Two Algerian detainees at the US prison camp in Guantanamo Bay have been repatriated, the Defense Department said Thursday, despite protest from the prisoners who feared persecution.
“The Department of Defense announced on December 5 the transfer of Djamel Saiid Ali Ameziane and Bensayah Belkecem from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to the Government of Algeria,” after a review “which examined a number of factors, including security issues,” a statement said.
“The United States coordinated with the Government of Algeria to ensure these transfers took place with appropriate security and humane treatment assurances,” it added.
The transfers are part of President Barack Obama’s ongoing, but much delayed, efforts to meet his vow to shutter the US detention center in Cuba, where more than 160 “war on terror” suspects still linger nearly 12 years after it was opened.
But Bensayah and Ameziane were fighting the transfer to Algeria, the only country authorized by US law to accept its nationals detained at Guantanamo, according to lawyer Robert Kirsch, who represents Bensayah.
Ameziane, who lived in Austria and Canada, had asked to return to America’s northern neighbor since president George W. Bush’s administration cleared him for release in 2007.
“Djamel fears persecution in Algeria and does not want to return there,” his lawyer, Wells Dixon told AFP via e-mail last week. “He would like to be resettled in Europe or Canada, where he has viable resettlement opportunities.”
Bensayah was demanding to be returned to Bosnia, where he was arrested in 2002 and where his wife and daughters live.
“He fears for his personal safety,” Bensayah’s attorney had written to the State Department.
“Mr Bensayah believes Muslim extremists will expect him to sympathize with them, only because he was held at Guantanamo. He fears that they will attack or perhaps kill him when they learn he does not support them.”
The Pentagon told AFP last week: “We carefully ensure that every transfer we carry out is consistent with the US government’s humane treatment policy and standards.”
“The United States takes seriously all credible claims of mistreatment and fears of persecution and carefully evaluates them in advance of any decision to transfer a detainee,” spokesman Todd Breasseale had said