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Last week, the United States government transferred an Algerian national, imprisoned for the last eight years at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, back to his home country.

Last week, the United States government transferred an Algerian national, imprisoned for the last eight years at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, back to his home country.

Normally, such transfers are a cause for celebration by the prisoners involved. But the reaction of 35-year-old Abdul Aziz Naji was markedly different: he was terrified. That's in part because the Algerian government has a bad track record for its treatment of anyone arrested on "security grounds." In fact, the U.S. State Department reports that in such cases, Algerian authorities still use torture to elicit confessions. A recent decision from the European Court of Human Rights reached the same conclusion, blocking a transfer to Algeria from France.

Naji also argued that he was afraid of local fundamentalist groups terrorizing him into fighting for their cause. In fact, he'd fled Algeria as a teenager precisely because he'd been attacked by extremists. As a result, Naji begged the U.S. government to allow him to remain in prison at Guantanamo rather than be returned to Algeria. But the U.S. government ignored that; it sent him to Algeria anyway.

Although Naji is now back home, reportedly under Algerian government surveillance, there are still another five Algerians left at Guantanamo Bay who are afraid to return home due to fear of mistreatment. Still other prisoners, from countries such as Tajikistan and Morrocco, have similar fears. And terror suspects arrested by U.S. authorities and sent to another country for interrogation and prosecution, under current U.S. rendition policy, face a similar risk.

The U.S. government's actions in Naji's case don't bode well for any of them.

Under international law, the United States isn't supposed to transfer anyone to a country where they're likely to face torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. That's exactly what Naji fears will happen to him if he's arrested in Algeria. But he did not get an opportunity to make his case to any sort of neutral U.S. arbiter. Although the Obama administration said that the Algerian government had promised not to torture Mr. Naji upon his return, Naji never got a chance to explain why he's skeptical of that promise, and why he's still afraid.

Unfortunately, despite the requirements of the international Convention Against Torture, Naji's treatment complies with official U.S. policy. U.S. officials have insisted that they can send a prisoner or terror suspect to a country that's known to torture prisoners so long as that country provides "diplomatic assurances" -- essentially, an official promise -- that the person will be treated fairly. Perhaps the U.S. obtained such a promise from authorities in Algeria. But what are these "diplomatic assurances" worth?

As the United Nations and many other international experts have recognized, not much. According to Manfred Nowak, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on torture, "diplomatic assurances are unreliable and ineffective in the protection against torture and ill-treatment and such assurances," and are usually sought "from States where the practice of torture is systematic." They're also not legally binding.

Thus Maher Arar, for example, a Canadian terror suspect (who turned out to be innocent) rendered to Syria by the Bush administration, was brutally tortured under interrogation there, despite "diplomatic assurances" provided to U.S. authorities by the Syrian government.

Nowak and Martin Scheinin, the U.N. Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism, last week protested the United States' return of Naji to Algeria.

Although Naji was never charged, tried or convicted of anything by the United States, his imprisonment for the last eight years, supposedly on security grounds, suggests he's likely to be a target of interest to the Algerian authorities.

Indeed, after he was returned home on July 18, his lawyers reported that he had disappeared. He was presumably held and interrogated in secret detention by Algerian security forces.

Then on Monday, Reuters reported that he'd been returned home and was "resting." An Algerian prosecutor said he'd been treated lawfully.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that Naji had been indicted on terrorism-related charges and placed under "judicial supervision."

Whatever Naji's status is now, it could change at any time. Even though the U.S. never charged him with anything, Algerian authorities could go a different route. Or they could detain him for questioning and torture him in prison. Now that the United States has released him, it no longer has any authority to determine his treatment.

But the U.S. doesn't have to follow suit for the other Algerian detainees still imprisoned without charge at Guantanamo, who similarly face repatriation against their will. Human Rights First has called on the Obama administration to back up its professed commitment against torture by systematically providing a hearing before a neutral arbiter before returning anyone in U.S. custody to a country where he fears persecution. The United States should stop relying on the "diplomatic assurances" that have proved utterly ineffective in the past.

