The Algerian Six are six Bosnian men (five of them citizens with dual nationality), all born in Algeria, who had been imprisoned without charges at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba since January 2002. Following the United States Supreme Court decision in Boumediene v. Bush (2008) that detainees and foreign nationals had rights to file for habeas corpus in federal courts, a US District Court judge ordered five of the Bosnians to be released based on insufficient evidence following his review of their cases.
Finally in 2009 the US released the men. Three were flown to Bosnia to reunite in 'protective custody' with their families. Boumediene had to wait until 2009 to find a refuge in France, as the US refused to let him return to Bosnia and he feared returning to Algeria. He has been joined in France by his wife and children.
District Judge Leon recommended the continued detention of Belkacem, but his attorneys appealed his case. In 2010, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals overturned Leon's decision. They determined that Belkacem was not a member of al Qaeda and should be released. The Justice Department has not yet responded to this decision, and Belkacem continues to be detained at Guantanamo.
After the men fell under U.S. suspicion, the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina picked them up in 2001 and tried them, but released them for lack of evidence. They were illegally turned over to US intelligence officials in January 2002 in Sarajevo and transported to Guantanamo. They had been detained there without charges by the US for the years since. The Bosnian authorities were formally condemned for their actions by the Human Rights Chamber of Bosnia Herzegovina, the relevant Bosnian court at the time.
In late 2004, the six men were sent before Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) of three United States military officers. The CSRTs concluded that each of the six men was properly classified as an "enemy combatant" based on classified evidence. But, the CSRTs were criticized for applying a definition of "enemy combatant" that was so broad that the government admitted it could include a "little old lady in Switzerland," who donated money to a charity in Afghanistan that then, without her knowledge, funded al Qaeda. (See Transcript of Motion to Dismiss before United States District Court Judge Joyce Hens Green at pp. 25–26 (December 1, 2004) Rasul v. Bush, Docket No. 02-02999; see also press coverage, for example, Neil A. Lewis, "Fate of Guantanamo Detainees Is debated in Federal Court," NY Times (Dec. 2, 2004), available for download at ).
Wolfgang Petritsch, a UN diplomat and former High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina, said the US threatened the UN to withdraw their men from the mission at the time if he protested against the transfer of the Six out of Bosnia.
The six men are:
|Sabir Mahfouz Lahmar||
|Mustafa Ait Idr |
The U.S. Government alleged that the six native Algerian men living in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina were associated with Abu Zubaydah and a plan to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo. The United States chargé d'affaires reportedly told the prime minister of Bosnia that the U.S. would withdraw its personnel and cut diplomatic relations if Bosnia did not arrest and investigate the Algerian Six. The Algerian Six were arrested by Bosnian authorities within the week, were investigated fully, and tried for the alleged plot to bomb the U.S. and British embassies in Sarajevo. The Supreme Court of Bosnia released all six men for lack of evidence against them.
The Human Rights Chamber of the Bosnian Judiciary explicitly ruled that the government must take all steps to prevent forcible deportation of the men. But, upon leaving the courthouse, the six were apprehended by U.S. officials and transported overseas to its Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba. Wolfgang Petritsch, the international community’s top official in Bosnia at the time, recalls being told by Bosnian leaders that the U.S. applied a lot of pressure on Bosnia to be allowed to take the Algerian Six to Guantanamo. Petritsch said that the US officials had told him they would remove their support for an international mission he was leading if Bosnia did not comply with their request. Amnesty International recalled in 2002 that the Bosnian Supreme Court explicitly opposed this transfer of the men to US authorities.
They wrote about the Bosnians:
"By Bosnians we mean six Algerians who were unlawfully taken from Bosnia to Guantanamo Bay. They told us how they had won their Court case in Bosnia. As they walked out of Court, Americans were there and grabbed them and took them to Camp X-Ray, January 20, 2002. They arrived five days after us. 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. They had dual nationality. They had families in Bosnia as well as in Algeria."
