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Obama “Stealth Transfer” of Gitmo Prisoner, Algerian Forcibly Repatriated

3:37 pm in Military, Torture, Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

The Obama administration has shown a blatant disregard for international treaties and basic human rights in its second forcible deportation from Guantánamo of an Algerian national in the last six months. On January 6, the administration secretly and forcibly repatriated 48-year-old Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed to Algeria, which he reportedly fled in the 1990s, trying to escape threats from Islamic extremists. In a press release from Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the deportation, CCR noted that “Mr. Mohammed has long been cleared of any connection with terrorism.”

Farhi had been ordered released from Guantánamo , when District Court Judge Gladys Kessler granted his habeas petition. He had spent nearly nine years at the U.S. prison facility, most of the time in maximum security solitary confinement. While the former itinerant laborer said he had traveled to Afghanistan to find a wife for himself, the Pentagon presented “evidence” from unreliable informers to frame Mr. Mohammed as a supporter of Al Qaeda. Presumably, Judge Kessler was unimpressed by this evidence. What is undisputed is that after 9/11 and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Farhi fled to Pakistan where he was captured and subsequently transferred to Guantanamo in 2002.

Once cleared by the District Court, Mr. Mohammed fought the government not to be sent back to his native Algeria, fearing persecution by either Islamic militants or by the government. Indeed, every Algerian Guantanamo prisoner sent back to that country thus far has been initially arrested and put on trial, though none have been convicted. U.S. authorities have said they conducted a “comprehensive review” of Farhi’s case prior to his release. The U.S. government maintains that “the Algerian government has provided so-called ‘diplomatic assurances’ – promises to treat returned detainees humanely.” But Human Rights Watch watch replied that “research has shown that diplomatic assurances provided by receiving countries, which are legally unenforceable, do not provide an effective safeguard against torture and ill-treatment. Algerian human rights groups report that torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment are at times used on those suspected of terror links.”

Torture and Persecution in Algeria

Indeed, the last U.S. State Department Human Rights Report on Algeria, released February 25, 2009, indicated numerous problems with conditions in that country. While torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment is illegal, human rights activists “local human rights activists reported that government officials employed such practices to obtain confessions,” and “impunity remained a problem.” The report singled out a February 2008 incident when an inmate protest on prayer conditions resulted in prison guards handcuffing, stripping and beating “approximately 80 prisoners with iron bars and sticks.”

The State Department report also indicated noted that, except for the International Red Cross, all other human rights groups are forbidden to inspect conditions at Algerian military and high-security prisons and detention centers. Detainees are often held in jail without charges for months on end, and receive little or no medical care. The report also said, “in practice authorities did not completely respect legal provisions regarding defendants’ rights and denied due process. Military courts try all “cases involving state security, espionage, and other security-related offenses involving military personnel and civilians,” but only rarely is any information given about these proceedings. The government monitors “the communications of political opponents, journalists, human rights groups, and suspected terrorists,” as well as political meetings. The country remains under rule of an emergency degree. Meanwhile, radical Islamic extremists belonging to al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have “issued public threats against all ‘infidels’ and ‘apostates’ in the country, both foreigners and citizens, killing approximately 160 people in the country in 2008.

A prisoner or refugee cannot by international law be returned to a country where they fear persecution or death. This principle is enshrined in the UN Convention Against Torture treaty to which the U.S. is signatory: “No State Party shall expel, return (“refouler“) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”

Furthermore, Article 33 of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (July 28, 1951), to which the U.S. is also signatory, states: “No Contracting State shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” (A 1967 Protocol expanded the Convention’s coverage from European to all refugees.) There is no question that Farhi meets the Convention’s definition of a refugee, and has since leaving Algeria in the 1990s, until wrongly apprehended by the U.S. in 2002.

The Role of Congress and the Courts

It is notable that Congress has played a role in this administration’s flouting of international law and decency. As Andy Worthington and others have pointed out, Congress has prevented the Obama from “bringing any Guantánamo prisoner to the US mainland for any reason”. In addition, as I pointed out in an article on the forcible deportation of Algerian Guantánamo prisoner Abdul Aziz Naji in July 2010, Congress has an oversight role over the release of any Guantánamo prisoner.

