Algerian government denies reports of former Gitmo detainee’s mistreatment

The Algerian government today denied reports that it was detaining and mistreating a former Guantanamo detainee. The ex-Gitmo detainee, Abdul Aziz Naji, was repatriated to Algeria earlier this week. [See LWJ report: “Two Gitmo detainees transferred to Algeria, Cape Verde.“]

Naji and his lawyers fought the transfer because they claimed Naji would be tortured or abused. After Naji’s transfer, human rights groups claimed that Naji was possibly being mistreated. This prompted a response from the Algerians.

“It is out of the question that this person has been detained in Algeria,” Farouk Ksentini, chairman of the Algerian government’s National Consultative Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, said in an interview with Reuters.

Ksentini added, “I formally deny this information, which in my view does not make any sense.” According to Reuters, Ksentini explained that he did not know Naji’s current whereabouts.

Approved for transfer, not release

What is interesting about Ksentini’s denial is that he claims Naji was outright released. Contrary to some reporting in the press, Naji was not cleared for release, he was approved for transfer. The distinction is often lost in reporting on Guantanamo.

US military officials at Guantanamo alleged that Naji was a member of Laskar-e-Taiba (LET), a Pakistani-based terrorist organization closely linked to al Qaeda. During his testimony before hearings held at Gitmo, Naji tried to downplay his ties to the LET, but conceded that he had been at an LET training camp in Pakistan for several months, and that he had crossed into Kashmir with an armed cadre of LET-trained individuals.

A senior intelligence official contacted by the Long War Journal explained that not only was Naji a member of the LET, but he was also the instructor for an improvised explosive device (IED) cell and trained al Qaeda members to build explosives.

Naji was not “cleared” of these charges by President Obama’s Guantanamo review task force. In its press release announcing Naji’s transfer from Gitmo to Algeria, the Defense Department said Naji had been “approved for transfer.”

In its final report, completed in January, the task force explained the difference between ‘release’ and ‘transfer.’ “It is important to emphasize that a decision to approve a detainee for transfer does not reflect a decision that the detainee poses no threat or no risk of recidivism,” the task force wrote. The task force explained further that the word ‘transfer’ “is used to mean release from confinement subject to appropriate security measures.”

The DoD explained in its press release that the United States coordinated with the government of Algeria “to ensure” that Naji’s transfer “took place under appropriate security measures.”

Given the Algerian government’s denials, as reported by Reuters, it is not clear if any security measures were implemented upon Naji’s arrival in Algeria.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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