International Law

Gitmo Inmate: Please Don't Release Me

An inmate who spends 22 hours daily in a windowless steel isolation cell at the Guantanamo Bay prison is pleading with U.S. authorities not to release him.

That’s because Ahmed Belbacha, 38, fears he will be treated even worse if he is returned to his native Algeria, reports the London Times. He has filed an emergency motion with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., seeking to block his imminent transfer home, fearing that he will be tortured and killed once he returns.

“He says his cell in Guantanamo is like a grave, and that although it sounds crazy, he would rather stay in those conditions than go back to Algeria,” says Zachary Katznelson, a human rights lawyer with Reprieve who represents Belbacha. “The fact is that he is really, really scared about what might happen to him in Algeria.”

An accountant for a government-owned oil company, Belbacha says he and his family received death threats after he was repeatedly called for military service in a civil war between the government and the Armed Islamic Group. He fled the country in 1999 and sought asylum in Britain.

He says he was persuaded by friends to go to Pakistan for religious study, and crossed the border from there to Afghanistan. After the U.S. invasion began in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, he crossed back into Pakistan and was held by villagers who won a bounty by turning him over to the American military. His British asylum petition was denied in 2003, because he did not appear at a scheduled hearing, and he has nowhere to go but Algeria.

Ironically, his lawyer says, “Even though the Americans say he poses no threat, Ahmed fears that he has the stamp of Guantanamo Bay on him and he will be treated by the authorities as a terrorist if he is returned to Algeria.”

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