Today, September 7, 2017, CCR and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) appeared before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) during its 164th session in Mexico City for a merits hearing in our case, Ameziane v. United States.
Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian citizen, was held without charge at Guantánamo Bay prison for nearly 12 years. During his detention, he was subjected to physical and psychological torture and other human rights violations. In December 2013, he was forcibly repatriated to Algeria, from which he had fled violence in the early 1990s, and where he feared persecution based on several factors including his Berber ethnic minority status.
CCR and CEJIL urged the IACHR to declare that the U.S. government violated Mr. Ameziane’s human rights and 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. You can watch the video of the hearing here.
Despite obtaining a visa, Djamel was unable to attend the hearing in-person because of post-traumatic stress that he continues to suffer as a result of his detention. The stress and anxiety from the uncertainty about whether he would be allowed to travel, or whether he might be detained, harassed, or interrogated were too great.
Djamel submitted a statement to the Commission, detailing the torture and serious abuse he experienced for twelve years while in U.S. custody, his forcible repatriation to Algeria in 2013, and the difficulties he has faced trying to rebuild his life in Algeria.
Below is an excerpt of Djamel’s powerful statement (you can find the full version here).
My name is Djamel Ameziane. I am a victim of the United States in its war on terror. For nearly 12 years, I was held by the US military at Guantanamo Bay, without charge, trial or fair process to challenge the legality of my detention. I was held without any legitimate basis, including for more than five years after I was first cleared for transfer. I was humiliated, tortured and abused, and discriminated against as a Muslim man each and every day that I was in US custody, from early January 2002, when Pakistani authorities turned me over to the US military and I was transferred to Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan, until the time I was forcibly returned to Algeria in December 2013, despite my fears of persecution there. The United States treated me like an animal, or worse than an animal, because the Iguanas that roam freely at Guantanamo were protected by laws. I lived in a cage and was protected by no laws. I suffered abuse and mistreatment at the hands of the US Government, and I watched other detainees suffer the same fate. My family also suffered greatly. I have lasting physical and psychological injuries as a result of what I have endured.
. . .
[T]he US government has not only refused to compensate me for twelve years of imprisonment in Guantanamo, but it has seized the money I had earned through my hard work in Canada. Even the Algerian police officers who detained me when I first arrived to Algeria were outraged to learn such a thing. They said that it was so petty from a country to do such a thing when it claims to be the leader of human rights and plays the role of the world’s “vigilante police.”
Since then, I have continued to try to improve my situation but it has been very difficult because of my prior detention at Guantanamo. As I have explained, I have obtained documentation, but still have no permanent work, no money, and no place of my own to live. But for the generosity of my brother, I would be homeless today at 50 years old. Indeed, I fear that I am a burden to my family.
I have realized too the toll that my time in Guantanamo has taken on my family. While I was detained my dear father died. I learned of my father’s death when I was in the hell of Camp 6, locked in a windowless room for 24 hours a day. I urge you to think about that and how you would feel under those circumstances that I have already described. You would be crushed and devastated as I was, and you would hope to die as I once did in that awful place.
I also learned since from my brother in Canada that my mother, who is now very elderly, tried to send clothes and other items to me in Guantanamo, to care for me. I never received them. My brothers knew I would not, but how could they stop my mother from trying, it is what mothers do, they said. My mother, and my other family members, are surely also victims of Guantanamo.
There was also a time when I wanted to have a family of my own but this too has been prevented both by my detention at Guantanamo and by the after-effects of my detention. I am unemployed, in ill-health, and in need of medical care. I have no access to employment, as I have said. In Algeria, the rate of unemployment is very high, and with someone like me who has been out of the workforce for more than a decade and who carries the stigma of Guantanamo, it is impossible. Also as I have said, I struggled for a long time to get my identity papers, signed up for public assistance and housing but have not received it, and tried to find work consistently but unsuccessfully. I have had some temporary jobs filling in for others when they take vacation, and done some English-French translation work for my lawyers and some others, but that is it.
In Spring 2016, I was also put on trial in Algeria. I was notified a few days ahead of the trial that I would face criminal charges alleging my membership in a terrorist group outside of Algeria. I was very surprised and terrified, and contacted my lawyers at CCR. I was certain a guilty plea would be manufactured to ensure I remained in prison forever even though I was innocent. But thankfully, and to my surprise, the trial lasted fifteen minutes and I was acquitted. Not only that, but I was fully exonerated of any wrongdoing and released without conditions. This is how I was ultimately able to obtain a passport. I am now free and clear as far as the Algerians are concerned. I am very thankful for this, particularly as I had feared persecution for so many years. It is a weight that has been lifted from me.
But it is still very difficult, and painful, to think about everything that happened to me at Guantanamo, to learn how my family suffered, and to move forward with my life. I am 50 years old, and I lost many prime years of my life to Guantanamo. It was all for no good reason, and at great, great cost. There have been so many terrible events that it is hard, especially now, to remember every injustice. Thinking about it overwhelms me and I get numb. My mind sometimes goes blank. I know from my experience that Guantanamo was created to destroy people, to destroy Muslims, who are the only people to have been held there, and it has nearly destroyed me. I want to be free of it forever, to forget and move on with my remaining years.
Members of the Commission, what I respectfully ask of you today is this: please issue a merits decision and decide my case. I ask you to order reparations and other relief so that I can get the assistance that I need and move forward with my life, and put Guantanamo behind me forever.
I also want an apology. I ask the representatives of US: will you say on behalf of your government that you are sorry for what the US Government did to me?
To the Commission I also have one final request. I ask you please to stay involved on the issue of Guantanamo and make sure your voice is heard by the US and the international community. Please help the men who remain at Guantanamo, including my countryman Sufyian Barhoumi. I have seen his family, his mother and his brothers since my release, and they are devastated by his continuing detention, as my family was for many years. Please, remain involved on these issues, and urge OAS member states to accept detainees for resettlement. To do what El Salvador and Uruguay have done by taking men from Guantanamo. Help to close this horrible prison.