Testament of humanitarian aid worker who spent seven years being held and tortured in Gitmo

The NYT gives space to Lakhdar Boumediene, a humanitarian aid worker who was arrested on secret evidence that he was planning to blow up the US embassy in Sarajevo. Despite the fact that the case was found without merit by Bosnia's highest court, he was kidnapped to Guantanamo Bay by US forces and held for seven years, subjected to torture and isolation from his family. A US court finally freed him. You remember when they started releasing Gitmo prisoners and there was all that hand-wringing on how these dangerous,dangerous people couldn't possibly be released because they were all jihadis? Yeah, that.

I left Algeria in 1990 to work abroad. In 1997 my family and I moved to Bosnia and Herzegovina at the request of my employer, the Red Crescent Society of the United Arab Emirates. I served in the Sarajevo office as director of humanitarian aid for children who had lost relatives to violence during the Balkan conflicts. In 1998, I became a Bosnian citizen. We had a good life, but all of that changed after 9/11.

When I arrived at work on the morning of Oct. 19, 2001, an intelligence officer was waiting for me. He asked me to accompany him to answer questions. I did so, voluntarily — but afterward I was told that I could not go home. The United States had demanded that local authorities arrest me and five other men. News reports at the time said the United States believed that I was plotting to blow up its embassy in Sarajevo. I had never — for a second — considered this.

My Guantánamo Nightmare (via Beth Pratt)

(Image: Capitol Rotunda & Statue Of Freedom, Orange Jumpsuit & Black Hood (Washington, DC), a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from takomabibelot's photostream)


  1. The thing is, there are some completely nasty pricks at Gitmo. But because the government screwed up the whole chain of evidence from start to finish for everyone, and because you cannot get anyone out of the military justice system and into the US civil system thanks to fearmongering (movement of anyone from Gitmo to the US was blocked), and because you can’t just let everyone go because you will get murdered in the media, the whole thing is FUBAR.

    The US should pay the price of freeing known terrorists because the US imprisoned innocents. But there is no practicable path to that outcome.

    1. I’d be curious to hear prosecutors weigh in on how this plays out in the normal, internal criminal justice system in the US. How often do they have to let suspects go because of procedural screw-ups? Should it be any different with these people just because they’re suspected of different crimes?

      1. The main difference legally is that they’re not citizens, usually.

        If you really believe in the basic principle, since moving Gitmo prisoners to the US was blocked by US politicians, every single one of them should just be let go, and if they go on to plot evilly, too bad.

        It would be damned hard to get a US prosecution due to the prevalence of torture. Look at KSM, he is a terrorist but he was tortured right off the bat for ideological reasons before they even tried to interview him normally. They screwed the whole thing up, they should let them all go, but no politician in the US will ever say that.

        1. Sigh!  Oh, for the heady days of the 1960’s when the CIA could just dump bodies offshore from a plane.  Nowadays these people in secret detention even have actual names!

          Seriously though, have there been any detainee additions in the past, say, seven years?  Is this an active prison with people moving in and out or just detainment until, um, sometime later?  I don’t think kicking the can further down the road has ever worked out well.  I’d thought Obama was going to be the one to do something about it, you know, based on this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQXZoM__vU0

          1. I have no doubt they wanted to clear out that festering sore, but it was literally impossible to use the authority of the president to bring people into the US when Congress and local authorities blocked it.

        2. Most of them in Gitmo are not US citizens, but there are also some people who go thru the “normal” non-terrorist justice system who are not US citizens either. Haven’t some of them been put in US prisons or even executed instead of being deported? I bet most still got trials. I’m sure there are some criminal suspects who are deported for minor infractions, but I seem to recall Texas executed a Mexican at one point, not too long ago, and the big complaint was that he was not allowed to speak to the Mexican embassy for legal advice or something. 

          I don’t know what crimes all the prisoners of war at Guantanamo have been accused of (do they publicize any charges, or tell prisoners what they are formally charged with?), but I think the main difference is not their citizenship. It’s just the fact that terrorism hysteria allows the govt to declare some people terrorists, especially if they’re in places we’re invading, and somehow all the usual rules are set aside because ZOMG TEH TERRORS1SM. Which is to say, there is no good reason, and the same rules that apply to normal criminals or past POWs should apply to the ones at Gitmo.

          1.  “Most of them in Gitmo are not US citizens”
            Not yet, but if current legislation holds expect to have a lot more names synonymous with the dreaded gitmo…. Gitmo2….Gitalotmo…etc.

