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Context of 'November 20, 2008: Judge: Five Algerians Unlawfully Detained at Guantanamo, Must Be Released'

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Saber Lahmar.Saber Lahmar. [Source: US Defense Department]The US renditions six suspects to Guantanamo, even though their cases are under appeal in Bosnia. On October 8, 2001, Bosnian police arrested Bensayah Belkacem, an Algerian given Bosnian citizenship and living in Bosnia. US intelligence intercepted numerous phone calls between Abu Zubaida and other al-Qaeda leaders and Belkacem (see October 8, 2001). On October 16, a conversation was overheard in which US and British targets in Bosnia are mentioned, and a Bosnian associate of Belkacem’s named Saber Lahmar said to another associate, “Tomorrow we will start.” US and British embassies were shut down that night, and Lahmar and four associates - Al-Hajj Boudella, Lakhdar Boumediene, Mustafa Ait Idir, and Mohamed Nechle - were quickly arrested. Lahmar worked for the Saudi High Commission. In 1997 he was arrested and convicted of plotting to bomb the US embassy in Sarajevo, but then pardoned and released by the Bosnian government (see 1996 and After). Boudella was an elite al-Qaeda training camp trainer in Afghanistan and Bosnia, then worked at the Benevolence International Foundation, which the US declared a terrorism financier after 9/11 (see 1993). Belkacem’s other associates worked for other charities such as the Red Crescent society and Taibah International. [Time, 11/12/2001] On January 18, 2002, the Bosnian government determines they don’t have enough evidence to charge the six men since the US will not share details of its communications intercepts. A high court rules that the men are not allowed to be deported until their appeals are heard. [BBC, 1/22/2002] But the men are nonetheless released directly into the custody of US soldiers, who immediately fly them to the Guantanamo Bay prison. The handover is denounced as illegal by human rights groups. It is believed the US put intense pressure on Bosnia to hand them over. [BBC, 1/22/2002; New York Times, 1/23/2002] The Bosnian government, still not privy to the intercepts, will later clear them of all charges, but the US will continue to hold them in Guantanamo without revealing any of the evidence said to justify their detention. [Washington Post, 8/21/2006]

Entity Tags: Saudi High Commission, Mohamed Nechle, Mustafa Ait Idir, Al-Hajj Boudella, Bensayah Belkacem, Lakhdar Boumediene, Saber Lahmar, Taibah International

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Federal Judge Richard Leon rules that the US government has unlawfully held five Algerian men at Guantanamo for nearly seven years (see January 18, 2002). Leon orders their release. Leon rules that the government’s case, based on a slender compilation of classified evidence, was too weak to justify the five men’s continued detention. The government’s case is based on a single “classified document from an unnamed source” for its central claim against the men, and the court has no way to accurately judge its credibility. “To rest on so thin a reed would be inconsistent with this court’s obligation,” Leon writes. He urges the Bush administration not to appeal the ruling, and recommends that they be released “forthwith.” Leon rules that a sixth Algerian, Bensayah Belkacem (see October 8, 2001), is being lawfully detained due to his demonstrable ties with al-Qaeda. The six are among the Guantanamo inmates who won a narrowly decided Supreme Court case recognizing their right to seek redress in the US court system (see June 22, 2008), and include Lakhdar Boumediene, for whom the Court’s ruling was named. Leon, a Republican appointee previously considered sympathetic to the Bush administration’s position on the detention of suspects, urges the government not to appeal his ruling: such an appeal could take as much as two years, and, he notes, “Seven years of waiting for our legal system to give them an answer to a question so important is, in my judgment, more than plenty.” If the government chooses not to appeal, the lawyers for the detainees expect them to be released into Bosnia, where they were arrested in early 2002. The Justice Department calls the ruling “perhaps an understandable consequence of the fact that neither the Supreme Court nor Congress has provided rules on how these habeas corpus cases should proceed in this unprecedented context.” One of the detainees’ lawyers, Robert Kirsch, says the case illustrates “the human cost of what can happen when mistakes are made at the highest levels of our government, and no one has the courage to acknowledge those mistakes.” Other detainee lawyers say the case is a broad repudiation of the Bush administration’s attempts to use the Guantanamo facility to avoid the scrutiny of US judges. Lawyer Zachary Katznelson, a member of the British human rights group Reprieve, says, “The decision by Judge Leon lays bare the scandalous basis on which Guantánamo has been based—slim evidence of dubious quality.” The case was not strengthened by the Bush administration’s pursuit of it: originally the six were charged with planning a bomb attack on the US Embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia, but in October, Justice Department lawyers abruptly withdrew those accusations. [New York Times, 11/20/2008; National Review, 11/20/2008] The five will be released the following month (see December 2008).

Entity Tags: Reprieve, Bensayah Belkacem, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Lakhdar Boumediene, Zachary Katznelson, US Supreme Court, Richard J. Leon, US Department of Justice, Robert Kirsch

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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