Repatriation of Algerian detainees in Guantanamo: an american perspective


One of our American readers has sent me this piece which he wrote on the subject of the repatriation of Abdul Aziz Naji to Algeria after his detention in Guantanamo by the US under suspiscion of terrorism-linked activities. El Khabar has today published an article about Naji, where the latter recounts the horrors he has seen in Guantanamo and denounces it as a violation of human rights from the comfort of his home in Batna (click here for an English summary). Only last week, he was denouncing Algeria for its human rights abuses but this time from the discomfort of Guantanamo,  still, he stated that he’d rather stay in Guantanamo than be sent back to Algeria for fear of torture.

Below, I am reproducing Jake’s article as was sent to me and it would be interesting to have a discussion around this issue and in particular, from an Algerian perspective:

On July 24, the New York Times posted an editorial about the forced repatriation of Abdul Aziz Naji that condemns both the United States and Algeria in the handling of former detainees, but from my point of view, as a young American interested in Algerian society and in international human rights, the Times didn’t go far enough in criticizing both nations.

The decision to send Naji back to Algeria represents a fundamental change in the way the US has dealt with the repatriation of detainees. Until now, if there has been a legitimate concern about detainees’ safety upon returning home, the US government has worked in tandem with other national governments to find appropriate places of asylum.

But with the forced repatriation of Naji (and of Fahri Saeed bin Mohammed and other detainees), the Supreme Court and President Obama are sending out a clear message about America’s goals. Wanting to close the camp at Guantanamo Bay is a just goal, something for which Obama should be commended. It has been a blight on the international reputation of the US. But doing so without fully considering the weight of its outcomes, sweeping detainees under the rug, is damaging both for the US and for its relationship with the rest of the world.

Whether or not the US government wants to officially recognize it, human rights discrepancies in Algeria aren’t just hearsay: they are a serious problem documented by both governmental and non-governmental actors. It is not something to ignore, and it needs to be dealt with through the appropriate international diplomatic channels.

And while it’s striking to me that Algeria, even in implicitly sanctioning torture, is violating international law (like the UN Convention on Torture, which Algeria signed even before the US did), it’s even more shocking the role that torture and human rights abuses have played in Algeria’s recent history.

When I think of Algeria, I still think clearly about the War for Independence, a shining modern example of rising up against imperialism and embracing nationalistic self-determination. And, while it may be bootless to constantly refer back to the “golden days” of Algeria’s past as a model for its present, the victory against France served as a booming call against colonialism that still resonates today.

One of the most gruesome, unforgiveable elements of France’s colonial presence in Algeria, including during the war, was the level to which the colons dehumanized the Algerian population. From not extending voting rights, to restricting linguistic freedoms, to torturing innocent civilians, the French presence was able to completely disrobe Algerians of even their most basic human dignity. The human rights and civil liberties abuses were shameful, and Algeria’s victory in that brutal war was a cry out against the evils of colonialism, against the systematized hierarchies imposed by the Occident.

It pains me now to see similar unfair restrictions on individual rights and political liberties, especially when these restrictions manifest themselves in violence from state-sponsored or sub-national actors. To see restrictions on free speech (the banning of L’Express, Mariane, and Le Journal du Dimanche) and political participation (the banning of the FIS), when patriotic martyrs fought and died for those same rights, is disheartening. It is certain that not all of these outlets present opinions which are in line with the mainstream—whether the FLN or popular opinion—but they deserve the right to influence civil society and to participate in electoral activity.

That Naji was too afraid to return to Algeria is a chilling reality, and it is certainly not the independent Algeria for which revolutionaries fought. I may just be an idealistic American youth, hoping that the freedoms I take for granted can be enjoyed throughout the world, but I sincerely believe that the way for Algeria to move forward is by empowering its population rather than by letting the larger discourse be completely controlled by some omnipresent state cadre.

For better or for worse, both the violence of the revolution and the recent violence of AQIM have shown that Algerian individuals, like any other population, can be emboldened to enact change. When proper outlets for expression are closed off to the population at large—as they were in pre-revolutionary Algeria—it hurts all of us.

Jake Nelson

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One thought on “Repatriation of Algerian detainees in Guantanamo: an american perspective

  1. Thanks Jake for your contribution. You raise some interesting points on different aspects.

    On the detainees:
    I think a short reminder is needed here. The very first time the US officially mentioned the Algerian detainees (26 as far as I know) to the Algerian authorities was in 2005. Back then, Algerian officials kept saying that they cared for our nationals but they made no visible move towards releasing them. They did send visiting delegations though. Then in 2007, the US wanted to send some of them back to Algeria but requested that the Algerian authorities would guarantee these men wouldn’t threaten US interests, wouldn’t travel, etc. The Algerians refused so the US “convinced” some countries (such as Albania) to host these men. Here we see that Bush’s administration cared little about the detainees’ safety in Algeria. I bet nobody’s surprised.
    Then came Obama’s administration and after some effort, some Algerians were sent to France or the UK. And since the US didn’t want to host the remaining, the only solution was to send them back to Algeria (a US ally in their war on terror and not like written in the NYT “[…]governments that the United States considers hostile[…]”
    I don’t know exactly how many detainees are back in Algeria (6 or may be more). All but 2 wanted to stay in the US or to be sent to Europe because, they had said, they would be tortured in Algeria. So far and according to the Algerian press, the very same thing happened to all of them once back: they are detained by the Algerian police (some say kidnapped because families are usually not informed before days after the arrest; and the Algerian law says “Those suspected of terrorism or subversion may be held legally for 12 days without charge or access to counsel”), questioned, brought before the judge then released (probably briefed beforehand). I really don’t think any were tortured, not only because torture rate has decreased but because of the amnesty law. These men are now protected by the law if not convicted of a “blood” crime, and all the Guantanamo detainees fall in this category.
    The question is then why did they claim otherwise when they were still in jail. Is it because, like a number of regular Algerians, they would say anything in order to stay in the West? or is it because they truly believed they were at risk in Algeria? Is it because they were under US services influence? I can’t tell.
    And one last point, I would love to know what the countries got in exchange for hosting the Algerian detainees.

    On human rights in Algeria:
    Obviously HR, free speech, etc. have a long way to go before reaching acceptable levels, but things are not that bad. I have doubts on the reports we get from Amnesty and HRW. They use their networks in Algeria to build their figures, and I don’t trust these networks. We have many HR organisations, one governmental and the rest are NGOs but all of them provide figures to serve their own agendas. But again I am not denying the facts, we have a big improvement margin.
    The example you took of the French magazines is interesting. Banning them was stupid and useless because almost nobody reads them in Algeria. But I guess it’s part of the ruling system’s culture and getting rid of it looks tough.

    On the Algerian revolution’s ideals:
    Well what to say. Orwell’s Animal Farm seems to be the fate of all revolutions.

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