Last week, I wrote about the plight of Abdul Aziz Naji, an Algerian, held in Guantánamo for eight years, who had been cleared for release from Guantánamo by the US authorities, but was repatriated against his will in July 2010. Three weeks ago, Naji, who is also an amputee, and in ill health, was sentenced to three years in jail at what can only be described as a show trial. He was convicted for "past membership in an extremist group overseas," but afterwards the London-based legal action charity Reprieve and the NGO Cageprisoners both complained about the conduct of the trial and its outcome (and Cageprisoners made details available of how concerned readers can contact the Algerian government to request his release).
Now, further details have emerged in an article on Al-Arabiya’s English language site, in which reporter Eman El-Shenawi spoke to Ellen Lubell, one of his US attorneys (along with Doris Tennant), who explained, "In our view, the accusations made against him were baseless and false, and could readily be proved." Lubell was appalled that, as Al-Arabiya put it, "Before [the] Algerian authorities handed down the guilty verdict, Naji was not permitted to speak at his court case."
The Al-Arabiya article ran through the story of how Naji arrived in US custody, explaining how, in 2002, he "traveled to Pakistan to work with a charity providing humanitarian assistance to Muslims and Christians in Kashmir," but after being "advised by acquaintances to visit an Algerian residing in the city of Peshawar to help find a wife, both he and his host were arrested during a raid by the Pakistani police."
The article also noted that, although the Pakistanis told Naji that they would release him, he was instead handed over — or sold — to US forces, and also explained that he was an amputee at the time of his capture, having lost his lower right leg "before his capture in Pakistan after stepping on one of the many unexploded landmines that lace the region." Following this accident, "He was taken to a hospital in Lahore where he was treated for several months and fit[ted] with a prosthetic leg."
As the article also noted, Naji "suffers from complications as a result of the loss of his leg," and his brother Okba, who also spoke to Al-Arabiya, explained that, in the prison where he is being held — the notorious El Harache prison in Algiers — "[h]is health is bad," and he "is stuck with a leg that does not fit him properly because it is too small."
Okba also explained that his brother was "now on a hunger strike in protest against his latest unfair treatment in Algeria." He told Al-Arabiya, "He is not eating because he is not happy with what happened."
He also spoke about the unfair trial, confirming that his brother "was not allowed to speak in court; the judge did not allow him," and added that he "was unable to attend the hearing in what was believed to have been a closed court session," and he also described the case against his brother as "100 percent lies," adding that the US authorities held him for more than eight years "with no evidence."
In further discussion with Al-Arabiya, Ellen Lubell explained that she and Doris Tennant had represented Naji since 2006. "We traveled to Guantánamo seven times and met with him in his cell," she said, adding, "He is someone we would have very happily had in our community — a very sweet man. We’d talk about our families, our upbringings. He went on hunger strike in Guantánamo too but had been protesting the treatment of fellow inmates … we came to have enormous care and respect for him — he was very strong in his conviction of right and wrong."
Lubell also explained why she and Tennant had filed a habeas corpus petition on Naji’s behalf. "We wanted to bring habeas corpus action … because you cannot simply jail someone without having evidence or a reason for his imprisonment," she said. Explaining that she was unable to "go into too much detail due to the classified nature of the case," she nevertheless explained that Naji was not held because of any formal charges, but only because of "accusations made against him," which, as my own investigations into the US military’s files have revealed (through my work with WikiLeaks), is fundamentally unreliable, as the files consist largely of uncorroborated allegations made by a number of thoroughly unreliable witnesses — and Naji’s file is no exception.
In Naji’s case, however, his habeas action was halted after the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, established by President Obama to review all the prisoners’ cases, approved Naji for repatriation. As Ellen Lubell described it, his habeas petition was stopped "on the grounds that the Obama Task Force decision to transfer Guantánamo detainees makes any further action by the courts unnecessary."
Even so, Lubell and Tennant had to fight — unsuccessfully — to prevent Naji’s forcible repatriation. "We told the Supreme Court not to send him back to Algeria because Naji was afraid that he’d become the object of terrorist recruitment or government mistreatment," Lubell explained. Disturbingly, the Obama administration persisted with his repatriation, and the Supreme Court did nothing to prevent it, even though, in 2008, Lubell had applied for Naji to seek asylum in Switzerland, and that case was still pending when he was forcibly repatriated. "We had hope," Lubell said, recalling the events of the time, "but the Supreme Court was divided and we lost our case for asylum and he was forced back to Algeria."
In conclusion, Al-Arabiya noted that Lubell and Naji’s brother Okba are appalled that, although the process of repatriating former prisoners involves diplomatic assurances that they will not be ill-treated, there is no way of guaranteeing that those assurances will be fulfilled. As Lubell explained, "there is no way to enforce a diplomatic assurance. [When repatriated,] people are thrown into prison; people are tortured. We try to argue that such assurances are not followed through, as with Naji’s case." She added, "The United States doesn’t care — there’s no compensation, there’s nothing."
Naji’s brother Okba explained that he had hoped that the Algerian authorities would have "stood by him and protected him after his unfair detainment" in Guantánamo, but, instead, "what happened to his brother in Algeria was the polar opposite."
As was noted last week, Naji’s lawyer in Algeria has appealed his sentence, requesting that he be released on bail pending a retrial, and Al-Arabiya repated a quote from Katie Taylor of Reprieve’s "Life After Guantánamo" project, which has also been following his case, ho insisted that the Algerian authorities "must restore his right to a fair trial and overturn his conviction on faulty charges for which the prosecutor did not even bother to introduce evidence."
They must indeed, or otherwise there will be no justification for the Obama administration to try to claim, as it did when Naji was first repatriated, that its diplomatic assurances are even vaguely credible.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, "The Complete Guantánamo Files," a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, "Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo" (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new "Close Guantánamo campaign," and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.