For the first time, the US has released Guanánamo Bay detainees in response to a court order, sending three Algerian-born prisoners to their adopted homeland of Bosnia Dec. 16. The three are among five Algerians ordered released last month by a federal judge who ruled that the Bush administration had failed to support its claim that they planned to travel to Afghanistan to fight US forces in 2001.
The three—Mustafa Ait Idir, Mohamed Nechla and Hadj Boudella—landed in Sarajevo, where they were taken into protective custody. One of their attorneys, Stephen Oleskey, said, “We’re sure they will all soon be released to their families because there’s no basis to hold them.” Oleskey said. Bosnia’s State Investigation and Protection Agency concurred that it would question them, check their identity and release them. Dozens of friends and relatives waited at the Sarajevo airport for their arrival.
The three men appear to have been released because they have Bosnian citizenship. There is no word on the other two ordered released by the court, Lakhdar Boumediene and Saber Lahmar. Boumediene was stripped of his Bosnian citizenship in 2006. Although the Supreme Court case giving federal district courts authority to review habeas corpus petitions by detainees bears his name, he remains at Guantánamo—and on hunger strike. Lahmar never held Bosnian citizenship, although he is married to a Bosnian woman and has two Bosnian children.
Oleskey, who warns that Boumediene is dangerously malnourished after his lengthy hunger strike, also protests that the men were flown to Sarajevo in shackles and hooded—despite being charged with no crime and ordered released by the US courts.
The men were among six arrested by Bosnian authorities in October 2001 and sent three months later to Guantánamo, where they were held as “unlawful enemy combatants” without being charged with a crime. President Bush said in 2002 that they had been planning an attack on the US embassy in Sarajevo. But the Justice Department dropped that accusation when the habeas corpus case went to court, arguing instead that the men had planned to go to Afghanistan to fight against US forces. Judge Richard Leon found that charge was based on only one unnamed source whose credibility could not be ascertained. He ordered five of the men released “forthwith,” but ruled that there was enough evidence to continue holding the sixth man, Belkacem Bensayah.
Oleskey said he hoped the government would promptly comply with the order to release the remaining two, and that the case against Bensayah was “quite thin as well.” President-elect Barack Obama has said he will close the Guantánamo camp, where some 245 men are still held. Some 520 other prisoners have been released or transferred from Guantánamo. (AP, Reuters, All Things Considered, Dec. 16)
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