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Six detainees would rather stay at Guantanamo Bay than be returned to Algeria
The government, acting on the belief that Naji recently changed his mind, had planned to fly him home. If officials go ahead, it would be the first involuntary transfer out of Guantanamo Bay by the Obama administration.
The Bush administration involuntarily transferred detainees to Libya and Tunisia, but they were mistreated after they returned home, according to human rights groups. Transfers to both countries were subsequently stopped.
Lawyers for the six cleared Algerians said their clients live in fear of being forcibly repatriated.
"These men would rather stay in Guantanamo for the rest of their lives than go to Algeria. That speaks volumes," said David Remes, an attorney for detainee Ahmed Belbacha, who was sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison by an Algerian court last year for alleged association with an illegal armed group. "They are terrified to go, but this administration is willing to march them off a cliff."
Human Rights Watch said that the detainees sent home earlier were not perceived as particularly threatening by Algeria because of their age or health, and that the risk of torture is greater for remaining detainees.
"The U.S. has a legal obligation not to send people to countries where they could be tortured," said Stacy Sullivan of Human Rights Watch.
But an administration official said the arguments of the lawyers and human rights activists are "very abstract and unconvincing." The official did say they will consider whether Belbacha, 40, should be resettled in a third country because of the conviction in absentia.
The official also acknowledged that there is another, practical reason to send the Algerians home. Of the approximately 22 detainees remaining at Guantanamo Bay that the administration wants to resettle in third countries, it has pledges for about half of them, according to the official.
Remes countered that there is no rush.
"What's the government's hurry?" he said. "Guantanamo isn't closing anytime soon, and these men are willing to wait there even if they are last in line to get out."