Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Guantánamo prisoner asks judges to prevent his forced return to torture in Algeria April 28, 2010
Ahmed Belbacha

Ahmed Belbacha begs nine US federal judges to prevent his forced return to torture in Algeria; requests extraordinary hearing on 'question of life and death'

Former British resident Ahmed Belbacha today requested that his case be heard by all nine active judges in the Washington circuit court, citing issues of crucial constitutional importance and the highest human stakes.

An en banc hearing is requested only in the most serious of cases, where the legal system has otherwise failed to produce justice or resolve key questions of constitutional law. The question in Ahmed's petition is whether "the United States may transfer an unwilling Guantánamo detainee to another country where the detainee is likely to face torture".

Ahmed is just such a prisoner. As the motion baldly states: "The rack and the screw will be the least of Mr. Belbacha's worries if he is transferred to Algeria."

Ahmed would be the first Guantánamo prisoner to be heard en banc and, if granted, such a hearing may be his lifeline. Recently, one federal judge refused to block Ahmed's forced return to torture in Algeria, after the district court dissolved a 2008 injunction prohibiting the transfer.

40 year-old accountant Ahmed remains a tragic figure in Guantánamo. Cleared of all charges by the Bush Administration, he has consistently chosen to stay imprisoned rather than face his fate in Algeria, a country he originally fled after threats on his life by the terrorist group Group Islamique Armé (GIA).

Ahmed’s fears were confirmed by an alarming ‘conviction’ delivered in absentia by an Algerian court last November, condemning him to 20 years in prison on mysterious charges. Ahmed was not represented at the 'trial', which produced zero evidence and appears to be retaliation for speaking out about Algeria.

In that context, Reprieve was deeply disturbed by the US Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent visit to Algiers to sign a ‘mutual legal assistance treaty’ with the Algerian Minister of Justice. Ahmed's legal team will seek protection from the Supreme Court if necessary and Reprieve is appealing worldwide – to the governments of Britain, Ireland and Luxembourg - for help.

Ahmed's attorney Cori Crider of Reprieve, said:

“Mr. Belbacha's plea to the Court is simple. All he asks is the right to be heard about the torture awaiting him in Algeria. If the Court is no more than a rubberstamp for the government in such a case, where torture is at stake, what is left of the Torture Convention? What remains of the principle that it is judges--not the President and his officials--who say what the law is?"


Ahmed Belbacha lived for years in the seaside town of Bournemouth, UK, where he studied English and worked; during a Labour conference he was responsible for cleaning the hotel room of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, from whom he received a healthy tip and note of appreciation. He is now in his eighth year of imprisonment without charge in Guantánamo Bay.

Ahmed’s fears about Algeria were confirmed by an alarming ‘conviction’ delivered in absentia by an Algerian court last November. In a disgraceful show trial, where no lawyer was appointed to defend Ahmed, the court sentenced him to 20 years in prison for belonging to an ‘overseas terrorist group’. Despite repeated requests and extensive investigation, Reprieve’s lawyers have been unable to discover what exactly Ahmed is supposed to have done. No evidence has been produced to support his ‘conviction’, which appears to be retaliation against Ahmed for speaking out about the inhumane treatment he would be subjected to if sent to Algeria.

Ahmed had been protected by an injunction barring the US government from repatriating him against his will, but a US judge dissolved the injunction in February. Reprieve immediately requested the decision be reversed, citing the US Supreme Court’s ongoing consideration of a related case, Kiyemba v Obama (Kiyemba II), in which it was decided that US courts could not prevent the Obama Administration from forcibly repatriating prisoners to countries where they face persecution. Worryingly, on Monday 22nd March, the Supreme Court decided not to review Kiyemba II; Reprieve then submitted another plea to DC’s federal district court on 24th March, followed by an emergency motion over the Easter weekend following Attorney General Holder’s announcement of a treaty with Algeria. Those pleas were denied.

Ahmed’s plight, together with his gentle nature, has attracted private offers of help. He has been given a room in a flat by a Bournemouth resident, and two Massachusetts towns have offered him refuge in defiance of Congress. So far, however, no government has come forward to help.

Ahmed's full petition for an en banc hearing is available below. For more information please contact Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office: 020 7427 1099/ 07931592674 or go to

Notes for Editors:

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 33 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

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London EC4P 4WS
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