Friday, February 3, 2012

Urgent Appeal on Fate of Former Guantanamo Detainee

Andy Worthington, who has looked deeper into the conditions and fate of the Guantanamo prisoners than any other reporter working today, has followed up on the case of Abdul Aziz Naji, the Algerian former prisoner at Guantanamo who was sentenced to three years in prison on unsubstantiated charges of having formerly, i.e., prior to the eight years he was imprisoned without charges at Guantanamo, belonged to an "extremist group."

I wrote the other day about the case and Naji's frame-up utilizing evidence from tortured prisoners. I also speculated that the Algerian government, whose intelligence agency went to Guantanamo at one point to interrogate Naji, may be acting at the behest of the U.S. government because 1) Naji is the first Algerian prisoner from Guantanamo in Algerian custody actually sentenced to prison; and 2) Naji has been quite vocal about the torture he endured, about the use of drugs on prisoners, and the bargaining by U.S. interrogators with Guantanamo prisoners over possible grants of political asylum if the prisoners would spy for the United States. This can't have endeared Naji to the U.S. government.

Worthington writes about the supposed guarantees of the Algerians regarding treatment of returning prisoners:
In assessing whether or not it was safe for Algerians to be repatriated from Guantánamo, the US government was required to weigh Algeria’s established reputation for using torture against the “diplomatic assurances” agreed between Washington and Algiers, whereby, as an Obama administration official told the Washington Post at the time of Naji’s repatriation, the Algerian government had promised that prisoners returned from Guantánamo “would not be mistreated.” The US official added, “We take some care in evaluating countries for repatriation. In the case of Algeria, there is an established track record and we have given that a lot of weight. The Algerians have handled this pretty well: You don’t have recidivism and you don’t have torture.”

According to research I undertook after Abdul Aziz Naji’s enforced repatriation, by speaking to the men’s attorneys, the US government was able to justify its claims because there had been no recorded incidents of torture amongst the ten Algerians previously released from Guantánamo. Although they were held incommunicado for 12 days by the Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS), as permitted under Algerian law, none of them reported being physically abused. In addition, although they all faced dubious trials after their return — generally about 15 months after their repatriation — and although they also suffered prejudice because of the perceived “taint” of Guantánamo, they had not been convicted on trumped-up charges, and had been released after their trials.

I cannot guarantee that I was able to ascertain the exact details of what happened to each of the ten men, but until two weeks ago the most troubling information from Algeria relating to the Guantánamo prisoners appeared to be the 20-year sentence delivered in absentia against Ahmed Belbacha, one of the four Algerians cleared for release but still held, on trumped-up charges of “membership of a terrorist group active overseas.” As far as his lawyers can ascertain, this sentence only came about because Belbacha had been vocal in his opposition to being repatriated, based on his fears about the government, and about the Islamists who had prompted him to flee the country in the first place when they threatened him while he was working for a government-owned oil company.

On January 16, however, any comfort to be gleaned from the Algerian government’s refusal to imprison those returned from Guantánamo for the other Algerians who do not wish to be repatriated — and who, by my reckoning, are Nabil Hadjarab (PDF), Motai Saib and Djamel Ameziane (PDF), who were all cleared for release by military review boards under the Bush administration — dissipated when, as AFP reported, Abdul Aziz Naji received a three-year sentence “for membership of an extremist group active overseas.”
Andy also quotes the text of an appeal by the British group Cageprisoners, to the Algerian government to demand Abdul Naji's immediate release.

In the spirit of advocacy on Naji's case, I am reposting the Cageprisoners' appeal here:
Abdel Aziz Nadji is a 37 years old man born in Batna, Algeria. In 2001, he travelled to Makkah and accomplished the Muslim pilgrimage. He then worked briefly for a humanitarian organisation providing emergency assistance for the needy inhabitants of Kashmir. During his charitable work, Abdel Aziz Nadji stepped over a landmine which caused him to lose his lower right leg. He was transported to Lahore where he was treated for several months. He was then directed towards an Algerian man, Mustafa Hamlili who had been living in Peshawar with his wife for 15 years. Abdel Aziz was told he may be able to marry there. In May 2002, he was arrested with his host during a raid led by the Pakistani police. He was not given any reason to justify his arrest and was told that he would be released. Nevertheless, he was handed over to the American forces and taken to Guantanamo.

