Demonstrators demand the release of Guantanamo Bay prisoners

Demonstrators wearing orange jumpsuits and hoods over their heads rally to demand closure of the detention camp at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, outside the White House on January 11, 2019.

(Photo: Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images)

The Sentencing of Saeed Bakhouche Is a Grim Reminder of the Legacy of Guantánamo

We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to his plight or the plight of countless others who have been wrongfully detained and subjected to abuse.

On May 11, Saeed Bakhouche, a survivor of Guantánamo Bay, was abruptly sentenced to three years in prison and fined $2,000, taken immediately to jail from the courtroom.

An anonymous source said: "We were all stunned by the court's decision. Here's a man who spent over 21 years in Guantánamo, barely had eight months of freedom, homeless and unable to feed himself, and yet the court sends him to what is essentially another Guantánamo, if not worse."

The sentence came only two days after the United Nations experts warned that Bakhouche, 57 years old, would face terrorism charges in Algeria, not receive a fair trial, and risked renewed arbitrary detention.

From Guantánamo to Algeria, the road to justice has been littered with obstacles, with individuals like Bakhouche caught in the crossfire of geopolitical maneuvering and security theater.

The courtroom drama marked yet another chapter in the harrowing saga of Bakhouche, a man whose life has been entangled in the complex web of post-9/11 counterterrorism measures. As the gavel struck, sentencing him to three years behind bars, it was a stark reminder of the injustices that continue to plague him even after his release from Guantánamo Bay.

Bakhouche's journey from the confines of Guantánamo to the courtroom in Algeria has been marred by a litany of human rights violations, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by international observers. The recent warning issued by U.N. experts underscores the gravity of the situation, highlighting the inherent flaws in the legal proceedings against him.

In April 2022, Bakhouche was cleared for release from the notorious prison in U.S. Naval Station Guantánamo Bay after enduring over two decades of arbitrary detention and torture. His transfer to Algeria in April 2023 was accompanied by assurances of humane treatment, yet the reality has been anything but humane.

The decision to return him to his home country came with assurances from the U.S. State Department regarding his treatment upon arrival. Bakhouch's lawyer, H. Candace Gorman, was led to believe that her client would be treated humanely, with access to legal representation and support to reintegrate into society.

However, upon his arrival in Algeria, he was quickly thrown into a bewildering ordeal of imprisonment, intense interrogations, and legal limbo, resembling a nightmarish scenario of Guantánamo. Deprived of legal representation and held incommunicado, he found himself caught in a complex legal situation where the principle of innocence until proven guilty appeared to have vanished.

The charges leveled against Bakhouche under Algeria's Penal Code reek of political opportunism, a thinly veiled attempt to scapegoat a man who has already suffered immeasurable trauma at the hands of the U.S. government. His prosecution flies in the face of fundamental principles of justice and fair trial, raising serious concerns about the integrity of the legal process.

The U.N. experts' assertion that Bakhouche faces the risk of renewed arbitrary detention further underscores the urgent need for international scrutiny and intervention. His plight serves as a stark reminder of the enduring legacy of Guantánamo, where justice has often taken a backseat to political expediency.

Bakhouche's case is not an isolated one; it is emblematic of a larger pattern of abuse and impunity that has characterized the so-called "war on terror." From Guantánamo to Algeria, the road to justice has been littered with obstacles, with individuals like Bakhouche caught in the crossfire of geopolitical maneuvering and security theater.

Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the former U.N. special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, recently highlighted ongoing concerns regarding the U.S. government's handling of detainees released from Guantánamo. In her comprehensive report published in June 2023, Ní Aoláin detailed numerous rights violations stemming from the transfer of detainees to foreign countries.

Among various violations, Ní Aoláin revealed instances of torture, arbitrary detention, and disappearances among released prisoners. Shockingly, in 30% of documented cases, recipient countries deprived these individuals of proper legal status.

The U.N. report underscored the United States' involvement in these problematic transfers, emphasizing a clear legal and moral obligation for the U.S. government. It must use diplomatic and legal resources to ensure these men are relocated, providing proper assurance and support to the recipient countries.

As the Biden administration seeks to extricate itself from the dilemma of Guantánamo, it must reckon with the human cost of its actions. Bakhouche and others like him are not mere statistics; they are individuals whose lives have been irreparably altered by the machinery of state-sanctioned violence.

The recent sentencing of Bakhouche serves as a grim reminder of the urgent need for accountability and justice. It is not enough to simply close the doors of Guantánamo; we must also reckon with the legacy of injustice it has left behind. Anything less would be a betrayal of the principles we claim to uphold.

In the pursuit of justice for Bakhouche and others like him, the international community must remain vigilant. We cannot allow the shadows of Guantánamo to continue to darken the lives of innocent individuals who have already suffered far too much.

As Bakhouche begins his journey behind bars once again, in Guantánamo 2.0 this time, let us not forget the injustices that have brought him to this point. His story stands as a testament to the depravity of both the U.S. and Algerian governments, subjecting him to abuse and torture, and it is a call to action for all those who believe in the sanctity of justice and the dignity of every individual.

In closing, let us heed the words of the U.N. experts who have sounded the alarm on Bakhouche's case. Let us demand accountability, transparency, and above all, justice for those who have been failed by the very systems meant to protect them. Only then can we truly begin to heal the wounds inflicted by Guantánamo and its legacy of injustice.

Saeed Bakhouche's case underscores the urgent need for action and accountability in the pursuit of justice. It is a stark reminder of the human cost of unchecked power and the devastating impact of prolonged detention without charge or trial. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to his plight or the plight of countless others who have been wrongfully detained and subjected to abuse.

We must demand transparency, accountability, and fair treatment for all detainees, regardless of their circumstances. We must advocate for Bakhouche's immediate release and call for reforms to ensure that such injustices never occur again. Only through collective action and unwavering commitment to human rights can we bring about meaningful change and ensure that justice prevails.

This article was first published by Cage International.

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