Is This Man Your Enemy? Get to Know Djamel Ameziane
Djamel Ameziane was born April 14, 1967. He is 43 years old. A member of the Berber ethnic group, he fled his native Algeria when he was in his early twenties– seeking a better life.
He found that better life; working as a chef at Al Caminetto Trattoria, one of the best Italian restaurants in Vienna, Austria. Forced to leave when his visa was not renewed, he went to Canada. Living and working in Montreal, Ameziane sought political asylum there as well. When that claim was denied in 2000, Ameziane was out of options. He decided to go to Afghanistan because—as Wells Dixon, a member of his legal team, explained—“My client wanted to go to Afghanistan because he believed it was only there that he could live in peace, anonymously and permanently.”
But, soon after he settled there, the U.S. launched a war against Afghanistan in October 2001. Ameziane tried to flee the fighting, but he was captured by local police while trying to cross the border into Pakistan and was turned over to U.S. forces for a bounty of $2,000 or $5,000. Vermont attorney Robert D. Rachlin is working on Ameziane’s case and says: “There’s nothing here that shows that he so much as held a firearm or did anything against the United States — he’s one of those guys who were at the wrong place at the wrong time. There’s nothing more here than guilt by association.” For that “crime,” Ameziane was held at Kandahar Airbase in Afghanistan and then transported to Guantánamo in February 2002, making him one of the earliest prisoners held at the notorious facility.
Torture at Guantánamo
For more than a year Ameziane was held in solitary confinement in a small windowless cell in Camp 6. The International Committee of the Red Cross described Camp 6 as more restrictive than supermax facilities in the U.S. In the United States, prisoners are only placed in supermax facilities—where they are under constant surveillance and always alone– once they have been convicted of a crime.
On at least one occasion, U.S. guards at Guantánamo held Djamel Ameziane’s head down and placed a running water hose between his nose and mouth, running it for several minutes over his face and suffocating him, repeating the operation several times. Of that experience he writes, “I had the impression that my head was sinking in water. Simply thinking of it gives me the chills.”
He was subjected to other abuse as well, spending as many as 25 and 30 hours at a time in the interrogation room, sometimes with techno music blasting, “enough to burst your eardrums.” He was once sprayed all over with cayenne pepper and then hosed down with water to accentuate the effect of the pepper spray and make his skin burn. The guards then bound him in cuffs and chains and took him to an interrogation room, where he was left for several hours, writhing in pain, his clothes soaked while air conditioning blasted in the room, and his body burning from the pepper spray. Ameziane is now confined in Camp 4, and has access to other prisoners, reading materials and television. He is no longer interrogated constantly and the worst of the abuse is (hopefully) in the past. But the gross injustice of indefinite detention continues.
Djamel Ameziane’s Family
Ameziane has several brothers and sisters. His father died while he was in Guantánamo, and his mother is elderly and ailing. Djamel’s brother says: “Since Djamel has been at Guantánamo Bay, his whole family has been living a nightmare. Our mother, who hasn’t seen him in 18 years, is very sick and hopes to see him before she dies; that hope is the one thing that has kept her alive since our father died in April 2007. Our father also hoped to hold Djamel in his arms before he left us, but he didn’t have the chance, and he departed with this dream unfulfilled. As for Djamel, he was devastated when he learned the sad news that the father who loved him so much passed away. The whole family anxiously awaits Djamel’s return to us.”
Ameziane has never been charged with a crime. There is no credible evidence that he took up arms against the U.S. or posed a threat. He remains at Guantánamo because the United States cannot send him back to Algeria, the country of his birth and has not (despite eight years of Ameziane’s unjust and wrongful detention) found a third country to host him.
Djamel Ameziane has a credible fear of persecution in Algeria. He grew up in Kabylie, an unstable region in the north of Algeria known for frequent, violent clashes between the Algerian army and Islamic resistance groups. The region is descending into even greater chaos, and clashes are on the increase. The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning to the area, citing “terrorist attacks, including bombings, false roadblocks, kidnappings, ambushes, and assassinations” that occur regularly particularly in Kabylie. In this region, practicing Muslims are automatically suspected of supporting the resistance. They are frequently harassed and targeted for arrests and detention by the government solely because of their religious practices. The area has also not been Ameziane’s home for nearly two decades and he should not be forced to return there.
The stain of having spent time in Guantánamo would alone be enough to put him at risk of being imprisoned if he is returned. The first two Algerians transferred out of Guantánamo in July 2008 were disappeared for two weeks and likely subjected to interrogation by Algeria’s “military security” police. Amnesty International has reported that the most serious violations of human rights abuses have been committed by these forces in cases of individuals detained on suspicion of terrorist activity.
Djamel Ameziane remains trapped at Guantánamo until a third country comes forward to offer him resettlement protection. A graduate of college, Djamel speaks a number of languages—which would ease his transition to a third country. He is fluent in French, Arabic and English, and speaks some German. In 2008, his lawyers submitted an application for resettlement in Canada, the country he lived in for five years and would not have left had he not previously been denied asylum. One of his brother’s also lives in Canada, making it an easier place for Ameziane to settle in.
The Anglican Church in Canada is prepared to sponsor Djamel Ameziane’s settlement, where one of his brothers also lives. Barry Clarke, Anglican bishop of Montreal, said: “Having read what Djamel has suffered and the risk he would face if returned to Algeria, I am convinced that sponsoring him is the right thing to do.” But Canada is not the only option. There is an effort to convince the Austrian government to take him back, and his boss at the Al Caminetto Trattoria is eager to rehire him as a chef.
Despite his long separation from family and imprisonment, Djamel has continued to pursue his interests– he enjoys drawing and water coloring, he reads French mystery novels and plays soccer. Djamel says: “I have only ever wanted to live quietly and peacefully in a country where I would not suffer persecution. That is still my goal.” There is no reason that President Barack Obama, who in January 2009 pledged to shut down Guantánamo and end torture, could not free Djamel Ameziane and help him realize that goal.
Write to Djamel Ameziane
Please send a copy to Center for Constitutional Rights
Djamel Ameziane, Internment Serial Number 310
U.S. Naval Base Guantánamo Bay, Cuba
PO Box 160
Washington, DC 20355 USA
Center for Constitutional Rights
Attn: Liz Bradley
Guantánamo Letter Writing Campaign
666 Broadway, Seventh Floor
New York, NY 10003