December 5, 2013, New York – Today, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that it has transferred the Center for Constitutional Rights’ client Djamel Ameziane from Guantanamo to Algeria against his will despite his well-founded fear of persecution in his home country, and without giving him the opportunity to have the court evaluate his fear of return. Ameziane’s forced transfer to Algeria violates international law, including the Convention Against Torture.
“We are deeply disappointed by the Obama Administration’s forcible transfer of Djamel,” said CCR Senior Staff Attorney Wells Dixon. "The U.S. has compounded one injustice against him with another. He deserved better from the United States.”
“We demand that the Algerian Government immediately release Djamel Ameziane from secret detention, treat him humanely, and respect his human rights. We further call on the international community to demand transparency and accountability from the Algerian Government and to ensure that Mr. Ameziane does not suffer persecution now or in the future,” said CCR Executive Director Vince Warren.
CCR attorneys emphasized that Ameziane bears no ill will toward the people or government of Algeria. But he fears persecution by the Algerian security services based on several factors, including his minority, Berber ethnicity. He also has a long, well-documented public record of seeking safe refuge outside Algeria, which he fears will be used as a basis to persecute him. As recent U.S. State Department and human rights reports confirm, the Algerian security services are notorious human rights abusers.
“Given that the U.S. government well knows that Djamel could have, like dozens of detainees before him, been resettled in a safe, alternate country, it is particularly outrageous that the U.S. would forcibly return him to a risk of harm in Algeria,” said Dixon, who has represented Ameziane since 2006. “Like his predecessor, President Obama has given short shrift to Ameziane’s concerns about his fear of persecution and shown callous disregard for his human rights.”
Ameziane has a pending application for resettlement in Canada, where he has family members who are citizens, and is sponsored by the Anglican Diocese of Montreal. Luxembourg also offered to resettle him in 2010, and other countries have expressed similar interest including very recently. He could be living a quiet, free life in Europe or Canada, but instead is now in secret detention in Algiers.
“At a time when Congress is moving toward easing restrictions
on detainee transfers, the Obama Administration is moving in the wrong direction,” Warren explained. “Djamel Ameziane’s forced transfer is a serious political and diplomatic misstep that underscores the sad reality that the administration has no serious plan to close Guantánamo.”
A college graduate fluent in multiple languages, Djamel Ameziane fled Algeria in the early 1990s to escape the civil war that wiped out nearly his entire generation. He lived legally in Vienna, Austria and Montreal, Canada, where he worked as a well-known chef, but was ultimately denied permanent refuge. Fearing deportation to Algeria, he fled to Afghanistan shortly before 9/11. After the U.S. invasion, he fled to Pakistan to avoid a war in which he wanted and took no part. He was captured and sold by Pakistanis to U.S. forces for a bounty. Ameziane never set foot on U.S. soil or committed a hostile act toward the United States or anyone else, but was sent to Guantánamo in February 2002. He was held by the United States for nearly twelve years, without charge or trial, and despite his repeated clearance for transfer and admissions by the U.S. military in 2008 that his detention no longer served any military purpose. The United States has now forcibly returned him to the one country he fled twenty years ago to avoid violence and instability, a move that was “as unnecessary as it is bitterly cruel,” Dixon observed.
Djamel Ameziane aggressively litigated his habeas corpus case for eight years, but never had his day in court and never obtained a ruling on the legality of his detention. The U.S. Justice Department convinced the court on many occasions, over his objections, not to rule on his case.
In addition, Ameziane had expressed his concerns repeatedly to the United States, which tried to send him back to Algeria once before in 2008. A federal judge issued an injunction
barring that transfer, which has since expired, and D.C. Circuit law now prohibits courts from stopping transfers to torture or persecution.
“The timing of Djamel’s transfer makes it hard not to conclude that the decision to return him to Algeria now is as much about trying to moot recent litigation
in his case about the unraveling of U.S. detention authority as it is about Algeria’s willingness to do the United States’s bidding in ways that democratic countries are not,” concluded Dixon. “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. prophesied that ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ To our great dismay, that was not to be in the case of Djamel Ameziane.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights has led the legal battle over Guantánamo for the last 11 years – representing clients in two Supreme Court cases and organizing and coordinating hundreds of pro bono lawyers across the country, ensuring that nearly all the men detained at Guantánamo have had the option of legal representation. Among other Guantánamo cases, the Center represents the families of men who died at Guantánamo, and men who have been released and are seeking justice in international courts. In addition, CCR has been working through diplomatic channels to resettle men who remain at Guantánamo because they cannot return to their country of origin for fear of persecution and torture.