland, denying a request for a stay of deportation from his attorneys. No one knows why the Obama administration has drawn a line in the sand over Naji and another Algerian prisoner, Farhi Saeed Bin Mohammed, who won his "freedom" via habeas appeal last year. Judge Gladys Kessler has been fighting the D.C. Circuit Court to keep the men from being transferred to Algeria, but a 5-3 decision by the Supreme Court late last week paved the way for the administration’s criminal action.
"Criminal" or Stupid, Either Way It’s Outrageous
"Criminal" will no doubt be too strong a word for many of you. But the forcible deportation of a person back to a country where he fears persecution, torture, execution, etc. is known in the law as refoulement, and the international legal principle of not returning such an individual as the principle of non-refoulement. This recognized basic human right was written into international protocols beginning with the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and later into the Convention Against Torture treaty, of which the U.S. is a signatory. Not even the Bush administration, in the hundreds of "detainees" it released from Guantanamo, violated this principle.
In a comprehensive analysis, journalist Andy Worthington has described the unbelievable context of the Obama administration’s cruel behavior:
This was a bleak day for US justice, not only because it involved the Supreme Court blithely disregarding the UN Convention Against Torture’s “non-refoulement” obligation, joining in an unholy trinity with the D.C. Circuit Court and the Obama administration, but also because it brings to an abrupt, cruel, and — I believe — illegal conclusion a struggle to release prisoners without violating the UN Convention Against Torture, which, for the most part, was actually respected by the Bush administration….
With the Uighurs, the Bush administration recognized its “non-refoulement” obligation, refusing to return them to China, and finding new homes for five of the men in Albania in 2006. When the Obama administration inherited the problem of the remaining 17 men, who had, in the meantime, won their habeas corpus petitions, it found new homes for 12 of them in Bermuda, Palau and Switzerland, although five still remain at Guantánamo, and, last spring, the administration turned down a plan by White House Counsel Greg Craig to bring some of the men to live in the US, which would have done more in the long run to defuse scaremongering about Guantánamo than any other gesture.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) decried the Obama administration’s forcible removal of Mr. Naji. Mr. Bin Mohammed could also be deported at any time.
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…. 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.
Is There Anything to Be Done?
In a letter the other day to supporters, CCR wrote:
The Obama Administration violated both U.S. and international law by forcibly repatriating Mr. Naji, and Center for Constitutional Rights is now deeply concerned as neither his wellbeing nor whereabouts are known….
Please write the Algerian Embassy in Washington, DC (at firstname.lastname@example.org) and the Permanent Mission of Algeria to the United Nations at email@example.com and demand that the Algerian government immediately account for Mr. Naji’s whereabouts and well-being. They must tell us where he is and provide assurances that he is well. The Algerian government should also comply with international law prohibiting the use of secret detention and torture. Moreover, the Algerian government must protect Mr. Naji from extremist forces in Algeria who may try to recruit him and harm him when he resists joining them. Finally, the Algerian government should in the future not accept forced repatriations of its citizens who fear they will be harmed in the country.
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.
It’s possible that Aziz is a test case, as they will want to release others to countries where they fear persecution. They can let “friendly” governments “dispose” of their prisoners. I also believe it’s possible they intend to seed some small number through as possible double agents among the Islamic “extremist” groups, and this is one way to manufacture bona fides after being held so long. A very dangerous game for everyone involved.
It’s noted above that Switzerland has taken up an application for asylum from Mr. Naji (it is, I believe, on appeal there). The simplest solution would be to offer Mr. Naji, who never harmed any U.S. person, asylum in this country, but as FDL/Seminal diarist powwow notes in a comment at Emptywheel yesterday:
For other Bill-of-Attainder-esque reasons, the following Congressional restrictions also deserve highlighting:
The Homeland Security Appropriations Act includes two additional provisions affecting the treatment of Guantanamo detainees. Section 553, which appears to apply beyond the end of the 2010 fiscal year…. prohibits the use of funds appropriated under that act to “provide any immigration benefit” to any former Guantanamo detainee, including a visa, admission into the United States, parole into the United States, or classification as a refugee or applicant for asylum.51 The prohibition is similar to proposals introduced earlier during the 111th Congress; however, the other proposals would apply permanently, whereas the prohibition in the Homeland Security Appropriations Act appears to apply only to funds appropriated by that act.52
In any case, if they can get away with the criminal return of Aziz Naji without popular furor, then they can proceed with more of the same. This was all prefigured when al-Libi — the man who told the U.S. about Saddam and WMD (under torture — he later recanted the “confession”) — was mysteriously found dead in his Libyan cell and there was no call for investigation.
Don’t Ignore This Issue
Thus far the Daily Kos community has essentially ignored the outrageous Naji deportation (the diary by geomoo was a notable, but mostly ignored exception). I hope this diary begins the rectification of that. The New York Times editorial reminds us there is "no reason to deliver prisoners to governments that the United States considers hostile and that have a record of torture and lawlessness."
Call the White House: 202-456-1111, or write them if you wish. Let them know there is line beyond which support for this administration ends, and the forceable return of an innocent prisoner, tortured and imprisoned for eight years by the United States, to a country he fled over 15 years ago, in fear for his life, is exactly such a line.