Guantanamo detainees transferred to 3 European countries

Saber Lahmar, a former legal resident of Bosnia, was transferred to France.
Saber Lahmar, a former legal resident of Bosnia, was transferred to France. (Handout - Handout)
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By Peter Finn and Julie Tate
Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Obama administration transferred four detainees from Guantanamo Bay to three European countries Monday, including an Algerian national who was part of a landmark Supreme Court case on the legal rights of those held at the naval base in Cuba, according to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Saber Lahmar, a former legal resident of Bosnia, was expected to land early Tuesday local time in France, which earlier this year also accepted Lakhdar Boumediene, an Algerian who was also first detained in Bosnia. Boumediene lent his name to the 2008 court decision in which Guantanamo inmates won the right to challenge their detention in federal court; Lahmar was also a plaintiff in that case.

Lahmar was the last of five Algerian Bosnian detainees in the case to be ordered released after a federal judge ruled last year that there was insufficient reason to hold the men and said they should be given their freedom "forthwith." Three others were returned to Bosnia, where they were naturalized citizens, but one, Mohamed Nechle, subsequently returned to Algeria.

"We are grateful for the courage and generosity of the French people and government, and for the ongoing effort by President Obama and Ambassador Fried, which will now give Mr. Lahmar a chance to rebuild his life in France," said Robert C. Kirsch, a lawyer at the firm of WilmerHale, which represented Lahmar in federal court. Daniel Fried is the administration's special envoy on detainee issues.

Also Monday, the administration transferred two Tunisians to Italy, where they are expected to face prosecution on terrorism charges, according to an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Adel Ben Mabrouk, 39, and Mohamed Ben Riadh Nasri, 43, were immediately taken into custody.

The administration also transferred a Palestinian detainee, whose name could not be confirmed, to Hungary.

There are now 211 detainees remaining at the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, where about 90 have been cleared for repatriation or resettlement in a third country. Seven European countries have now accepted detainees from Guantanamo Bay and more are expected to follow, according to U.S. and European officials.

The five Algerian-Bosnians were seized by U.S. troops in Sarajevo in early 2002, despite a local court ruling that there was insufficient evidence implicating them in a plot to blow up the U.S. Embassy in the Bosnian capital. Lahmar, who was working in Bosnia for a Saudi charity, was married to a Bosnian whose father was a janitor at the U.S. Embassy. His wife was pregnant at the time of his detention and he has never seen his daughter. Both remain in Bosnia.

Last year, the Justice Department withdrew the allegation that the men were involved in a bombing conspiracy, but continued to insist that they planned to travel to Afghanistan to attack U.S. forces. In November 2008, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said the evidence against the men came from one unnamed source in a classified document, and he urged the government to "end this process."

Leon, however, upheld the continued detention of a sixth Algerian and former Bosnian citizen, Belkacem Bensayah. U.S. officials said Bensayah had regular contact with senior military aides to Osama bin Laden and logged dozens of phone calls to Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, and before his arrest by Bosnian authorities in 2001.

Bensayah has appealed Leon's decision.

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