On October 29, 2010, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (“Commission”) heard a heated petition brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights (“CCR”) and the Center for Justice and International Law (“CEJIL”) on behalf of Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian national who has been held in Guantanamo Bay since 2002. The United States was represented by several high ranking officials including the Principal Director in the Office of Detainee Policy, Department of Defense, and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Policy, among others. The Commissioners present to hear the case were Vice-Chair Felipe González Morales, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, María Silvia Guillén, and Rodrigo Escobar Gil.
Mr. Ameziane is a member of the ethnic Berber minority in the northern province of Kabyle in Algeria, and Berbers have historically suffered from discrimination in that state. He left his native Algeria in 1995 to move to Canada because of the large French-speaking population and because he believed Canada’s immigration laws would allow him to seek asylum. After five years of petitioning for asylum, his request was rejected by Canadian authorities in 2000. Afterwards, Mr. Ameziane went to Afghanistan because he believed he would not face discrimination as a Muslim and because he did not think he would be forcibly returned to Algeria. After the conflict began in Afghanistan in 2001, he tried to flee the state by crossing the border to Pakistan where he was subsequently captured by the local police. There are reports that the local Pakistani police sold Mr. Ameziane to United States officials for a bounty.
The petitioners allege Mr. Ameziane has been held in detention in Guantanamo Bay since 2002 for suspected terrorist activities in the wake of September 11th. However, the United States government has failed to charge him with a crime even though he remains in detention. While in detention, he was allegedly tortured and subjected to other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in violation of Article I (right to life, liberty and personal security) of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (American Declaration). The petitioners further allege his treatment in Guantanamo Bay amounts to the arbitrary deprivation of liberty, denial of due process, and the denial of the right to prompt judicial review also in violation of Articles XXV, XVIII, and XXVI of the American Declaration. This hearing comes after a previous petition before the Commission on behalf of Mr. Ameziane in 2008 that established precautionary measures for him not to be subjected to torture and called for the United States to take all necessary measures to ensure his release.
Lawyers for CEJIL and the CCR requested the Commission take steps to have Mr. Ameziane released to a third-party state because, as a member of the ethnic Berber minority, he is especially concerned that he will be recruited by various warring factions in the regions and be subjected to torture. Viviana Krsticevic, Executive Director for CEJIL, stated “[w]e encourage the IACHR to facilitate dialogue between the US government and the other member states of the Organization of American States to find a safe resettlement option for Mr. Ameziane.” Representatives for the United States echoed this request. Annette Martinez, on behalf of CEJIL, also asked the Commission combine the admissibility and merits phase of the complaint.
In response to the petitioners’ complaints, representatives for the United States articulated the Obama administration’s commitment to closing Guantanamo Bay, but stressed it would take time. Anthony Ritchie, the Deputy of the Special Envoy to Close Guantanamo Bay, responded that the United States complies with the Convention Against Torture and does not return detainees to states “more likely than not” to engage in torture or other inhuman treatment. Representatives for the United States also went into great detail about the improved conditions in Guantanamo Bay since 2008, even going so far as to mention the excellent medical facilities as well as what the prisoners’ top reading choices were – the Harry Potter novels. However, Wells Dixon, Senior Attorney at CCR, aptly responded “[b]etter conditions of confinement are not an adequate substitute for freedom or due process.”
Despite the allegedly improved conditions at Guantanamo Bay, Commissioners Pinheiro and González remained especially concerned with the practical application of habeas proceedings in the United States and shared their doubts as to its efficacy. This hearing, which was among the most heated and well-attended hearings of the week, shows the continued trouble plaguing the United States and its treatment of those detainees remaining in Guantanamo Bay. The most stressed point brought by the petitioners was asking the Commission to become involved with Mr. Ameziane’s relocation, possibly to a Latin American state. What a ruling or request placed by the Commission could mean for the remaining 174 persons still held in Guantanamo Bay remains to be seen.