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France

NGOs hail former Gitmo detainee's transfer to France

©

Video by Susana FERREIRA , FRANCE 3

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-05-16

Two human rights groups, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have hailed France's decision to accept the transfer of Algerian-born Lakhdar Boumediene (pictured), a former Guantanamo Bay prisonner.

Lakhdar Boumediene, the Algerian man who lent his name to the landmark 'Boumediene v. Bush' US Supreme Court case, arrived in France Friday following his release from Guantanamo Bay, the French foreign ministry announced.

"Lakhdar Boumediene arrived today in France from the Guantanamo detention centre," spokesman Eric Chevallier said in a statement, without specifying where in France the former terror suspect had landed.

Boumediene, who was living in Bosnia when he was arrested in 2001, spent more than seven years in the Guantanamo detention centre. The 42-year-old Algerian national had been on hunger strike since December 2006 and was being force-fed liquids in prison. He ended his hunger strike on Wednesday following news of his departure for France, according to his lawyer.

Shortly before his arrival, Boumediene’s sister-in-law, Louisa Baghdadi, said she was ecstatic and could still hardly believe the news.

“We thought we would never see him again,” said a visibly emotional Baghdadi in an interview with FRANCE 24, adding that his family in France was prepared to give him a warm welcome back to freedom. “We’re waiting impatiently — me, my children, my husband, the entire family.”

France responds to Obama’s appeal

France agreed to accept Boumediene following his clearance for release in November by a US judge, who ruled that the Algerian man has been illegally detained.

Boumediene was among six Guantanamo inmates arrested in Bosnia in 2001 and initially charged with plotting to attack the US embassy in Sarajevo.

Five of the six were cleared for release in November by a US judge. Three of them were flown to Bosnia, where they were naturalized citizens.

Speaking to FRANCE 24 from Boston, Robert Kirsch, one of Boumediene’s civilian lawyers, thanked the French government for responding to US President Barack Obama’s appeal to US allies to take in prisoners who cannot be sent back to their home countries.

“I think France recognized that Guantanamo is a place where there are many innocent men, and we are delighted that President [Nicolas] Sarkozy and Foreign Minister [Bernard] Kouchner took the lead in Europe of helping President Obama to begin to take some of the innocent men out of Guantanamo.”

Boumediene has several family members in France. His wife and two daughters, aged nine and 13, who went to Algeria following his arrest in Bosnia, are also due to be taken in by France, according to news reports.


A lengthy legal process

The 42-year-old Algerian’s release from Guantanamo followed a lengthy legal process, which included the landmark Boumediene v. Bush case, which was heard by the US Supreme Court.

In June 2008, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 opinion that Guantanamo detainees have the right to petition US federal district courts to review their detention.

Boumediene is the second prisoner to be transferred to a third country. In February, Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian national who had lived in Britain, was returned to the United Kingdom.

Speaking to FRANCE 24, Kirsch said he had not had any discussions about likely compensation or asylum claims with his client.

“I certainly think that compensation would be justified,” said Kirsch. “He has lost seven years of his life and seven years of his time with his family. But we have not had any decisions made with Mr. Boumediene yet about what his next steps will be. His first concern frankly, is that he be in a position to see his wife and daughters again.”

Baghdadi, Boumediene’s sister-in-law, appeared to mirror that opinion. “All we want from now on is that he forget this torture which he experienced and that he can turn the page on this chapter in his life," said Baghdadi.

Date created : 2009-05-16

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