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US government releases Ahmed Belbacha from Guantánamo Bay

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A Guantánamo Bay detainee who is fighting a legal battle against US authorities over force-feeding at the detention centre has been released after being held for more than a decade without charge, the American government has announced.


Ahmed Belbacha was first cleared for release in 2007 by the Bush administration after five years behind bars. He has, however, had to wait a further seven years before being transferred to the custody of the government in his homeland Algeria.


His repatriation was welcomed by his legal representatives the human rights group Reprieve. "Ahmed's last 12 years show how dangerous it is for us all if the time-tested procedures of open justice are disregarded," said Polly Rossdale, deputy director of Reprieve's Guantánamo team. She added: "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."


Last month, Belbacha and his fellow litigants were cleared to challenge the force-feeding hunger striking detainees were being subjected to in a federal court. That followed his testimony last year that solitary confinement was used as a punishment for prisoners who made political statements, among other secret measures employed by the US military to break detainees' spirit.


Both the Bush and Obama administrations concluded that he was neither dangerous, nor knew anything about terrorism, according Reprieve. The US department of defense said that the release was carried out in accordance with an order from the President dating from 22 January 2009. In a statement, the Department of Defense said that the release followed a "comprehensive review", which took into account security issues.


Reprieve said that Belbacha was seized by Pakistani authorities in 2002 after spending time in Britain in hiding from militant Islamic groups in Algeria. The group said he was then handed over to the CIA and that he has since 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".



Reprieve said its 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". The US government confirmed that Guantánamo Bay now holds 154 detainees.



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Guest Saturday, 04 July 2020