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HRW, Locked Up Alone (Belbacha)

[Ahmed] Belbacha is a 39-year-old Algerian who fled to Britain in 1999 after his life was reportedly threatened by Islamist extremists. Belbacha states that he went to Pakistan in 2001 to study religion. In December 2001 he was reportedly apprehended by villagers near Peshawar, in northwest Pakistan, and sold to the United States for a bounty. He was flown to Guantanamo in March 2002.

Belbacha received official notice that he was “approved to leave” Guantanamo in February 2007. But he is so fearful of returning to Algeria—a country with a known record of torture—that he has asked US federal courts to block his return. In March 2008 a federal appellate court reversed a lower court’s refusal to do so, and sent the case back to the lower court for further consideration.86

In the meantime, Belbacha remains housed in Camp 6, where he has been since it opened in December 2006.

In December 2007 Belbacha reportedly tried to commit suicide and was temporarily moved to the mental health unit, where he was held for two months. Put on suicide watch, he was stripped naked and given a green plastic rip-proof suicide smock and placed in an individual cell under constant monitoring. He says he was given absolutely nothing else in his cell: no toothbrush, no soap, no books, nothing he could somehow use to injure himself.

Each morning a member of the mental health staff reportedly came by and asked the same set of questions: “Do you want to hurt yourself? Do you want to hurt anyone else? Are you sleeping well? Are you eating well?”

In January 2008 Belbacha was moved out of the mental health unit—and back to Camp 6. “I feel like I’m being buried alive,” Belbacha told his lawyer, soon after his return to Camp 6.

Belbacha’s parents still live in Algeria. He has not spoken to them since being turned over to US forces over six years ago. He tells his lawyers that he is too depressed to write them.87


86. Belbacha v. Bush, 520 F.3d 452 (D.C. Cir. 2008).

87. Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Zachary Katznelson, attorney for Ahmed Belbacha, May 19, 2008.

Source: Human Rights Watch, Locked Up Alone: Detention Conditions and Mental Health at Guantanamo, June 2008, pp. 33f