Cleared Guantánamo detainee Ahmed Belbacha returns to Algeria

March 13, 2014

Image of detainees in Guantanamo bay

Legal charity Reprieve today welcomes the news that its client, Ahmed Belbacha has returned to Algeria after more than a decade of detention without charge in Guantánamo Bay.

The transfer is in accordance with his and his family’s wishes, and marks the end of a dreadful 12 years for Mr Belbacha – who has been cleared for release by both the Bush and Obama administrations.

Since 2002, when he was seized by the Pakistani authorities and handed over to the CIA, Mr Belbacha has faced violent interrogation, physical abuse and incommunicado detention at the hands of the US authorities. He was unable to say goodbye to his grandmother, who died whilst he was detained.

In the 12 years of his detention, he was never charged or tried for any crime, and in-depth reviews of his case carried out by the Bush and Obama administrations both concluded that Ahmed was not dangerous and knew nothing about terrorism.

Reprieve – whose lawyers have represented Ahmed for many years in Guantánamo – expects that the efforts so far made by the Algerian authorities to end this injustice will now continue, so that Ahmed can return to his family as soon as possible. His parents have been deeply worried and confused by the continued detention of their son, and Ahmed has repeatedly told his lawyers that his main concern is now to get home and help his brothers to look after them.

Reprieve’s lawyers have met with representatives of the Algerian government, and have been assured that Ahmed will be treated fairly and humanely on his return to the country.

Ahmed is a proud Algerian, with no previous criminal record, who has always enjoyed speaking to his lawyers about life back home. He worked as an accountant for the national oil company, Sonatrach, and played their al-Mawloudiyyah football team; as well as undertaking national service in the Algerian army. But like so many Algerians, his life was dramatically changed by the events of the civil war, when his army service and role at Sonatrach brought him to the attention of local militant Islamic groups. Following threats from them against him and his family, Ahmed fled the country to seek asylum in Britain – little imagining that this was the start of a journey that would end up, 16 years later, still fighting for his life in a legal black hole in Cuba.

Ahmed now needs to be returned to the safety and security of his home, as soon as possible, so that he can start to recover from the dreadful experience of the last 12 years in prison.

Polly Rossdale from the Guantanamo team at Reprieve, said of Ahmed’s repatriation: “Ahmed’s last 12 years show how dangerous it is for us all if the time-tested procedures of open justice are disregarded. The US Government was happy to arrest and detain Ahmed for over a decade, without ever giving him a chance to answer their unfounded accusations. We applaud the efforts now being made – however late they come – to right some small portion of this wrong, and get prisoners home who should never have been forced to endure such a nightmare in the first instance.”