August 6, 2008, Washington D.C. – Today, 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.
Said Mr. Ameziane’s brother, “Since Djamel has been at Guantanamo Bay, his whole family has been living a nightmare. Our mother, who hasn't seen him in 18 years, is very sick and hopes to see him before she dies; that hope is the one thing that has kept her alive since our father died. Our father also hoped to hold Djamel in his arms before he left us, but he didn't have the chance, and he departed with this dream unfulfilled. As for Djamel, he was devastated when he learned the sad news that the father who loved him so much passed away. The whole family anxiously awaits Djamel's return to us.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) have filed the petition on Mr. Ameziane’s behalf. 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.
Said CCR attorney Pardiss Kebriaei, “While the Supreme Court’s decision in Boumediene restores Mr. Ameziane’s right to habeas, the fact remains that he is still sitting in his cell in Guantánamo without charge, deprived of any semblance of meaningful review of his detention for over six years, and with no remedy under U.S. law for his torture and other violations. There must be a public accounting for all that Mr. Ameziane has suffered at the hands of the U.S. government. Appealing to this international body is a way to push for such an accounting.”
Among the 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, its recommendations to the government for relief to the victims 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.
Said CEJIL attorney Michael Camilleri, “Guantánamo Bay has become a global symbol of impunity and inhumanity. Now an international body will have the opportunity to demand that the United States hold accountable those responsible for Mr. Ameziane’s torture and abuse.”
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 sold to U.S. military forces for a bounty.
The U.S. military transported him first to the Airbase at Kandahar, Afghanistan and then to Guantánamo in February 2002, where, after more than six years, he remains imprisoned without charge and without judicial review of his detention to date.
For the past year, Mr. Ameziane has been held in solitary confinement in a small windowless cell in Camp 6. U.S. personnel have subjected him repeatedly to brutal acts of physical violence. 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.”
Another time, his entire body was sprayed with cayenne pepper and then hosed down with water to simulate 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 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; as well as the right to judicial remedy for 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, a state with a known record of human rights abuse.
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.
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.