Friday, August 21, 2009

Guantanamo Prisoner Beaten, Forced Transfer Planned to Bosnia

The reported beating of a Guantanamo prisoner, seemingly placed into solitary because he protested deportation to Bosnia, where he fears deportation back to his home country of Algeria. He fears that the Algerian government will imprison him.

As a Slate article from 2006 describes him, Saber Lahmar was an Algerian living in Bosnia in 2001. He was accused with six others of conspiring to bomb the U.S. and British embassies. Released by the Bosnians in January 2002, "U.S. forces seized them all and flew them to Guantanamo Bay." The Slate article by Emily Bazelon continues:
When Lahmar appeared before his CSRT [Combatant Status Review Tribunal], he asked for the Bosnian court records, as evidence that he'd been found not guilty. The CSRT took a recess and asked the State Department to find the court record. The State Department said the Bosnian government didn't have it. Lahmar had no right to a lawyer before the CSRT. So it didn't matter that two months earlier, the lawyer who was trying to get Lahmar's case heard in federal court had filed the Bosnian court record in D.C. district court. The document was also online, the lawyer says. But the CSRT found that it wasn't "reasonably available." And then it agreed with the government that Lahmar was an enemy combatant.
As the press release from Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) describes it, the brutal assault by Guantanamo prison authorities was directly related to Lahmar's request for settlement somewhere other than Bosnia. According to an L.A. Times article today, the Algerian-born prisoner fears that Bosnia will place him in a deportation camp for immigrants. If deported to Algeria, he will face prisoner not for anything he has done, but because he carries "the taint of Guantanamo." Lahmar's attorneys are appealing the release to Bosnia to the State Department, and have protested the savage attack on their client, supposedly observed by "higher ranking military personnel."

The Navy has denied any abuse took place and a "passive" Lahmar was removed from his cell. The government also maintains it does not, "as a matter of policy," "send prisoners to countries where they would likely face inhumane treatment."

The U.S. government has lied so much and acted in such bad faith around the issue of the prisoners at Guantanamo and elsewhere, about its torture polices, ostensible causes for going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and so much more, that their denials of harming Mr. Lahmar have zero credibility. The beating is in line with other documentation showing continuing abuse at the former Bush administration, now Obama administration camp at Guantanamo Bay.

CCR has been working to resettle the approximately 60 men who remain at Guantánamo because they cannot return to their country of origin for fear of persecution and torture. For more information on CCR, visit

From today's CCR press release:
CCR Demands U.S. Refrain from Forcibly Transferring Man Ordered Freed from Guantánamo by Federal Court

Man Fears U.S. Will Make Him Vulnerable to Deportation to Algeria; Alleges Guards Beat Him to Convince Him to Accept Transfer

August 21, 2009, New York – The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) condemns the decision by the Obama administration to forcibly transfer Saber Lahmar from Guantánamo to Bosnia because it would strip Mr. Lahmar of the hard-won legal protections he now has and may ultimately make him vulnerable to deportation to Algeria where he fears for his safety and security. Mr. Lahmar was ordered released from Guantánamo by a United States District Court judge on November 20, 2008 but nevertheless remains imprisoned because he cannot return to his country of origin. The United States is poised to transfer Mr. Lahmar to Bosnia against his will. Mr. Lahmar has repeatedly stated his request to be transferred to a specific different country, which, according to his pro bono attorneys at Wilmer Hale, has expressed preliminary willingness to accept him. In addition, Mr. Lahmar informed his attorneys at Wilmer Hale that he was beaten by guards on the evening of August 19, 2009 – possibly in an effort to convince him to agree to a transfer to Bosnia.

Mr. Lahmar would be the first Guantanamo detainee ordered freed after a habeas trial to be transferred by the Obama administration to another country against his wishes and with serious concerns for his well-being and safety. On August 18, 2009, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) informed Mr. Lahmar that he was to be transferred to Bosnia within three days, i.e. by Friday, August 21, 2009. Mr. Lahmar immediately informed the ICRC that he did not wish to return to Bosnia since he will face almost certain deportation to Algeria, just as he had told military officials that he did not want to return to Bosnia several months earlier when the subject had first been broached.

Following that interview, Mr. Lahmar was approached by guards who Mr. Lahmar assumed would escort him back to Camp Iguana, a section of the prison designed for men who have been ordered released but are awaiting transfer. Instead, they escorted Mr. Lahmar to a windowless, frigid, all-metal isolation cell in a different part of the base. He asked why he was being transferred to Bosnia; the guards would not say. He reports that he was given no bed, sheets, or blanket. At 1:00 a.m. on August 19, 2009, guards, some wearing Navy uniforms, burst into his cell, used batons to press him against the steel floor, and shackled his hands behind his back and his ankles together. Mr. Lahmar says they assaulted, kicked him, and punched him in the face, knocking out one of his teeth. While Mr. Lahmar was still restrained, the soldiers carried him out of his cell, dropped him onto the ground from a foot above the floor, and used scissors to cut his pants and shirt off his body, while higher ranking military personnel watched from a short distance away. Weak and sore, Mr. Lahmar has refused to eat since being informed yesterday the U.S. might deliver him to Bosnia against his will.

Wilmer Hale attorneys have demanded an immediate investigation by the Department of Defense of the August 19 assault on Mr. Lahmar. The Defense Department said the actions by DOD personnel did not constitute “abuse or mistreatment.” Wilmer Hale attorneys have also informed the Department of State that Mr. Lahmar should not be transferred to another country against his will – particularly when his attorneys understand that Bosnia intends to deport him to a country where he fears for his safety.

“Closing Guantánamo is a sham if the Obama administration accomplishes it only by forcibly sending men to countries that will not guarantee their ongoing safety,” stated CCR attorney Gitanjali S. Gutierrez. “The Administration must work with the men, their attorneys and the many countries willing to help in order to ensure that each individual returns to a place where he can safely rebuild his life without the fear of another transfer looming over his head.”

To Contact Mr. Lahmar’s Attorneys
Stephen Oleskey: 857-233-3656 (mobile)
Robert C. Kirsch: 617-571-6021 (mobile)

CCR CONTACT: Jen Nessel, 212.614.6449,

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