Guantanamo Bay detainees blame arrest on "political game"

Algerians who were ordered released from Guantanamo Bay on today have long denied being terrorists, saying they were swept up in Bosnia and handed over to the US as political pawns.

A federal judge in Washington ruled that the five men cannot be held indefinitely as enemy combatants and should be released immediately from the US military base in Cuba. A sixth, however, should still be held because of evidence against him, the judge said.

According to Guantanamo documents reviewed by The Associated Press, the men - who have been locked up at Guantanamo for almost seven years - challenged US military panels to present proof of their alleged ties to al-Qaida.

"We don't approve of killing innocent people or killing anybody, so I can't belong to such an organisation," Mohammed Nechle told one of the panels. "Even if you continue to investigate me for another 10 years, you will find out that I have no relations to them."

In his ruling, US District Judge Richard J. Leon said the US government's evidence linking the men to al-Qaida was not credible because it came from a single, unidentified source.

He said a sixth Algerian should not be freed because he apparently was close to an al-Qaida operative and had sought to help others travel to Afghanistan to fight the US and its allies.

When they appeared separately before the panels over the years at Guantanamo, some of the men said they were victims of a political game that ensued after the attacks on the World Trade Centre towers in New York and the Pentagon.

Every nation wanted to help the US afterward, said detainee Boudella Al Hajj.

"I think that Bosnia didn't find anything to give to the United States, so they said 'OK, let's give them these six Algerians, they are Muslims,"' Al Hajj was quoted as saying in the transcripts of the panel proceedings. "We were sacrificed just to show they gave something."

Bosnian authorities arrested the six Algerians on suspicion they planned to bomb the US Embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in October 2001, an accusation they denied.

Last month, the US Justice Department backed off the embassy bomb-plot accusations.

Among the men who were transferred to Guantanamo in January 2002 is Lakhdar Boumediene, whose landmark Supreme Court case last summer gave detainees the right to challenge their imprisonment.

Sabir Mahfouz Lahmar told interrogators that he taught Arabic to children and had no ties to Osama bin Laden.

"I am not a soldier," Lahmar insisted. "My whole life has been related to books."

For his part, Nechle expressed horror at the September 11 attacks.

"We were very, very upset at the events that happened in America," Nechle told a military panel four years ago.

"I imagine that the people in these buildings could be my brother or my father or my sister or my son."

 The US Department of Justice said it would review the judge's decision and praised the judge for ordering that the sixth Algerian remain detained. The Justice Department has said the six men were detained before they could launch an international terrorist fight against the US and its allies.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, said: "We are reviewing the ruling with respect to the other five petitioners."

The cases of more than 200 additional Guantanamo detainees are still pending, many in front of other judges in Washington's federal courthouse.

The Bosnian government has said it would welcome back the detainees, who had immigrated to Bosnia before they were arrested.

 

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter