The United States has repatriated two Algerians held at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for more than a decade, the Pentagon said on Thursday, in what the men's attorneys described as an involuntary transfer that ignored their pleas to go elsewhere.
Djamel Ameziane and Bensayah Belkecem did not want to go back to Algeria because they fear being persecuted there, their attorneys said.
"Hopefully this won't be a case of 'out of the frying pan and into the fire,'" Zeke Johnson, director of Amnesty International USA's Security & Human Rights Program, said in a statement.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented Ameziane, said the repatriation to Algeria violated international law. Rob Kirsch, an attorney for Belkecem, described the transfer as involuntary.
"The U.S. has compounded one injustice against him with another. He deserved better from the United States," CCR attorney Wells Dixon in a statement.
The transfers reduced Guantanamo's prisoner population to 162 detainees, part of a slow-moving effort by President Barack
Obama's government to close the detention facility.
Obama promised to shut it down during his 2008 presidential campaign, citing its damage to the U.S. reputation around the world. But he has been unable to do so in his nearly five years in office, in part because of resistance from Congress.
Prior to the latest transfers, the United States has repatriated 14 detainees to Algeria, seven under President Obama and seven under George W. Bush's administration, a Pentagon spokesman said.
"We have received no credible or substantiated information to suggest that any of these former detainees have been targeted by extremists operating in Algeria," Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Todd Breasseale said.
Breasseale also said the United States had coordinated with Algeria's government to ensure the transfers took place with "appropriate security and humane treatment assurances."
The concerns extend beyond targeting by extremists.
Kirsch said the U.S. decision would keep Belkecem from seeing his family. Belkecem's wife and daughters, who live in Bosnia, will not move to Algeria.
"His wife will not take their daughters to Algeria, out of concern for her daughters. The U.S. knew this would deprive (Belkecem) of his family," Kirsch said.
The Guantanamo prison camp was established during Bush's presidency to house foreign terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the United States.
Some 15 detainees are waging a hunger strike and lawmakers have blasted the prison's cost, about $2.7 million per prisoner per year, compared with $70,000 per inmate at maximum-security federal prisons. (Additional reporting by Jane Sutton in Miami; Editing by Bill Trott)
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