Since the capture of the six men by the United States, the Bosnian government has argued for their release from Guantanamo Bay. CSRT hearings were held in 2004. But, Associated Press library of Guantanamo Bay detainee dossiers show transcripts of four of the six men telling their tribunal officers that interrogators did not believe that there had ever been any substance to the U.S. allegations that they had planned to bomb the U.S. embassy. Clive Stafford Smith, legal director of the organization Reprieve, which represents numerous detainees, wrote in The Guardian, that the CSRTs applied such a broad definition of "enemy combatant" that it could include a "little old lady in Switzerland," who donated money to a charity in Afghanistan that then, without her knowledge, funded al Qaeda. (See Transcript of Motion to Dismiss before United States District Court Judge Joyce Hens Green at pp. 25–26 (December 1, 2004) Rasul v. Bush, Docket No. 02-02999; see also press coverage, for example, Neil A. Lewis, "Fate of Guantanamo Detainees Is debated in Federal Court," NY Times (Dec. 2, 2004), available for download at ).
Since July 2004, the firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr has had a team working with the Center for Constitutional Rights in their suit against the federal government on behalf of the Algerian Six. In 2007, the team of Melissa Hoffer, Stephen Oleskey, Rob Kirsch, Mark C. Fleming, Lynne Campbell Soutter, Jeffrey Gleason, Lauren Brunswick, and Allyson Portney traveled to Guantanamo to offer further services to the Bosnians. Hoffer delivered a speech about their case at the 17th Concours International de Plaidoiries. She said that during her interviews, the Bosnians described having suffered horrific abuse at Guantanamo.
USA drops allegation of bomb plot
In 2006, the Washington Post published a profile of the six Bosnians. The profile reported that during their Administrative Review Board hearings, the US officials dropped the earlier allegation that they had been plotting to bomb the US embassy in Sarajevo. The article reports the speculation that the men continued to be held because the Bush administration was unwilling to admit it had held them for four years without substantial evidence.
According to the Washington Post, Guantanamo intelligence analysts said they continued to detain the men because of intelligence including the following:
- Mustafa Idr had taught karate to Bosnian orphans.
- Another detainee, while still living in Algeria and performing compulsory military service, had served as an army cook.
- "Boudella was accused ... of joining bin Laden and Taliban fighters at Tora Bora, Afghanistan,... in December 2001." The Washington Post noted that, at the time, Boudella was already locked up thousands of miles away in Sarajevo, after having been arrested in the later-discredited embassy plot.
- Boudella wore a ring "similar to those that identified the Red Rose Group members of Hamas." Boudella's wife obtained an affidavit from the jeweler where the ring was purchased, explaining that this style of ring is extremely popular in Bosnia.
The Washington Post reports Bush administration negotiators trying to secure face-saving deals with Bosnia and Algeria. According to the article:
- "U.S. officials have pressed Algeria to take back the prisoners on the condition that they be confined or kept under surveillance there. So far, the Algerian government has balked."
- "Senior Bosnian officials said they have been told by U.S. diplomats that the six Algerians will never be allowed to return to Bosnia, which had granted dual citizenship to most of the men before their seizure."
- The Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzić requested the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to arrange the return of the men in a letter dated February 2, 2005.
- On March 17, 2005 Rice responded the men could not be freed because "they still possess important intelligence data." Rice said they still represented a threat to the USA.
- "Three months later, the State Department offered a somewhat different explanation.., Matthew A. Reynolds, acting assistant secretary for legislative affairs, explained that the Algerians could not be released in part because the Bosnian government 'has not indicated that it is prepared or willing to accept responsibility for them upon transfer'."
- "Justice Minister Slobodan Kovač said there would be no legal basis to place the men under arrest or surveillance if they were returned to Bosnia because they have already been exonerated there. 'There is no case against them here in Bosnia, no criminal case,' he said."
- "There was no mistake in originally detaining these individuals as enemy combatants. Their detention was directly related to their combat activities as determined by an appropriate Defense Department official before they were ever transferred to Guantanamo."
Boumediene v. Bush (2008)
In October 2008, the US Supreme Court in Boumediene v. Bush (2008) (under which Al Odah v. United States was consolidated), ruled that the detainees and other foreign nationals had the right to file habeas corpus suits in federal courts and were covered by habeas protections of the US constitution.
