WASHINGTON : Two detainees were sent home to Algeria from the US prison camp in Guantanamo Bay Thursday, over the prisoners’ protests that they feared persecution there.
A Pentagon statement said Djamel Saiid Ali Ameziane and Bensayah Belkecem were transferred from the “war on terror” prison after a review “which examined a number of factors, including security issues.”
“The United States coordinated with the government of Algeria to ensure these transfers took place with appropriate security and humane treatment assurances,” it said.
The transfers were the latest in a series stemming from President Barack Obama’s much delayed efforts to meet his vow to shutter the US detention center in Cuba.
With the departures, the number of inmates at Guantanamo has been whittled down to 162, nearly 12 years after the facility was opened at a US naval base on the southeastern tip of the island.
Bensayah and Ameziane, however, were fighting repatriation to Algeria, the only country authorized by US law to accept its nationals detained at Guantanamo.
“This was not voluntary — at all,” Bensayah’s lawer Robert Kirsch told AFP by email Thursday. “Our hearts go out to Mr. Bensayah and the family he never will see again.”
Bensayah had been demanding to be returned to Bosnia, where he was arrested in 2002 and where his wife and daughters lived.
“We are disappointed that the President’s Special Envoy lacked the ability and compassion to assist Mr Bensayah in taking advantage of resettlement opportunities that would have allowed him the chance to rebuild the family he was taken away from in 2002,” Kirsch wrote.
“He fears for his personal safety,” Bensayah’s attorney had written to the State Department before the transfer was ordered.
“Mr Bensayah believes Muslim extremists will expect him to sympathize with them, only because he was held at Guantanamo. He fears that they will attack or perhaps kill him when they learn he does not support them.”
Ameziane, who lived in Austria and Canada, had asked to return to America’s northern neighbor since president George W. Bush’s administration cleared him for release in 2007.
“We are deeply disappointed by the Obama administration’s forcible transfer of Djamel (Ameziane),” said his lawyer, Wells Dixon.
“The US has compounded one injustice against him with another. He deserved better from the United States.”
“Given that the US government well knows that Djamel could have, like dozens of detainees before him, been resettled in a safe, alternate country, it is particularly outrageous that the US would forcibly return him to a risk of harm in Algeria,” said Dixon, who has represented Ameziane since 2006.
“Djamel fears persecution in Algeria and does not want to return there,” Dixon had told AFP via e-mail last week. “He would like to be resettled in Europe or Canada, where he has viable resettlement opportunities.”
The Pentagon told AFP last week: “We carefully ensure that every transfer we carry out is consistent with the US government’s humane treatment policy and standards.”
“The United States takes seriously all credible claims of mistreatment and fears of persecution and carefully evaluates them in advance of any decision to transfer a detainee,” spokesman Todd Breasseale had said
Though restrictions on inmate transfers from Guantanamo are currently being debated in Congress, Obama is trying to accelerate repatriation efforts aimed at closing the prison.
In August, Washington had sent another two Algerian detainees back to Algeria.
After these latest transfers, there are 82 inmates, including 56 Yemenis, at Guantanamo who have been cleared for release.