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US: Rice Should Press Algeria on Fate of Returned Guantanamo Detainees


US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice should press the Algerian
government on the well-being and status of Guantanamo detainees
returned to Algeria when she travels to Algiers on September 6, Human
Rights Watch said today. Four Guantanamo detainees from Algeria have
been returned in the last two months, and Rice is expected to discuss
future Guantanamo returns during her visit.

"We welcome the stepped-up efforts to send Guantanamo detainees home,"
said Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights
Watch. "But the US must also take steps to ensure that detainees are
not being returned to torture or other abuse."

On July 2, 2008, the United States transferred
Abderrahmane Houari (also known as Sofiane Hadarbache), 28, and Mustafa
Ahmed Hamlily, 39, from Guantanamo to Algiers - making them the first
Algerian detainees to be repatriated. Upon arrival, both men were
detained for nearly two weeks without access to family members or a
lawyer. They have since been granted bail pending their court
appearances on September 28 and October 4, respectively, before the
investigative judge on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization
abroad and using forged travel documents.

On August 26, 2008, Mohammed Abd Al Al Qadir (also known as Mohamed Trari), 27, and Abdulli Feghoul,
42, were returned to Algeria after more than six years in Guantanamo.
Algerian authorities took them into custody upon their return, and
there appears to be no information available about their status or

Another 21 Algerians remain in Guantanamo, including at least five who have expressed serious concerns about their risk of mistreatment if returned home.

who is scheduled to meet Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika,
should urge that any Algerian detained after being returned by the
United States be permitted immediate contact with his family and a
medical examination at the end of custody in accordance with Algeria's
Code of Penal Procedure. The United States should also send observers
to attend the trials of any former Guantanamo detainees charged upon
their return, and monitor whether their trials meet international fair
trial standards.

Under Algerian law, persons suspected of crimes relating
to terrorism can be held for up to 12 days in garde a vue (pre-charge)
detention without access to a lawyer. In practice, the police often
hold suspects incommunicado under this law and provide no information
about their whereabouts to their family. Police have reportedly
tortured and abused detainees during this initial period of custody.

In 2007, two Algerians, Benaissa Taleb and Rida Dendani,
deported from the United Kingdom to Algeria, were held for 12 days,
interrogated, and reportedly threatened, beaten, and otherwise abused.
Both were ultimately charged, tried, and convicted of involvement with
a terrorist organization outside Algeria. The confessions made during
this initial 12-day detention period, allegedly under coercion, were
used as evidence against them.

The United States is well aware of these abuses. The State
Department 2007 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices listed
"reports of torture and abuse" as among the "significant human rights
problems" in Algeria. In addition, in May 2008, the United Nations
Committee against Torture expressed strong concerns about reported
torture and other mistreatment of detainees in Algerian custody and
urged Algeria to provide all persons in garde a vue detention with
prompt access to a lawyer and to a doctor.

The State Department has similarly issued concerns about
Algeria's judicial system, listing "lack of judicial independence" and
"denial of fair, public trial" among the significant human rights

"The United States will not solve the Guantanamo problem
by sending detainees from one unfair system to another," Daskal said.
"Washington should demand that Algeria comply with its own laws by
providing returned detainees immediate access to family members and
giving them a fair trial."

Human Rights Watch also noted that several Algerian
detainees at Guantanamo have expressed serious concerns about torture
or other abuse upon return home. Some of these detainees will be
provided advance notice and a chance to formally contest their return
in US federal court, based on specific court orders in their cases.
Human Rights Watch urged Rice to ensure all detainees are provided
adequate notice and an opportunity to challenge their transfers, as a
way of ensuring that detainees are not sent home to torture or
significant abuse.

"Closing Guantanamo provides the United States one of the
best opportunities to help rebuild its moral standing abroad," said
Daskal. "Washington should not squander that chance by forcibly
repatriating detainees to countries with known records of torture and

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.