At a Glance
The Periodic Review Board approved Barhoumi for transfer August 9, 2016. He filed an emergency motion for an order that would permit his transfer before President Obama's term expires, but the Obama administration decided to oppose it, and the court denied the motion as a result. Barhoumi was finally transferred home to Algeria on April 2, 2022.
Barhoumi v. Obama was a habeas corpus petition on behalf of Sufyian Barhoumi, an Algerian man in his early 40s who has been detained at Guantánamo since 2002. Barhoumi was born and raised in Algiers. As a young man he lived in various countries in Europe – Spain, France and England – as a farm worker and then a street merchant for about four years.
Barhoumi was charged by military commission three times, but each time the charges were dropped. In May 2016, his status was reviewed by President Obama's Periodic Review Board (PRB), which is tasked with determining whether detainees may be approved for transfer. On August 9, 2016, the Board approved Barhoumi for transfer.
All parties expected Barhoumi to be sent home to Algeria after his clearance, but unexplained problems with the transfer led to him being one of the five or so cleared men stranded at Guantánamo for the duration of the Trump administration. On January 13, 2017, we filed an emergency motion seeking to have the judge in his case issue and order that would have the effect of exempting him from Congressional restrictions on transfers that require the Defense Secretary to certify that it is safe to transfer the detainee to his home country and to give Congress 30 days' advance notice of the transfer. Since there were less than 30 days left in Obama's term, and Trump had stated that no one should be released from Guantanamo, such an order from the court – or agreement by the government that such an order should be issued – was the only way Barhoumi might be sent home in the foreseeable future. Judge Collyer issued an order demanding that the government show cause why the order we requested should not issue and ordering the government to make preparations for his transfer in the name of fairness in case she did issue such an order. The government responded by opposing our motion on a variety of technical grounds on January 17, and we filed a reply brief later that day. Among other things, the government's brief notes that the failure to send Barhoumi home was owing to factors "not related to petitioner himself," and that the government would not make preparations for his transfer despite the district court's order. Unfortunately, as a result of the government's opposiotion to transfer, the court declined to step in.
Barhoumi believes his chance connection to a man named Abu Zubaydah is the reason he was the subject of so much interest from the military and its prosecutors. Barhoumi was arrested on March 28, 2002, in a raid on a large house in Faisalabad, Pakistan. That raid led to the capture of Zubaydah, who was mistakenly regarded by the Bush administration as a senior figure in al-Qaeda and was the first victim of the torture program for so-called "high-value detainees." However, as a former Justice Department official told The Washington Post, he "was not ... an official member of al-Qaeda," and was, instead, "a "kind of travel agent" for would-be jihadists. Dan Coleman, head of the FBI's al-Qaeda group, described him as a "safehouse keeper" with severe mental problems and a proclivity for speaking on the phone that caused the actual al-Qaeda members to keep him at arm's length: "They all knew he was crazy, and they knew he was always on the damn phone. You think they're going to tell him anything?"
During Zubaydah's time in CIA detention, he was water-boarded 83 times and subjected to numerous other torture techniques, including forced nudity, sleep deprivation, and being sealed into small boxes. He lost his left eye during that time, adding to a litany of preexisting problems resulting from a head injury that left shrapnel in his brain, rendered him unable to speak for more than a year, and caused other brain damage including massive memory loss. Under torture Zubaydah falsely stated that dozens of other men held by the United States were involved in terrorism.
Barhoumi was finally transferred home to Algeria on April 2, 2022, after a first flight home in mid-March was forced to return to the base due to bad weather.