According to the 2010 Homeland Security Appropriations, Interior Appropriations, Consolidated Appropriations, and Defense Appropriations Acts, all of which contain similar language on the subject, no funds are to be appropriated for the transfer of a Guantanamo prisoner to another state unless 15 days prior to release the President submit to Congress, “in classified form,” a statement regarding any risks to national security or U.S. citizens, the name of the prisoner and country of release, and “the terms of any agreement with the country or freely associated state that has agreed to accept the detainee.” (See PDF link.)

At that time, Senator Carl Levin and Senator Dianne Feinstein’s offices confirmed they had been informed at least 15 days in advance of Naji’s deportation. There’s no reason to doubt they had the same notice in the case of Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed, and essentially signed off on the forcible deportation, demonstrating Congressional complicity in this flagrant violation of the laws of the land.

Mr. Mohammed’s case had been high-profile. After the granting of his habeas petition, he fought a repatriation to Algeria, for the reasons stated earlier, and Judge Kessler granted that request. But, as Larkin Reynolds explains at Lawfare, “the D.C. Circuit later reversed that injunction in July, however, in an expedited summary proceeding.” Farhi’s attorneys then asked the Supreme Court for a stay of the Circuit court’s decision. While their petition was denied last July, another petition regarding the transfer issue was sent to the Supreme Court last November. According to Reynolds, “The government’s response to the petition is due on February 4, 2011.” But the forced deportation of Farhi apparently makes that decision moot.

David Remes, Farhi’s counsel in the Supreme Court case told Lawfare, the Obama administration’s actions amounted to a “stealth transfer”:

The government shipped Mr. Mohammed back to Algeria against his will –- the second involuntary transfer of an Algerian in the past six months -– giving us no advance notice and therefore no chance to resist. The government may also intend Mohammed’s transfer to moot his petition for review in the Supreme Court, in which he challenged the government’s right to make exactly this kind of involuntary transfer, that is, a transfer where the detainee fears he will be tortured or abused if he is returned. The government has used this tactic to avoid judicial review of its actions in other cases involving military detention of war-on-terror captives -– Padilla, Al-Mar’i, and Abu Ali are examples. From Mr. Mohammed’s case, it’s apparent the government wants to avoid public scrutiny too.

The Role of the Democratic Party

The government’s actions in the case of should be sharply condemned, but outside of some human rights groups, almost nothing is being said or reported on this crime by our own government. (The Washington Post did report the story.) The fact that a Democratic administration, and practically up to the time he was secretly deported, a Democratic Congress, were the primary actors in this decision is something that appears to fly over the heads of most Democratic Party and Obama supporters, for whom nothing, not even plans to issue an executive order allowing indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantánamo, seems to move to principled action.

The U.S. currently holds 173 detainee-prisoners at Guantánamo. Three other Algerians remain at the Naval prison facility, also fearing forced deportation for reasons similar to that of Farhi Faheed bin Mohammed, and Abdul Aziz Naji. The three other cleared Algerians are Motai Saib, Djamel Ameziane and Nabil Hadjarab, and Andy Worthington covered their stories in an article in July 2009.

This latest move by the Obama administration must have thrown fear into these prisoners, assuming they have heard of it. But it should throw fear into Americans as well, as their government has shown that it has little patience for such things as the rule of law. Consider these unlawful deportations along with the story of the torture of 19-year old American citizen Gulet Mohamed last month by U.S. ally Kuwait, after he was placed on a no-fly list by the Americans. The U.S. reportedly collaborated in Mohamed’s detention, and should be held partly responsible for Mohamed’s torture.

