(Paris) - The French government's decision to accept Algerian detainee Lakhdar Boumediene for resettlement in France marks a welcome step toward closing Guantanamo, Human Rights Watch said today. Because some 50 to 60 detainees cannot be returned to their home countries for fear of torture, they will need to be resettled elsewhere for Guantanamo to close.
Boumediene has been reported to be on a plane en route to France, and official French government spokesmen have confirmed that he was offered French residency.
"European countries have long called on the United States to close Guantanamo," said Joanne Mariner, terrorism and counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch. "It is extremely encouraging to see France now making a positive contribution toward helping shut Guantanamo down by accepting a detainee for resettlement."
Of the approximately 240 prisoners still being held at Guantanamo, an estimated 50 to 60 - from countries such as Algeria, China, Libya, Tunisia, and Uzbekistan - have told their lawyers that they fear torture in their home countries and do not want to be returned there. Several have been cleared for years to leave Guantanamo, and none of them faces criminal charges, but they remain imprisoned because neither the United States nor any third country has been willing to resettle them.
Human Rights Watch called on the French authorities to ensure that Boumediene receives appropriate reintegration support and said that the authorities should not place unwarranted restrictions on his liberty.
Boumediene, whose family is now in France, was arrested in Bosnia among a group of detainees who were flown to Guantanamo in early 2001. Most of these men were released to Bosnia in December 2008, after a US federal court found their detention to be unjustified.
In June 2008, Boumediene was the a lead plaintiff in a landmark US Supreme Court ruling that recognized the right of Guantanamo detainees to challenge their detention in civilian courts. Human Rights Watch filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief in Boumediene v. Bush.
To date, some 27 former detainees who were citizens or former residents of European Union member states have been returned to Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Thirteen detainees who were citizens or former residents were released to other European countries. None are known to have engaged in militant or other violent activity.
During the Bush administration, the US government approached scores of countries to ask them to take in detainees at Guantanamo, with little success. In 2006, Albania agreed to accept five Uighurs, but it later refused to take in any more. Since President Obama took office, however, several European governments have expressed a willingness to resettle other detainees.
"We hope that Boumediene will be the first of many detainees that France and other European countries will agree to welcome," Mariner said.