After more than 7 years, Lakhdar Boumediene was released from Guantanamo on May 15, 2009.
He had worked in Sarajevo for a humanitarian organization when he was picked up by the Bosnians in October of 2001. The US had told the Bosnians that he and five other Algerians were planning to bomb the US embassy. Bosnians said that U.S. officials exerted heavy pressure to round up suspects, threatening to withdraw U.S. peacekeeping troops if Bosnian officials didn’t act. After 3 months of investigations, the Bosnian supreme court said there was no evidence of any bombing and ordered their release. The six were picked up by US personel and transferred to Guantanamo.
In late 2004, the six men were sent before Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) of three military officers. The CSRTs concluded that the six men were properly classified as “enemy combatants” based on classified evidence, which justified their contineud detention at Guantanamo. In 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008, US military tribunals declared that Boumediene and the other five men were still a threat and needed to be kept as prisoners.
Three British prisoners at Guantanamo described how the Algerians were treated:
They were treated particularly badly. They were moved every two hours. They were kept naked in their cells. They were taken to interrogation for hours on end. They were short shackled for sometimes days on end. They were deprived of their sleep. They never got letters, nor books, nor reading materials. The Bosnians had the same interrogators for a while as we did and so we knew the names which were the same as ours and they were given a very hard time by those. They told us that the interrogators said if they didn’t cooperate that they could ensure that something would happen to their families in Algeria and in Bosnia.
In 2006, The Washington Post wrote an article about the Algerian Six, stating that the original allegations about the embassy attack have been discredited and dropped but that the men were still being held. U.S. officials have pressed Algeria to take back the prisoners on the condition that they be confined or kept under surveillance there. The Post reports that the Pentagon knows the men are not guilty but is unwilling to let them go free because that would be an acknowledgment of a grave error.
At one point, the US military accused one of the Algerian Six of assisting Bin Ladin in Tora Bora in December of 2001. But he was being held by the Bosnian police at the time. Later, the US accused him of having ties to Hamas because of the ring he wore. But it was an anniversy ring common to Bosnian muslims.
The Defense Department declined to answer specific questions about the case, saying that some evidence against the men remains classified.
In 2005, when Bosnia asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to have the six men returned to Bosnia, Rice replied that it was not possible to free the six Algerians because “they still possess important intelligence data” and pose a threat to the security of the United States.
What is important to note here is how much the US government used the “We have evidence to prove their guilt, but we can’t show you because it’s classified, so you’ll just have to trust us” approach to justify keeping these six innocent men in prison for over 7 years. What’s important to note is that the military “tribunals” that were claimed to be superior to civilian courts year after year declared these men to be a threat and insisted on their continued imprisonment. What’s important to note just how much of a nightmare the US created simply becaues bureaucrats and military personel were willing to imprison innocent men simply to cover their own asses.
And why this is important to note is because Obama is using the exact same excuses today to justify keeping people imprisoned in Guantanamo. We cannot convict these men in any court of law that has any requirement for real evidence, so Obama tells us we must create a different kind of system that doesn’t need evidence to keep human beings imprisoned indefinitely. Trust us, Obama says, this is a different kind of extra-judicial process. Trust us, Obama says, we won’t imprison anyone who is innocent. And yet, these exact same excuses were used to justify torturing hundreds of innocent people at Guantanamo for years and years.
Boumediene says he wants to sue Bush and the others in the US government who made sure he stayed imprisoned in Guantanamo. Whether Obama has the courage to let the truth of Boumediene’s tale be known has yet to be seen. Whether Obama has the courage to the level of transparancy that would be needed to allow Boumediene to get justice in a court of law remains to be seen as well. When Obama says that now is the time to look forward, not back, he’s asking you to ignore Boumediene. He’s asking you to pretend that the US didn’t wrongly imprison and torture Boumediene for the last 7 years.