Congress OK’ed Naji Deportation, Ex-Gitmo Prisoner Charges Drugging, Torture, Coercion to Spy

3:59 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

The odyssey of Abdul Aziz Naji has taken many terrible twists and turns since he was seized in Pakistan in May 2002, tortured at Bagram, then sent to Guantanamo, where he was formally cleared of any charges in a review of prisoner status last year. He was forcibly repatriated to Algeria on July 20, despite his fears of being harmed by Islamic forces or the government upon his return. Such forcible repatriation of a prisoner or detainee who fears persecution or worse is a violation of international law. This principle of non-refoulement, or non-return is specifically forbidden in the UN Convention Against Torture and Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

The Obama administration was cleared to effect the deportation against the prisoner’s will by no less than the Supreme Court, who rejected a lower court order blocking the action. What hasn’t been reported thus far is the role of Congress, who was mandated to have advance notice of the transfer.

According to the 2010 Homeland Security Appropriations, Interior Appropriations, Consolidated Appropriations, and Defense Appropriations Acts, all of which contain similar language on the subject, no funds are to be appropriated for the transfer of a Guantanamo prisoner to another state unless 15 days prior to release the President submit to Congress, "in classified form," a statement regarding any risks to national security or U.S. citizens, the name of the prisoner and country of release, and "the terms of any agreement with the country or freely associated state that has agreed to accept the detainee." (See PDF link.)

Congress Informed of Plan to Flout the Law

Both the offices of Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, confirmed to me that the 15-day notification did take place, meaning that requisite Congressional committees were informed of the deportation and the fact that it was not taking place on the basis of non-refoulement, and presumably, as the Obama administration has maintained, with "diplomatic assurances" from the Algerian government the prisoners would not be mistreated. The Washington Post said the administration took this to be good coin "because 10 other detainees have been returned to Algeria without incident." But we know that in a number of these cases, the former Guantanamo prisoners were subsequently imprisoned and put on trial. Moreover, numerous human rights organizations have decried reliance on "diplomatic assurances" of safety as not being reliable.

Human Rights Watch described the problem with such "assurances":

Governments that engage in torture routinely deny it and refuse to investigate allegations of torture. A government that is already violating its international obligation not to torture cannot be trusted to abide by a further "assurance" that it will not torture.

Then, too, there is fear that the government cannot protect returnees against being preyed upon by Islamic radical forces. As the U.S. 2006 State Department report on Algeria explained:

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 [2005] 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.

A number of remaining Algerian prisoners fear return as well. One of them, Farhi Saeed Bin Mohammed, who won his "freedom" via habeas appeal last year, was one of the prisoners whose deportation block was lifted by the Supreme Court at the same time as Naji. To date, he remains at Guantanamo. Andy Worthington describes the fate of the others, including Djamel Ameziane, a Berber who fled Algeria years ago and lived five years in Canada.

The action, or more properly, inaction of Congress in the face of the illegal return (by international standards and U.S. treaty) of Abdul Aziz Naji to Algeria is inexcusable. When asked to make further explanation on policy regarding non-refoulement in general, or in the case of Mr. Naji, both Sen. Levin and Sen. Feinstein’s office declined to comment. We can only be left with the impression that they did not intend to stand in the way of this breaking of international law, and only a widespread outcry has assured, for the moment, that further such deportations have been delayed.

While, after a week’s incarceration, and some confusion about his fate, Naji is now reported to be safe at his family’s home in Batna, about 300 miles east of Algiers, it’s not clear that his safety is assured. Naji had stated that he feared torture, or death, at the hands of either the Algerian government or the Islamic fundamentalist oppositions who have been fighting the government. Over 10,000 have died in this conflict since the early 1990s. As a July 25 New York Times editorial on the Naji deportation noted, U.S. State Department reviews have described the ongoing use of disappearances and the extraction of confessions through torture by the Algerian government.

Andy Worthington has described the case of Mustapha Hamlili, who was arrested with Mr. Naji in Peshawar. He was voluntarily repatriated from Guantanamo to Algeria in July 2008, but then "was subsequently charged with ‘membership in a terrorist organization abroad and using forged travel documents.’" He was only cleared of charges and released last February. Others have faced charges against them over a year after the actual repatriation. Naji may be safe now, but as Worthington warns, "I hope that Abdul Aziz Naji is able to stay in contact with his lawyers, and that he can establish contact with representatives of human rights groups, to ensure that his appearance in the Algerian media is indicative of a new openness on the part of the Algerian government, as is not just a PR stunt, and also, hopefully, to avoid the farcical charges and long-winded trials to which all the other returned Algerians have been subjected."

