Press Release

IACHR Publishes Report No. 29/20, Case 12.865—Djamel Ameziane, Concerning the United States

June 22, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) published Report No. 29/20 case 12.865– Djamel Ameziane, concerning the United States of America. The case relates to the arbitrary detention of Mr. Djamel Ameziane at Kandahar Airbase and Guantánamo Bay Detention Centerthroughout nearly 12 years, where he was subjected to torture, poor detention conditions, there was a lack of due process guarantees, and he was forcibly returned to Algeria. The IACHR established the existence of an officially-sanctioned regime of cruel and inhuman treatment for the purposes of interrogation at Guantánamo that was applied to Mr. Ameziane, during which he was subjected to a number of methods of physical and psychological torture. The IACHR thus concluded that the United States’ international responsibility for violating the rights to life, integrity, and personal security; equality before the law; religious freedom and worship; freedom of expression; protection of honor, personal reputation, and private and family life; right to family and protection thereof; protection of health and well-being; fair trial; assembly; property; petition; protection from arbitrary detention; and due process enshrined the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.

The IACHR established that the arbitrariness of indefinite detention at Guantánamo without charge for more than a decade was dispositive in Mr. Ameziane’s case; for five of those years, moreover, the U.S. admitted that he was not properly detained, yet failed to release him. The IACHR also concluded that the State failed to ever effectively determine Mr. Ameziane’s status under international law.

The IACHR found that Mr. Ameziane, was subjected to methods of torture, including at least: blunt trauma (beating, punching, kicking, slapping); asphyxiation via waterboarding (drowning); chemical exposure to pepper spray, accentuated with water; humiliation and verbal abuse, death threats, threats of further torture, and threats of return to Algeria to be tortured; use of dogs to create terror; religious abuse (taunting, harassment, particular and structural interferences with his ability to practice religion, witnessing violation of taboos such as desecration of the Qu’ran and forced shaving); purposeful inhumane conditions of detention, including small, confined cells, solitary confinement, unhygienic conditions, lack of access to sanitary facilities, exposure to extremes of temperature, denial of privacy; persistent interference with eating and sleeping, lack of recreational and other activities; and deprivation of normal sensory stimuli during extended periods (years), including sound, light, sense of time, loss of contact with the outside world and of social contacts within the prison; and denial of effective medical care to address the consequences and aftermath of more than a decade of exposure to all of the above. The Commission considered that the magnitude of the conduct and conditions inflicted on Mr. Ameziane, over all those years, was sufficient to qualify his treatment, in its totality, as torture, in violation of Articles I and XXV of the American Declaration.

The IACHR deemed that his incommunicado detention from January 2002 to June 2004 constituted cruel and inhuman treatment according to settled inter-American standards. Furthermore, the IACHR deemed the deprivation of food under State custody in the context of this case amounted to a breach of the right to food contained in Article XI of the American Declaration.

The Commission also deemed that given the length of Mr. Ameziane’s detention, the torture to which he was subjected and the fact that most or all of the health problems he presented are presumptively the result of direct action by State agents or developed under their custody, this situation amounts to a violation of the right to humane treatment and the right to health contained in Article XI of the American Declaration

The IACHR also considered that religious harassment and abuse by U.S. authorities, and structural interferences with his religious practice additionally constituted degrading treatment. Therefore, the Commission concluded the U.S. violates Articles I, II and XXV of the American Declaration, in conjunction with the right to religious freedom and worship as established in Article III of the American Declaration. The IACHR considered that Mr. Ameziane’s family was never able to visit him; and that in general, his meaningful contact with the world was severely disrupted throughout his time in detention. Therefore, the IACHR concluded that the severe disruption of Mr. Ameziane’s relationship with his family and ability to maintain communication with them during his nearly twelve years of arbitrary detention constituted a violation of his right to private and family life enshrined Articles V and VI of the American Declaration.

The Commission found that use of solitary confinement in 2013 as retaliation by the State for participating in a hunger strike, besides constituting torture, constituted a violation of Mr. Ameziane’s freedom of expression, assembly, and right of petition, as expressed in Articles IV, XXI, and XXIV the American Declaration.