Originally posted to Daphne Eviatar Human Rights 1st on Wed Jul 28, 2010 at 11:24 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  So (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    So what DO we do with them?

  •  The U.S. Government can not be held responsible (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rich in PA

    indefinitely for every captured combatant.  The appropriate place to send them is back to their country of origin, or any country with which we share an extradition treaty, if they are wanted.

    "Because I am a river to my people."

    by lordcopper on Wed Jul 28, 2010 at 12:22:16 PM PDT

    •  So, you just wash your hands (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      marina, Gracian

      of the fate of these individuals, whose lives we have destroyed?  Never mind if Algeria, for example, decides to torture them anew?

      No.  We assumed moral responsibility for their fates when we, or, more often, locals paid bounties, seized these people (some of them kids, damnit!), and we threw them in 6' x 8' cells and tortured them for years on end, without ever charging them.  To do what you suggest is reprehensible and morally indefensible.

      •  My father told me many times "if you keep (0+ / 0-)

        asking for trouble, sooner or later you will get it".  The U.S. Government did not make these men take up arms against U.S. forces.  They chose that course of action.  I think they've found the trouble they were asking for.

        "Because I am a river to my people."

        by lordcopper on Wed Jul 28, 2010 at 12:51:53 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  What proof? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          You ignore the fact that the vast majority of the detainees were (and are) actually innocent.  In may cases, we simply took the word of locals with bones to pick with detainees they rounded up, or with their families, and paid them bounties to supply bodies as evidence that we were tough on terror.  In other cases these individuals were just selected and abducted at random.

          Show me the direct evidence, detainee by detainee, that they "took up arms against U.S. forces."

          You presume guilt.  That's hardly an American value.

          •  An Algerian, captured by U.S. forces in (0+ / 0-)

            Afghanistan?  C'mon man.  If I were in a foreign country that was invaded by another country, I would have left.

            "Because I am a river to my people."

            by lordcopper on Wed Jul 28, 2010 at 01:01:01 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  That's proof? (0+ / 0-)

              Nice.  If I went into a bar, I'd probably drink before leaving; but, that probability doesn't constitute proof that I then drove drunk upon leaving the bar.

              You can do better than that...right?

            •  Also, you ignore the fact that (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              even Colin Powell's main assistant, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, contended that a large number of the detainees were in fact actually innocent:

              I soon realized from my conversations with military colleagues as well as foreign service officers in the field that many of the detainees were, in fact, victims of incompetent battlefield vetting. There was no
              meaningful way to determine whether they were terrorists, Taliban, or simply innocent civilians
              picked up on a very confused battlefield or in the territory of another state such as Pakistan.


            •  Most not captured by U.S. forces, (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              but by locals, for bounty.  Don't listen to me, though--read the words of Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson:

              A related problem with the initial detention was that predominantly U.S. forces
              were not the ones who were taking the prisoners in the first place. Instead, we relied upon
              Afghans, such as General Dostum’s forces, and upon Pakistanis, to hand over prisoners whom
              they had apprehended, or who had been turned over to them for bounties, sometimes as much as
              $5,000 per head. Such practices meant that the likelihood was high that some of the
              Guantánamo detainees had been turned in to U.S. forces in order to settle local scores, for tribal
              reasons, or just as a method of making money. I recall conversations with serving military
              officers at the time, who told me that many detainees were turned over for the wrong reasons,
              particularly for bounties and other incentives.

    •  "better that ten guilty persons escape" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      In criminal law, Blackstone's formulation (also known as Blackstone's ratio or the Blackstone ratio) is the principle: "better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer"

      •  Do you want to offer them asylum here? (0+ / 0-)

        I don't.  There are no perfect solutions.  All I know is that they can't stay here.  If another credible nation steps forward, they can have them.  But who wants a radical in their country causing trouble?

        "Because I am a river to my people."

        by lordcopper on Wed Jul 28, 2010 at 12:55:26 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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