          2. Problem is they’re NOT Prisoners of War. POWs would have rights granted by the Geneva Convention. The US unilaterally invented the term illegal combatant (=”not-POW”) to deny them any rights.

          3. Reply to ffabian: ‘Problem is they’re NOT Prisoners of War. POWs would have rights granted by the Geneva Convention. The US unilaterally invented the term illegal combatant (=”not-POW”) to deny them any rights.’I would phrase it a little differently. They are prisoners of war by all normal standards, by the Geneva Convention. The Bush administration used the euphemism “enemy combatant” as if that should let them off the hook for observing the Geneva Conventions, or applying the kind of standards that every American with one of those black POW/MIA flags wanted for the treatment of US soldiers in Vietnam. (How many of them pushed Bush or Obama for fair treatment of POWs? The hypocrisy is massive and sad.)

            I very consciously used the phrase prisoner of war, because that is more appropriate than Bush’s euphemism. They are NOT “illegal combatants” or “enemy combatants”, in as far as those are very limited terms intended to subvert international law. They ARE “prisoners of war” if we are using and endorsing and trying to follow international law (including our own laws that say we must follow international treaties).

      2. One thing one might also consider is how many “warm bodies” they put in place of the actual perpetrator of a crime.  In other words, how many times does a person get railroaded into the criminal justice system in America the free.   Far too many if you ask me.

        1. Pardons from what?  They’ve been accused of military crimes, not civil.  They are currently outside the US court system.  This is the problem.

          As Commander in Chief he has a lot more leeway over the status of these detainees (such a nice word!  Who hasn’t been detained at some time?  “It wasn’t bad when our flight was detained!”) than the Executive Branch.

          1. Presidential pardons come under the Constitutional clause:

            “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”

            What process exactly are you recommending?

        2. If he can pardon them, then yes he should do that. Why not?

          And since he is the CinC why not just shut down Gitmo?

          Bush released 532 prisoners from Gitmo. Obama has so far released 68. Why doesn’t he just release them all.

          And why did he sign a law that disallows these prisoners from being moved?

          How about insisting on a fair trial for each prisoner?

          Time and again he shows absolutely no backbone. It’s pathetic.

        3. Obama is doing the same damn thing with prisoners at Bagram, so don’t pretend he’s opposed to this practice.

    2. “movement of anyone from Gitmo to the US was blocked”

      This has been enshrined in the new defense bill (can’t spend any defense dollars on moving them).  God bless the Fox-publicans.

      So how about just giving Gitmo back to Cuba?  There, they never actually moved.

      1. This option is basically the same as “let them all go”.

        As I said, that is IMO morally the correct option. But no, no electable politician in the United States will ever advocate letting KSM go on a point of principle.

        1. So the argument is that Obama should not release these people because it would make him unelectable?

          The best argument that we can come up with in defence of Obama is that he should keep completely innocent people locked up for years in the most appalling conditions because he might not get a second term? 

          And this man has a single shred of moral legitimacy left? How anybody still defends this guy is completely beyond me.

          1. As I said a few times, I personally think he should release them all as a matter of principle and precedent.

            However, there is no-one who could be elected President who would give a presidential pardon to someone who was centrally involved in the 9/11 attacks and send him on his way.

            The thing is that the overwhelming majority of Americans do not want this to happen. A  President in a democracy has a responsibility to take that into account. That goes beyond just trying to get a second term for selfish reasons. Obama has to choose from a narrow range of unpleasant options.

    3. Maybe some famous quotes would help.

      better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer” – William Blackstone, 1760

      it is better [one hundred] guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer” – Benjamin Franklin, 1785

  2. Now that the rule of law in the US is a thing of the past, the power elite is finally free to stomp their boots in people’s faces as hard as they’ve dreamed about.

    1. Once a person acknowledges this situation, what do you think they should do, Mark? I am curious to hear your opinion, as your contributions to BoingBoing are, for the most part, apolitical.

      1. I don’t know! It’s frustrating. I voted for Obama because I was hoping that civil liberties would erode more slowly under his rule, but it turns out he is scrapping them as fast as the most energetic neocon would.

        1. A particularly disturbing turn of events, given his previous career as a constitutional law professor. Thanks for the reply, ;)

  3. I still wonder why Gitmo was ever necessary in the first place. If you can’t afford to make public certain evidence you can still try people in a semi-secret way that prevents participants from leaking sensitive information to the press.

    1. The purpose of Guantanamo was for the Bush administration to have a prison that was not subject to U.S. or international law and was under a complete media blackout so that false confessions could be tortured out of people indiscriminately disappeared from their home countries for the purpose of justifying the insane “war on terror.” 

