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Case file No. 04-1166 out of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia reads like a Franz Kafka novel. In October 2001, six Algerian men residing in Bosnia were taken into custody on suspicion that they were planning to attack the local American and British embassies. After being held for three months, the Bosnian Supreme Court ordered the release of the six men, finding no “further reasons or circumstances” to support their detention. The next morning before dawn, the men were seized by U.S. forces, bound, gagged, hooded, and transported to Guantánamo Bay, where they now have been imprisoned for nearly three years. Against the advice of their attorneys at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, four of the men recently spoke out before military tribunals convened at Guantánamo Bay to determine whether the prisoners are legitimately being held. Partial transcripts of the proceedings, which have been filed by the government as part of ongoing litigation in the U.S. District Court, raise questions about the basis for their lengthy imprisonment. At the time of his arrest, Mustafa Ait Idr lived in Sarajevo and worked as a computer technician for a humanitarian organization based in Saudi Arabia. He has three children and was a member of the Bosnian national karate team. “My life has changed completely. It has turned 360 degrees to this, where I am now,” Ait Idr told the panel of three military officers Oct. 11. Ait Idr denied the government’s allegations that he associated with the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria, an extremist organization with ties to al Qaeda. “These are accusations that I can’t even answer,” Ait Idr told the panel. “You tell me I am from al Qaeda, but I am not from al Qaeda. I don’t have any proof to give you except to ask you to catch [Osama] bin Laden and ask him if I am a part of al Qaeda.” Based on a preponderance of the evidence, the panel found that Ait Idr had been properly classified as an enemy combatant — someone who supported the Taliban, al Qaeda, or associated forces engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners. In court filings, lawyers for the six men argue that the Pentagon’s enemy combatant label has no legal significance and that the U.S. government cannot claim the “unfettered right to detain any non-citizen, anywhere.” “These guys were taken away in the middle of the night. They were taken out of a country that is nowhere near a battlefield,” says Wilmer partner Robert Kirsch. “There was never any suggestion that any of them picked up or considered picking up a weapon.” Kirsch will travel to Guantánamo Bay in December to meet with his clients for the first time. Of the Bosnian detainees, Bensayah Belkacem, faces the most serious charges. According to the government, Belkacem was the main al Qaeda facilitator in Bosnia and placed 70 phone calls to senior al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydeh in the weeks following Sept. 11, 2001. Belkacem did not testify before the tribunal that was convened to hear his case. But the cases against some of the other Bosnians seem more tenuous. Unclassified allegations against Mohammad Nechle include his use of the alias “Sharfuldin.” Nechle, a social worker who worked with Bosnian war orphans, explained that the nickname came about while he was visiting orphans outside Sarajevo because “Nechle” was similar to a word in their dialect meaning mucus. “They started laughing,” Nechle told the panel. “I told them, ‘ok, you call me Mohammad, Mohammad Sharfuldin.’ “ The unclassified allegations against Boudella al Hajj state that he was arrested in connection with the planned attack on the American Embassy along with other suspected terrorists and is “likely a member of the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria.” Al Hajj, who denied the charges, told the panel that he had never before been told the accusations against him. “I’ve been here for three years, been through many interrogations, and no interrogator ever mentioned any of these accusations. . . . Not even one mentioned the embassy thing, the terrorist organization, the Algerian Islamic organizations,” he said. The panel ruled against al Hajj, whom they described as “respectful” and “sincere,” but asked that his case be reviewed so that he might be considered for release. Wilmer’s Kirsch calls the statement a “confession of the inadequacy” of the Pentagon’s process, adding, “Even when the panel members themselves have a sense that injustice is being done, they don’t seem to have any route to accomplish the result they think is appropriate.”

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