There he was he was subjected to torture and held without any charge or trial for 8 years.

Abdel Aziz then became eligible for release. However, he fought against his return to Algeria where he rightfully feared being tortured or killed. Nevertheless, he lost his case before the Supreme Court and he was forcefully deported to Algeria by the Obama administration which deemed sufficient the Algerian “diplomatic assurances” to treat him humanely. On 18 July 2010, he was handed over to the Algerian authorities despite his request for political asylum being pendant before Swiss courts. Upon his arrival, he was taken in secret detention. He eventually reappeared and was set free. However, unspecified charges were laid against him by the Algerian authorities.

He returned to his family and tried start a new life. However, he was deprived of any identity documents and suffered from depression, anxiety and other symptoms consistent with post traumatic stress disorder due to his treatment in American custody. Moreover, he was in need of medical attention due to his amputation after his prosthetic leg was damaged by American soldiers who beat him up in Bagram and Guantanamo. Abdel Aziz was also under “judicial supervision” and had to sign a register every week at the local police station.

On 16 January 2012, the police suddenly arrested him and took him directly to the court. On the same day, he was sentenced to three years of prison, accused of belonging to a terrorist group operating overseas. He was immediately transferred to El Harrash prison in Algiers, known for human rights abuses.

His lawyer has eight days to appeal the decision.

While Egypt has put an end to the unfair re- incarceration of Adel Al-Gazzar, while Tunisian former Guantanamo detainees have been able to return safely to their homeland and while the new authorities have promised to do more in order to secure the release of the five Tunisians still held at Guantanamo Bay, Algeria is jailing a man who has already spent 8 years in Guantanamo Bay without charge or trial. It does so on obscure accusations and apparently expeditiously.

Abdel Aziz has appealed the decision and refuses any food.

CagePrisoners urges all its supporters to contact the Algerian Ministry of Justice to demand Abdel Aziz’s immediate release.

Message to the Algerian Minister of Justice

Monsieur le Ministre,

A la suite d’informations reçues de l’organisation britannique de défense des droits de l’Homme CagePrisoners, je vous exprime ma vive préoccupation concernant l’affaire d’Abdel Aziz Naji arrété le 16 janvier 2012 et condamné le jour même à trois ans de prison, accusé d’appartenir à un groupe terroriste opérant à l’étranger. Il apparaît que cette condamnation n’a pas été prononcée dans des conditions compatibles avec celle d’un procès équitable.

Alors que l’Egypte a mis fin à la détention injuste d’Adel Al-Gazzar, alors que des anciens détenus tunisiens de Guantanmo ont pu regagner leur pays d’origine en toute sécurité et alors que les nouvelles autorités tunisiennes se sont engagées à tout faire pour obtenir la libération de ses cinq citoyens toujours détenus sur l’île cubaine, l’Algérie incarcère un homme qui a déjà passé 8 ans à Guantanamo sans procès, et ce sur la base de vagues accusations et, semble t-il, de manière expéditive.

Je vous demande donc la libération immédiate d’Abdel Aziz Naji.

Je vous prie de recevoir l’expression de mes salutations distinguées.

Ministry of Justice (Algeria)
Address: Ministère de la Justice 8, Place Bir Hakem, El-Biar, Alger



The following is a rough translation of the French text:
Mr. Minister,

Following information received from the British organization for the defense of human rights Cageprisoners, I express my deep concern regarding the case of Abdel Aziz Naji, arrested Jan. 16, 2012 and sentenced the same day to three years in prison, accused of belonging to a terrorist group operating abroad. It appears that this sentence was not pronounced under conditions compatible with that of a fair trial.

While Egypt has ended the unjust detention of Adel al-Gazzar [see here], while Tunisian Guantanamo former detainees have returned to their home country safely, and while the new Tunisian authorities are committed to all do to secure the release of its five citizens still detained on the island of Cuba, Algeria incarcerates a man who has spent eight years at Guantanamo without trial, and on the basis of vague accusations, and it seems, in an expeditious manner.

I ask you for the immediate release of Abdel Aziz Naji.

Please accept the expression of my highest consideration.

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