Furthermore, the Commission determined that throughout his detention, the State created obstacles to the vindication of this right so extreme that Mr. Ameziane was ultimately prevented from ever receiving a judicial decision on the merits as to the legality of his detention, including serious interferences with his due process rights. For these reasons, the Commission concludes that the United States is responsible for the violation of the right to due process and to an effective remedy, established in Articles XXVI and XVIII of the American Declaration, against Djamel Ameziane.

The IACHR found that the provisions of the Detainee Treatment Act (2005) and the Military Commissions Act (2006), constitute amnesty laws as they purport to prevent the effective prosecution and punishment of State agents who may be responsible for grave human rights violations, including torture, perpetrated against detainees in the framework of the “war on terror.” The Commission concluded, that the United States is responsible for the violation of the right to due process and to an effective remedy, established in Articles XXVI and XVIII of the American Declaration, as well as the right to truth as emergent from the same, against Mr. Ameziane and society as a whole, to the extent that this law acts to prevent society as a whole from learning the truth about grave human violations perpetrated in U.S. detention programs, including at Guantánamo Bay.

The IACHR also concluded that by holding Mr. Ameziane, a non-U.S. citizen Muslim man, in this particularly severe regime of indefinite detention without fundamental due process guarantees, the United States is responsible for the violation of the right to equality before the law, established in Article II of the American Declaration, against Mr. Ameziane.

The IACHR found that the absence of a duly motivated decision and the lack of effective judicial review of a decision to return Mr. Ameziane, as a person who expressed a well-founded fear of persecution, torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in his home country, to Algeria, constituted a violation of the principle of non-refoulement in violation of the American Declaration, in connection with the rights to due process (Art. XXVI) and to an effective remedy (Art. XVIII), as well as a breach of precautionary measure 259/02 granted by the IACHR in favor of the persons detained by the United States in Guantanamo Bay.

The IACHR also established that the fact that Mr. Ameziane was labeled as an “enemy combatant” although he was never charged with any crime; the fact that he was denied access to legal proceedings that might have helped to clear his name; and that the State has never offered an apology, are sufficient to constitute a violation of his and his family’s right to honor and personal reputation in violation of Article V of the American Declaration. The IACHR also found that the confiscation of Mr. Ameziane’s property at the moment of his detention constituted a violation of his right to property (Art. XXIII of the American Declaration), in connection with his rights to due process and the presumption of innocence (Art. XXVI), to an effective remedy (Art. XVIII), and to equality before the law (Art. II).

The IACHR also observed that the failure to comply with precautionary measures granted in favor of Mr. Ameziane and the existence of a permissive State policy regarding the commission of torture in U.S. detention facilities create an aggravated international responsibility of the United States, causing irreparable harm to Mr. Ameziane, and evidencing a systematic lack of respect for the most fundamental human rights of Mr. Ameziane and similarly situated detainees.

On December 7, 2018, the IACHR approved Merits Report No. 156/18 and recommended the United States take all remaining steps to comply immediately with the recommendations made in its report Toward the Closure of Guantánamo, return to Mr. Ameziane the property (currency) confiscated from him upon his capture in Pakistan in 2001; make adequate material and moral reparation for the human rights violations established in this report, including both economic compensation and measures of satisfaction; provide for appropriate medical and psychological care for his rehabilitation, coordinating the measures to be taken with him and his representatives; and begin and/or continue criminal investigations for torture committed against him in Kandahar and Guantánamo.

In April 2019, the United States informed the IACHR that it had “taken the nonbinding recommendations set out [in the report] into consideration” and reiterated its objection to the manner in which the IACHR interpreted and applied the law on armed conflict in the merits report in question. The State alleges that OAS Member States have not granted the Commission the competence or authority to do so.

On June 17, 2019, the IACHR approved Merits Report No. 97/19 (Final) and sent this to the United States on July 3, 2019, with a request that it report back within a month on the measures it had taken to comply with the recommendations. The IACHR has yet to receive a reply. As the United States has not complied with the recommendations set forth in the merits report in question, on April 22, 2020, the IACHR approved Report No. 29/20, which it decided to make public and include in its Annual Report to the OAS General Assembly. As stipulated in its mandate, the IACHR will continue to assess compliance with the recommendations in this report until they are fully implemented.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The IACHR has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 143/20