Monday, June 20, 2011

I want to speak to you about your lost son in Guantanamo....

An American Lawyer's Letter to the Algerians
by M. Saadoune
She addresses herself to the "great Algerian People," to whom she sends her best wishes before speaking to them about "their lost son in Guantanamo," Saeed Backhouch (in Algerian transcription, that would be Saïd Bakhouche).
She is H. Candace Gorman, and she is writing about her client Saïd Bakhouche, imprisoned at Guantanamo, and who would have been able to get out if the Algerian authorities had consented to give out a simple piece of information: the date that his passport was issued.
In a letter sent on the 9th of June, the lawyer writes to us about Said, a young man who left his country in search of "opportunities," that he had not found at home, and who ended up going to seek education in a school of the Tabligh movement in Pakistan, where people were trained to do religious proselytizing. The trip to Pakistan came at an unfortunate moment: in 2001, at the moment that terrorists attacked the twin towers in New York. My government, the lawyer explains, was rightly angry. But in its search for those responsible, it decided to "round up Arabs without distinction." The Pakistani regime, under the direction of Pervez Musharraf, made a specialty of selling Arabs to the Americans. For Said, things went badly. Only two weeks after his arrival at the school, he was the object of a police raid: Arabs arrested and turned over to the Americans, and non-Arabs released.
An additional complication: the Americans suspected one of the Arab residents of being Abou Zoubeyda, one of the chiefs of Al-Qaida. Incorrectly. The man they had arrested and whom they had submitted to "terrible tortures" for two years was actually not Abou Zoubeyda. And Said, who didn't know anyone, found himself cataloged as a member of Al-Qaida because "my government thought that someone living in the same hostel as Abou Zoubeyda must also be a member of Al Qaida."
The lawyer has undertaken to demonstrate that her client was "neither a terrorist nor a sympathizer." She has asked the aid of the Algerian authorities to get a simple piece of information: the date on which Said obtained his passport. Knowing this date is important for the lawyer; she believes that it is an obligation on the part of a "responsible government" to aid its citizens in such conditions.
The Terrible Truth
With her telephone calls being ignored by the Algerian Embassy in the US, she ended up meeting an official and explaining what she wanted. The official advised her to make a written request, which she did. Nothing. More telephone calls ignored. Finally she sent an email to the official to explain how important the information was to her client. "When I received the response, I understood the terrible truth: the Algerian government would do nothing to aid its citizen detained at Guantanamo. Not even to respond to this simple request."
And at the same moment that she understood finally that the Algerian government would not give the information about the date of issue of the passport, the US government once again changed the reasons for its detention of Said. For the first time, during the summer of 2010, the US accused Said of being an Al-Qaida figure since the 90s, under the name Usama Al-Jazairi. The lawyer was able to demonstrate that the person who used the name Usama Al-Jazairi could not be her client but she is still unable to "show something even more important to the judge: that Said could not have been in Afghanistan in the 90s because he was in Algeria." She could not do that because "Said's own government refuses to give him the simplest help to prove it."