MIAMI — Two men who had been held without charge at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for more than a decade have been sent back to their native Algeria against their will as part of a renewed effort to gradually close the U.S. prison, officials said Thursday.
Djamel Saiid Ali Ameziane and Belkecem Bensayah had resisted being returned to Algeria because of fears that they might face persecution and further imprisonment, according to their U.S. attorneys, who had urged the Obama administration to send the two elsewhere.
Both the 46-year-old Ameziane, who was captured in Pakistan, and Bensayah, a 51-year-old captured in Bosnia, fled Algeria during the country’s civil war in the 1990s. They had been held at Guantanamo since 2002 on suspicion of having links to terrorism, but neither was charged.
Algerian state television said upon their return that the men were in custody and would appear in court there but did not say what charges, if any, they would face or when. In the past, most of the Guantanamo prisoners released in the North African country have been questioned by a judge and then set free.
J. Wells Dixon, an attorney for Ameziane, said the decision to send his client to Algeria showed a “callous disregard for his human rights” because he had a credible fear of persecution. U.S. officials rejected the claim.
“Given that the U.S. government well knows that Djamel could have, like dozens of detainees before him, been resettled in a safe, alternate country, it is particularly outrageous that the U.S. would forcibly return him to a risk of harm in Algeria,” said Dixon, a lawyer with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights.
Rob Kirsch, an attorney for Bensayah, also had urged the State Department to resettle his client in another country. The lawyer said he would help his client reintegrate into Algerian society and rebuild his life with a family he has not seen since 2002.
“After 12 years of detention without charge, this is a sad day for Mr. Bensayah,” Kirsch said. “Certainly, he will make the best of it.”
Over the years, the United States has repatriated 14 prisoners from Guantanamo to Algeria, including two this year. Of the total, two were convicted of involvement with a foreign terrorist organization and one remains in prison, according to the State Department.
The two releases bring the Guantanamo Bay prison population to 162.