Since the restrictions were first enacted more than two years ago, transfers from Guantánamo have all but ceased. President Obama says that he opposes the restrictions and has threatened to veto this year’s bill if Congress does not remove them. He made a similar threat last year; instead, he quietly signed the restrictions into law on New Year’s Eve with a promise to revisit the issue next year. Next year is now. If President Obama again signs the transfer restrictions into law, he will condemn 166 men to indefinite detention, possibly for life, and effectively abandon his repeated promise to close Guantánamo Bay.
Among those who would continue to suffer is my client Djamel Ameziane. Like most of the men at Guantánamo, Djamel has been repeatedly cleared for transfer by the Bush and Obama administrations. This means that every military, law enforcement and intelligence agency with a stake in Guantánamo has determined unanimously that he may be released consistent with our national interest. The U.S. has long conceded there are no “military rationales” for his detention and promised the federal court and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, where Djamel is challenging his detention, that it is working “diligently” to transfer him. Based on that unfulfilled promise, the court stayed Djamel’s habeas case indefinitely, over his objections, because it would be a waste of time to litigate a case in which no one thinks he should be detained. Yet Djamel is still held at Guantánamo several years later, without foreseeable end. His continued detention is particularly unjust because many foreign governments would accept him for resettlement if asked by the United States. Apparently no such request has been forthcoming because the administration believes the requirements to transfer a detainee under the NDAA are so onerous they can never be satisfied. The NDAA restrictions were surely designed to block transfers from Guantánamo, and they have succeeded in doing so.
Djamel has not seen his family in more than two decades. He fled Algeria in the early 1990s to avoid a civil war that nearly wiped out his entire generation. He lived legally in Austria and Canada, but was unable to obtain permanent refuge. Fearing deportation to Algeria, he fled to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he was captured a few months after his arrival and sold to U.S. forces for a bounty. His family learned years later that he had been sent to Guantánamo when officers from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police informed his brother, who had since immigrated to Quebec and obtained Canadian citizenship. Not understanding what it meant for her son to be held at Guantánamo, Djamel’s mother tried to send him clothes and food to care for him. Everything was refused and returned, but Djamel’s brothers did not have the heart to tell her. Today, she waits and prays for Djamel’s release, so that she may see him at least once more before she dies. This singular hope sustains her since the death of her husband, Djamel’s father, during perhaps the worst period of Djamel’s imprisonment, locked in isolation for a year in Camp 6, which the detainees called a tomb above the ground.
I often look at a painting in my home of a sailboat struggling through a storm, which Djamel painted for me at Guantánamo. I think about him and his family, particularly around the holidays, and hope that they are reunited before it is too late. But no matter how many legal papers I file or foreign diplomats I persuade to resettle Djamel, there is one person who controls his fate this holiday season. President Obama must veto the NDAA and free Djamel Ameziane.
Dixon is a senior attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, representing clients in federal court and before the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay.