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Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Moves to Halt Torture at Guantanamo

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Commission Issues Urgent Precautionary Measures in First Petition by Guantánamo Prisoner

press@ccrjustice.org

August 21, 2008, New York – Late yesterday afternoon, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued urgent precautionary measures to protect Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian citizen held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay for more than six years. Mr. Ameziane has suffered various forms of torture and abuse during his imprisonment, including extended solitary confinement and a form of waterboarding, and needs a third country to offer him protection in order to leave Guantanamo safely. Mr. Ameziane is currently seeking resettlement in Canada, where he resided for five years prior to his detention.

The Commission’s measures were issued in response to a petition filed on behalf of Mr. Ameziane on August 6 by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL). The IACHR first issued precautionary measures covering all Guantanamo prisoners in 2002 and has reiterated the measures several times since then. Yesterday’s measures are the first the Commission has issued with respect to a specific individual detainee and call for the United States to take urgent steps to prevent further irreparable physical and mental harm to Mr. Ameziane while he remains detained at the base.  

Mr. Ameziane has been held without charge at Guantánamo for over six years and suffers from various physical ailments as a result of his treatment and conditions of confinement, including a severe loss of vision, for which he has consistently been denied adequate medical care. U.S. authorities at Guantánamo also continue to subject Mr. Ameziane to abusive interrogations and have previously threatened to transfer him to his native Algeria, a country with a known record of human rights abuse where he fears returning.  

The Commission requested that the United States:

  1. “Immediately take all measures necessary to ensure that Mr. Djamel Ameziane is not subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or torture during the course of interrogations or at any other time, including but not limited to all corporal punishment and punishment that may be prejudicial to Mr. Ameziane’s physical or mental health;
  2. “Immediately take all measures necessary to ensure that Mr. Djamel Ameziane receives prompt and effective medical attention for physical and psychological ailments and that such medical attention is not made contingent upon any condition
  3. “Take all measures necessary to ensure that, prior to any potential transfer or release, Mr. Djamel Ameziane is provided an adequate, individualized examination of his circumstances through a fair and transparent process before a competent, independent and impartial decision maker; and
  4. “Take all measures necessary to ensure that Mr. Djamel Ameziane is not transferred or removed to a country where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture or other mistreatment, and that diplomatic assurances are not used to circumvent the United States’ non-refoulement obligations.”
  5. The principal function of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is to promote the observance and protection of human rights in and by member states of the Organization of American States, including the United States.  It is the only international judicial body with jurisdiction to hear cases of individual human rights violations committed by the United States.  In doing so, it may issue precautionary measures to prevent further harm to petitioners while their cases are pending.  
“As a member of the Organization of American States, the United States must heed the Inter-American Commission’s urgent request to prevent further irreparable harm to our client at Guantanamo.  For years the United States has shown disregard for international law; now it has an opportunity to comply with the Commission’s order and finally  respect the basic standards of humane treatment and the absolute prohibition of torture agreed upon by the global community.”   said Pardiss Kebriaei, staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Background

On August 6, 2008, Djamel Ameziane filed the first ever petition by a person detained by the United States at Guantánamo Bay with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to consider the torture, abuse, and other human rights violations perpetrated against him during his six-year history of near-incommunicado detention there. Among other abuses, Mr. Ameziane was subjected to a form of waterboarding.
While the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in CCR and co-counsel’s case Boumediene v. Bush this June restores Guantánamo detainees’ right to habeas corpus, neither Mr. Ameziane nor any other Guantánamo detainee has yet had a hearing on the merits of his case.
Among its several functions, the IACHR receives and investigates reports of violations of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, to which the United States is a party.  If the Commission rules in favor of the petitioners, it issues recommendations to the responsible government for relief to the victims, which are binding. Such recommendations tend to be broad in scope, ranging from the payment of monetary compensation, to the criminal prosecution of the parties responsible for the human rights violations, to the modification of laws and policies.  

Djamel Ameziane is an ethnic Berber from Algeria who fled his home country 16 years ago in order to escape persecution and seek a better life.  He lived in Austria and then Canada, where he applied for political asylum but was ultimately denied refuge.  With few options, he traveled to Afghanistan, but as a foreigner in a land soon torn apart by conflict, he was an easy target for corrupt local police who captured him while he was trying to cross the border into Pakistan.  Mr. Ameziane was then handed over to U.S. military forces, presumably for a bounty.

The U.S. military transported him first to the Airbase at Kandahar, Afghanistan and then to Guantánamo in February 2002, where he was among the first prisoners to arrive. After more than six years, he remains imprisoned without charge and without judicial review of his detention.

U.S. personnel have subjected Mr. Ameziane repeatedly to brutal acts of physical violence during his imprisonment. Guards put him through a form of waterboarding, where they held his head back and placed a water hose between his nose and mouth, running it for several minutes over his face and suffocating him, repeating the operation several times.  In describing that experience he writes, “I had the impression that my head was sinking in water.  Simply thinking of it gives me the chills.”  For over a year, Mr. Ameziane was held in solitary confinement in a small windowless cell in Camp 6, one of the most restrictive detention facilities in Guantánamo.

Another time, his entire body was sprayed with cayenne pepper and then hosed down with water to accentuate the skin-burning effect of pepper spray. Guards then cuffed and chained him and took him to an interrogation room, where he was left for several hours, writhing in pain, his clothes soaked while air conditioning blasted in the room, and his body burning from the pepper spray.

Mr. Ameziane has never been alleged by the U.S. government to have engaged in any acts of terrorism or hostilities.


Mr. Ameziane’s claims in his petition to the IACHR include violations of his rights to freedom from arbitrary detention; freedom from torture and cruel and degrading treatment, including the denial of necessary medical care, and religious humiliation and abuse; protection of his personal reputation, and private and family life; and the right to a judicial remedy for the violations of his rights.  The petition additionally asks the IACHR to instruct the United States not to return Mr. Ameziane to his home country of Algeria.
In order to leave Guantánamo safely, Mr. Ameziane requires a third country to offer him protection. He is currently seeking resettlement in Canada, where he resided for five years prior to his detention.
For a copy of the filing and a more detailed profile of Mr. Ameziane, see the Ameziane v. Obama and Ameziane v. United States case page.

For more information on CCR’s work on illegal detention, torture and abuse at Guantánamo Bay, visit the CCR website.

The Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization with consultative status before the Organization of American States (OAS), the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECO) and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights – www.cejil.org.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.