      1. Also, to try to come up with links to Iraq. I guess they wanted a backup rationale in case too many people realized that the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ rationale was completely fraudulent.

      2. I think if we were to reasonably discover how we arrived at this point, we can’t give in to the emotional response that the Bush administration was inherently, purposefully evil (as tempting as that is). Even if you wanted to justify it as the “party line,” there were plenty of congressional Democrats around at the time who could have reigned in this “crazy train” at will but didn’t. Even when Democrats had sweeping control of all three levels of the federal government, they not only didn’t let the Patriot Act die, they expanded upon it. And Guantanamo Bay is still around, last I checked.

        Fact is, the American public is to blame, as much as I hate to point it out. There is no political will among the population to stop the War on Terror. Over a decade later and you’ll still find an easy 80% like the mandatory ball groping / porno scanning you have to subject yourself to just to walk on a plane because people are still irrationally scared of the 9/11 bogeyman.

        Until bravery returns to the Home of the Brave, when people are willing to die than live without freedom, I think we’ll see more of the same for the long term.

  4. Gitmo remains a shameful proof that Blackstone’s formulation (“Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer”) — ostensibly a cornerstone of U.S. justice — has been utterly disregarded.

      1. Oh, you missed it?  We had some for like, two-hundred and some odd years.  They were totally great.  Then someone said that it infringed on freedom for everyone to have rights and that bad mens were going to come get us and as a result we needed to have all of our freedoms sent away for just a few years until all the bad mens were caught.

        At least that’s what I think happened.  I dunno, I missed a lot of it when the new season of Lost came on.

          1. Not just that, land owning white guys!  Good point though, but you can state we had freedoms for just about everyone for at least forty years.

  5. Due Process or bust.  Without it, the cops literally could have picked up the wrong guy and nobody would ever know because there’s no trial…

  6. I really wish they would make Cheney or Bush or Rumsfield have to spend a year or more in Gitmo. Those guys are the real terrorists.

  7. At every turn you should be enforcing the rule of law. Rule of law would not allow Gitmo. Any subversion of the rule of law is corruption and implies those in power don’t believe in Rule of Law and thus you shouldn’t elect them.

    1. What Rule of Law? The last I heard, Habeas Corpus was abolished way back in 2003 with the cynically named “Patriot Act.”
      When I learned that NDAA was enacted I heard quite distinctly the words of Peter Cushing: “The last remnants of the old republic are gone…” Y’all know which movie I’m talking about, lol.

  8. The purpose of Gitmo was to desensitize american public to the ideas of indefinite extrajudicial detention, torture and yes, murder all in the name of security.
    In short, it was a preparation for NDAA bill which passed recently and which gives this same power over american citizens on american soil but without any legal defense whatsoever, not even after X years. In fact, according to NDAA even if you are exonerated by the court, the military has no compulsion whatsoever to release you or give out any information about your fate.
    That’s why Gitmo was “necessary.”
    What goes around, comes around and it seems that the “conspiracy theorists” like Alex Jones and the gang were right after all.

  9. Could a coalition of countries stage a secret military raid on Gitmo and close it down?

    At least we can be happy that GWB is scared to travel outside the US for fear of being arrested.

    1. That being said is there anything to stop a country kidnapping GWB from within the USA and use their own extraordinary rendition. USA want to “export democracy” so presumably we should learn by their example of what they consider democracy to be. ;)

  10. This is a disappointment to those of us who believed in the declaration of Independence as some form of measurement of justice.  If these “unalienable rights” are not for everyone, then they are for no one.

  11. Pssst … they can’t be POWs because there was no “war”.  There still hasn’t been a war.  Wars are declared, etc.  The person featured in this article certainly was not involved in a war.  Just flying around the planet picking up anyone who looks like a villain from a Stallone movie is not war. If you would not be able to stand this treatment of yourself or a family member, then it’s probably not a good idea … if you or your kid were subjected to this, you’d be screaming about your rights and the “destruction of America”.  It’s really no wonder that the US as a nation has become more than a little psychotic … trying to rationalize these things (and this is just one of the mind-benders for America … add into that an Iraq war that made no sense, Jessica Lynch (remember her?), the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners, killing non-combatants in Iraq, entering foreign countries for hostile actions against their wishes, having to admit that Iraqis didn’t meet the US with flowers and candy as predicted, Blackwater committing evil acts on a daily basis, torture as a common practice, firing missiles at weddings in Afghanistan, the fact that the media doesn’t actually cover ANY of this … this is messing up American minds, and you’re only very slowly starting to realize what’s going on.

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