It was during the escalating violence of Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s that our client Djamel Ameziane left in search of a better life. He lived in Austria and then Canada, where he applied for political asylum but was ultimately denied refuge. With few options left, and fearful of being deported to Algeria, he traveled to Afghanistan in 2001. Little did he know that a war would soon break out in the country and change his life forever.
A full 86% of the men and boys ever taken to Guantánamo were sold to the U.S. military for bounties. Djamel was reportedly one of them. As a foreigner in a land torn apart by war, he was an easy target for bounty hunters and corrupt police who could earn $5000 for every person they turned over to the U.S. military.
In the nearly 12 years that he was imprisoned at Guantánamo, the U.S. government never charged Djamel with engaging in hostilities, terrorism, acts of violence—nor with any other crime. And yet, it fought us every step of the way as we challenged the legality of Djamel’s detention in federal court.
Djamel was released in 2013, a full five years after the U.S. government convinced a federal judge not to hear his case on the grounds that he was already cleared for release and would soon be transferred. In the cruelest of fates, he was sent to the only place he feared more than Guantánamo – his homeland, where ethnic Berbers like him had long been persecuted.
Djamel now lives peacefully in Algeria and continues to persevere despite all the injustices and cruelty he’s had to endure. For him, part of the process of moving forward and rebuilding his life after Guantánamo is ensuring that those responsible for his torture and abuse are held accountable.
"The time I spent at Guantánamo was the most difficult time of my life. I was tortured physically and psychologically, and for many years subjected to degrading and humiliating treatment without any rights. When released from Guantánamo I was sent to Algeria in an airplane, shackled and blindfolded, and never received a remedy of any kind for the years that I lost, not even an apology.” –Djamel Ameziane, September 2015
This week, CCR and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) filed a merits brief in Djamel’s longstanding—and landmark—case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the international human rights body of the Organization of American States (OAS). The Commission receives and investigates reports of violations of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, to which the U.S. is a party. In our brief, we ask the IACHR to declare that the U.S. government violated Djamel’s human rights and to prescribe relief, including access to adequate medical care, financial assistance for basic needs, return of his personal property, and a public apology for what was done to him. As a matter of international law, if the Commission decides in Djamel’s favor, its conclusions will be binding upon the U.S. government.
Djamel will never get back the decade of his life he lost at Guantánamo. This is something he has had to accept. What he does not accept – and neither do we – is that justice for the crimes committed there is impossible. The U.S. government fought hard to make sure he never had his day in a court. We hope the IACHR rights that wrong.