MIAMI - Two men who had been held without charge at the Guantanamo Bay for more than a decade have been sent back to their native Algeria against their will as part of a renewed effort to gradually close the prison, officials said Thursday.
Both prisoners, Djamel Saiid Ali Ameziane and Belkecem Bensayah, had resisted being returned to Algeria because of fears they might face persecution and further imprisonment, according to their U.S. lawyers, who had urged Presiden Obama's administration to send them elsewhere.
Both Ameziane, 46, who was captured in Pakistan, and Bensayah, 51, who was captured in Bosnia, fled Algeria during the country's civil war in the 1990s. They had been held at Guantanamo since 2002 on suspicion of having links to terrorism but neither was charged by the United States.
Algerian state television said upon their return that the men were in custody and would appear in court there but did not say when or what charges, if any, they would face. In the past, most of the prisoners released in the North African country from Guantanamo have been questioned by a judge and then released
Wells Dixon, a lawyer for Ameziane, said the decision to send him to Algeria showed a "callous disregard for his human rights," since he had a credible fear of persecution, a claim that U.S. officials rejected.
"Given that the U.S. government well knows that Djamel could have, like dozens of detainees before him, been resettled in a safe, alternate country, it is particularly outrageous that the U.S. would forcibly return him to a risk of harm in Algeria," said Dixon, a lawyer with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights.
Rob Kirsch, a lawyer for Bensayah, also had urged the State Department to resettle him in another country out of fear he could face further imprisonment as was the case with a Guantanamo prisoner repatriated to Algeria in July 2010.
Over the years, the United States has repatriated 14 prisoners from Guantanamo to Algeria.