The Hell that is Guantanamo

Naji’s own incredible tale of his incarceration at Guantanamo, reported in the Algerian newspaper El Khabar, has not received a U.S. audience. British journalist Andy Worthington describes it, though, in an article late last week. Worthington is a fantastic reporter who also recently updated the U.S. rendition story in an article, "New Evidence About Prisoners Held in Secret CIA Prisons in Poland and Romania."

According to the July 28 interview with Naji, prisoners were tortured to give false confessions. Even more incredibly, they were forced "to take some medicines for three months to drive them crazy, loosing [sic] memory and committing suicide." Charges of drugging prisoners have been widespread, but have been difficult to verify. An Inspector General investigation on such drugging was initiated in 2008, but nothing further has been heard, save for an indication earlier this year that the investigation was still underway.

Naji also charges that "some detainees had been promised to be granted political asylum opportunity in exchange of [sic] a ‘spying role’ within the detention camp." Once released, they maintain their spying role, he charged. It is difficult to imagine that the U.S. has not tried to use some prisoners in this way. In fact, the suicide bombing at the CIA’s Forward Operating Base Chapman, Afghanistan, which killed seven CIA officers and a Jordanian intelligence official last December, was undertaken by a Jordanian doctor who was supposedly "turned" after a short period of imprisonment (and likely torture or blackmail) by the Jordanians. One is reminded, too, of the attempts of Britain’s MI5 to turn British resident and U.S. rendition prisoner Binyam Mohamed into an informer, while he was being tortured in a Moroccan prison in September 2002.

We cannot know for sure, but it may have been Naji’s refusal to so turn informant that led him to be considered for forced repatriation by the Obama administration, as in all other cases since January 2009 the government had followed the Bush administration in not undertaking the forced deportation of any Guantanamo prisoner.

Naji’s forced repatriation, his story of drugging and torture and coerced confessions at Guantanamo, and tales of deals with prisoners, swapping political asylum for spying, are all very disturbing. They reveal a side of the government’s actions in what used to be called the "war on terror" that is rarely even mentioned in the press anymore. When any truth about U.S. military or intelligence activity does leak out, as when Wikileaks released tens of thousands of military reports from Afghanistan a few weeks ago, such attempts to unveil government actions have been met by official condemnation and even calls for extrajudicial action against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and China-like censorship of the Wikileaks website.

The United States exists today in a state of moral anarchism. The government gives lip service to the rule of law, but repeatedly and consistently shows its disdain for international protocols. As Shahid Buttar of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee pointed out recently, the FBI has been politically spying on Americans for ten years now, and wants the freedom to do even more. BORDC is one of 50 peace, environmental, civil rights, and civil liberties groups seeking "long overdue legislative limits to constrain the FBI" (PDF). Meanwhile, the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights are seeking "a federal court order restraining the Obama administration from killing [the son of Nasser al-Awlaki] without due process of law." The son, Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, is on a government assassination list.

Cases like that of Abdul Aziz Naji put a human face on the actions of the U.S. government. Organizations as diverse as Wikileaks, BORDC, ACLU, CCR and others are fighting to turn this nation back from its headlong plunge into militarism, torture, and assassination, all the deformations that result from substituting imperialism for democracy. But real democracy will not take place until serious, and far-reaching societal and institutional change takes place. This is the challenge of our generation, a challenge we dare not refuse to answer.

NYT: Obama’s Deportation of Naji “an act of cruelty that seems to defy explanation”

11:51 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Cross-posted from Daily Kos

[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 mail@algeria-us.org) and the Permanent Mission of Algeria to the United Nations at mission@algeria-un.org 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.

U.S. Deports Guantanamo Prisoner to Possible Torture or Death

12:20 am in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

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 [2005] 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.”