Following that decision, Judge Richard J. Leon of the Federal District Court in Washington DC ruled that the government had not provided sufficient evidence for detention and that all of the men except Bensayah Belkacem should be released. Leon ordered the release of five of the Algerian-Bosnians held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the continued detention of Belkacem, the sixth.
The Court ruled:
"To allow enemy combatancy to rest on so thin a reed would be inconsistent with this court's obligation; the court must and will grant their petitions and order their release. This is a unique case. Few if any others will be factually like it. Nobody should be lulled into a false sense that all of the ... cases will look like this one."
Three of the six men were released and flown to Bosnia, leaving three in Guantanamo. In 2009 Boumediene was accepted by France and Nechle went to Algeria. They have been joined by wives and children. Belkacem is still detained as his case is under appeal.
- Clive Stafford Smith (April 21, 2007). "Have you received your gift pack?". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-04-22.
- Marc Perelman, Sarajevo-Guantanamo: témoins à charge contre Washington, Rue 89, 27 November 2007 (French)
- dossier (.pdf) from Boudella el Hajj's Combatant Status Review Tribunal
- Marjorie Cohn (February 27, 2007). "Why Boumediene Was Wrongly Decided". The Jurist. Archived from the original on 28 May 2007. Retrieved April 16, 2007.
- dossier (.pdf) from Sabir Mahfouz Lahmar's Combatant Status Review Tribunal
- "Guantanamo detainee is alleging he was brutalized: Suit to seek data about 6 Algerians", Boston Globe, April 13, 2005
- dossier (.pdf) from Mustafa Aid Idir's Combatant Status Review Tribunal
- dossier (.pdf) from Mohammed Nechle's Combatant Status Review Tribunal
- Craig Whitlock (2006-08-21). "At Guantanamo, Caught in a Legal Trap". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-05-16.
- Marc Perelman (2007-12-04). "From Sarajevo to Guantanamo: The Strange Case of the Algerian Six". Mother Jones magazine. Archived from the original on 28 May 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-16.
- "Bosnia-Herzegovina: Letter to the US Ambassador regarding six Algerian men", Amnesty International, Public statement: 18 January 2002, AI Index EUR 63/003/2002 - News Service Nr. 11
- Stephen Olesky's bio at WilmerHale
- Rob Kirsch's bio at WilmerHale
- Mark C. Fleming at WilmerHale
- Lynne Campbell Soutter at WilmerHale
- "Lauren Brunswick bio". WilmerHale. Retrieved June 23, 2007.
- "Torture in Guantánamo", cageprisoners, April 20, 2006
- events 17th Concours International de Plaidoiries - Video of Melissa Hoffer's speech (.wmv)
- "At Guantanamo, Caught in a Legal Trap: 6 Algerians Languish Despite Foreign Rulings, Dropped Charges", Washington Post, August 21, 2006
- William Glaberson (2008-11-20). "Judge Declares Five Detainees Held Illegally". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-16.
- Judge Leon's order
- Judge orders release of 5 terror suspects at Gitmo mirror
- "Judge Declares Five Detainees Held Illegally", New York Times, 21 November 2008
- "US judge orders Algerians freed", BBC News
- "Documents allege Bosnian Algerians committed not to sue the U.S.". El Khabar. 2009-03-04. Retrieved 2009-03-03. "The U.S. has handed over to the Bosnian Government documents alleging that Bosnian-Algerians recently freed from Guantanamo detention camp have signed commitments depriving them from the right to sue in justice U.S. and Bosnian officials, responsible for their “abduction” in Sarajevo, seven years ago, spokesman of Bosnian Al-Ansar Association, Ayman Awad told El Khabar." mirror
- Dr. Seema Jilani, "Algerians, freed from Guantanamo, still paying the price", McClatchy News, 9 September 2009, accessed 2 January 2013
- Seema Jilani, "Algerians, freed from Guantanamo, still paying the price", McClatchy News, 9 September 2009
- (dead link) Bosnia: Algerian Trial Jeopardised, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, December 7, 2001
- Robert Fisk (2008-10-31). "Scandal of six held in Guantanamo even after Bush plot claim is dropped". The Independent. Archived from the original on 5 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-01.