Does the Abuse and Humiliation Continue? Freed Guantanamo Detainees Claim Post-Obama Mistreatment

An Algerian man spent seven and a half years at the Guantanamo prison camp. He claims that abuse of detainees at the prison continues, despite President Obama's order forbidding any forms of torture.

By John Goetz and Britta Sandberg

Lakhdar Boumediene's own children didn't recognize him when he stepped off the military aircraft, looking gaunt and out of place. His 8-year-old daughter, who had only seen him in photos, said to her mother: "This monsieur is not my father. He's too old to be my dad." The man experienced a similar confusion. He felt old, too, and he didn't recognize the little girl and her 13-year-old sister as his own children.

Boumediene, a 43-year-old Algerian, spent the last seven and a half years in Guantanamo. He was held there because he was suspected of being a terrorist and a follower of Osama bin Laden. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he was seen as one of those dangerous people the United States wanted to keep locked behind bars for as long as possible. This would be done without charges and without a trial, under a set of special laws that ignored the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war.

But the Algerian stood out among the many prisoners that passed through the gates of the US Army detention camps at Guantanamo Bay over the years. In June 2008, he became a part of contemporary history when the US Supreme Court handed down a historic decision in his favor in a case with his name on it: Boumediene vs. George W. Bush.

The decision invalidated the special laws of the Bush administration, a period marked by its disregard for the rule of law. Since then, like ordinary prisoners, Guantanamo detainees have enjoyed a right to habeas corpus, which allows them to petition a US federal court to review the grounds for their detention.

Today, Boumediene is a free man who can talk about his years in prison. What he has told SPIEGEL is likely to trigger controversy in the United States: Boumediene claims that the abuse and humiliation of prisoners continues in Guantanamo and that detainees there are still harassed and tortured. According to Boumediene, a special guard unit continues to beat prisoners to get them out of their cells, and any official claims that such treatment has stopped are untrue.

The Path to Cuba

Shortly after taking office, President Barack Obama issued a ban on torture. Now his advisers are looking into how the government should treat the remaining 229 Guantanamo detainees. But one thing is clear: Guantanamo will be closed.

Boumediene's freedom ended on October 21, 2001, shortly after the deadly attacks on New York and Washington. At the time, he was living in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and he was arrested in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital. The police there had received information linking Boumediene to a group of Algerian terrorists that was allegedly planning an attack on the city's US Embassy. The tip reportedly came from the CIA.

Boumediene had been living in Bosnia for more than four years working for the Red Crescent, the sister organization of the Red Cross, as one of several managers at an orphanage. Fifty of the organization's employees would later sign statements confirming that he had been a hard-working employee there.

Before settling in Sarajevo with his family, Boumediene had spent time in Yemen and Pakistan. Both countries happen to be the classic way stations for violent Islamists, and just having been there made Boumediene suspect. "I was looking for work because there was none in Algeria," he says. He had completed secondary education in his native Algeria, which he left in 1990.

"I was never a terrorist," Boumediene insists. "I am a devout Muslim. I pray, and I observe Ramadan, but I have no hatred toward the West." Still, he admits that he knew Belkacem Bensayah, an Algerian who was thought to have ties to al-Qaida. Boumediene explains the acquaintance by claiming that he helped his family once after Bensayah had been arrested -- but nothing more.

On Jan. 17, 2002, Bosnia's highest court acquitted Boumediene and five other Algerians, citing a lack of evidence against them. On the same day, the six men were handed over to the US Army at a military base in Bosnia and flown to Guantanamo.


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