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A detainee goes home, against his will

The Obama administration has for the first time sent a detainee at Guantanamo Bay back home against his will.

Aziz Abdul Naji, a 35-year-old Algerian who had been held at Guantanamo for more than eight years, had appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to remain at the military detention center in Cuba. He argued that he would be tortured or killed in Algeria, either by the government or by terrorist groups who might try to recruit him.

In a unanimous decision, the justices declined late Friday to hear Naji's appeal, and the Defense Department announced Monday that he had been repatriated.

The court ruled 5-3 earlier Friday evening that the executive branch could also proceed with the transfer of another Algerian detainee, Fahri Saeed bin Mohammad.

The decisions effectively ended the efforts of all six Algerian detainees at the prison camp to remain there rather than be repatriated.

Administration officials said they will nonetheless continue to examine each case individually before any repatriation. And officials have expressed some concern about returning one of the Algerians who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in absentia while he was held at Guantanamo Bay.

The government said that Algeria has provided diplomatic assurances that Naji would not be mistreated, assurances that administration officials say are credible because 10 other detainees have been returned to Algeria without incident.

"We take our human rights responsibilities seriously," said an administration official.
Lawyers for Naji said they were disappointed by the transfer and vowed to continue to monitor Naji's treatment.

"We are pretty stunned; you are never prepared," said Doris Tennant, one of Naji's lawyers. "We hope very much that the Algerian government will protect him. We plan to do everything we can to stay on top of it, and we are working with NGOs to make sure he is well protected."

The Department of Defense also announced Monday the transfer of Abd-al-Nisr Mohammed Khantumani, a Syrian who has been held at Guantanamo Bay for more than eight years, to Cape Verde, an island chain about 300 miles off the west coast of Africa.

Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton visited Cape Verde during a swing through Africa last August, and the possibility of the former Portuguese colony taking a detainee was first raised then. The administration continued to discuss the issue with officials in Cape Verde, who also consulted with the authorities in Portugal, a country that had already taken two detainees.

There are now 178 detainees remaining at Guantanamo Bay.

By Peter Finn  | July 19, 2010; 2:16 PM ET
 
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