According to Al Jazeera: “A prisoner who chose to remain in Guantanamo Bay rather than face possible persecution in Algeria has been forcibly repatriated by the US government…. The US military announced on Monday that Abdul Aziz Naji, 35, had been sent back to Algeria after eight years behind bars, the first involuntary transfer from the prison under the Obama administration.”
Apparently, Mr. Naji fled from Algeria, where he feared persecution from the government and from terrorist groups. He was arrested in Pakistan in 2002, but he was never charged with or convicted of a crime. In May 2009, a review team tasked with deciding the fate of prisoners held in Guantanamo cleared Mr. Naji for release.
“The Obama administration recognizes how essential it is to close Guantanamo by releasing detainees it has cleared,” said Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch. “But a detainee who fears being returned home should first have a genuine opportunity to demonstrate the danger he faces.”
Other Algerian detainees have “expressed fear at being forcibly returned to Algeria; one said he would rather spend the rest of his life in US custody than return to Algeria.” After Mr. Naji’s removal, five other Algerians remain detained at Guantanamo Bay.
Mr. Naji had sought to bring his claim of feared persecution before a court, and a federal judge stopped his deportation. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit overruled the lower court decision earlier this month. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to stay his transfer pending further appeal.
According to HRW, the United States claims detainees can be returned to Algeria safely:
US officials say that the country’s human rights record has improved significantly over the past decade, and… they have asserted that the Algerian government has provided so-called “diplomatic assurances” – promises to treat returned detainees humanely. Human Rights Watch’s 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.
Algerian detainees previously returned to Algeria have not reported serious abuse. However, some of the remaining detainees, though never accused of any crime, might be perceived by the Algerian government as more dangerous than those who previously returned. Therefore, HRW argues, each case must be examined individually.
In Mr. Naji’s case, it seems he originally left Algeria to escape persecution by the government and armed groups. Now, he may face persecution on account of these original threats, as well as because the Algerian government perceives him as a terrorist (based on his detention at Guantanamo). It seems outrageous that his applications for asylum or relief under the UN Convention Against Torture have not even been heard. I recently represented an Algerian man in an asylum case. Asylum was granted in that case based on my client’s fear of persecution from armed militants. At the minimum, a U.S. court should have reviewed Mr. Naji’s claim before he was returned.