By Sandy Fitzgerald
The Obama administration may be pushing to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, but that doesn't mean all the prisoners want to go home.
Two Algerian prisoners being held at the Cuban naval base are fighting against being transferred out because they fear Islamist extremists will try to kill them when they discover the repatriated men don't share their views on violence, a lawyer for one of them told The Wall Street Journal.
Robert Kirsch, who represents detainee Belkacem Bensayah, said sending him and the other Algerian detainee, Djamel Ameziane, back to the North African country is "the most callous, political abuse of these men," and is being done so the Obama administration can show progress on closing the prison.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has visited both prisoners for their exit interviews this week, said Kirsch, and has asked the United States to reconsider sending them back to Algeria, a claim the Red Cross has not yet confirmed.
They would be returning to Algeria as Islamist violence is growing there and in other North African countries. According to government reports, North Africa now houses 15 al-Qaida affiliates, according to a recent Forbes report, and there have more than 1,000 attacks in Algeria, LIbya, Tunisia, and Morocco since 2010.
Cliff Sloan, the State Department's special envoy on the Guantanamo closing, refused comment on specific cases, telling The Wall Street Journal that State is "moving ahead on the president's commitment to close Guantanamo responsibly, and we are making progress."
The Cuban prison, which former President George W. Bush opened in 2002, holds 164 prisoners, with 84 already cleared for release with restrictions. The government held a review last week for 21 more prisoners who are eligible to seek clearance, and nine others are either serving sentences or facing charges.
U.S. officials said they have already put off repatriation to some countries, including Tunisia, Syria, and Uzbekistan, along with Algeria, when detainees fear mistreatment upon going home.
Human rights activists say detainees' fears must be taken seriously.
"When you hear people say they would rather spend the rest of their lives in Guantanamo than go to a particular place, you have to take that seriously," said Andrea Prasow, a counterterrorism counsel with Human Rights Watch.
On Thursday, a senior Obama administration official, who was not named, said the United States does consider a detainee's concerns, but 14 detainees have already been sent back to Algeria without incident.
Bensayah, 51, is one of six Algerians who were arrested in Bosnia for plotting to blow up U.S. and British embassies, and was turned over with the others to the United States in January 2002, shortly after Bush opened the prison. The other five have already been released, but a judge ruled Bensayah was an al-Qaida "facilitator" who planned to go to Afghanistan, but later backed away from the claims, ruling him eligible for release. Bensayah wants to return to Bosnia where his family lives, but the U.S. prefers returning prisoners to their own countries.
Amezian, 46, was caught trying to enter Pakistan from Afghanistan following the U.S. invasion that came after the Sept. 11, 2011 attacks. He has been fighting repatriation to Algeria since 2009 and wants to be resettled in Canada.
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