The Cleared Gitmo Detainees: Sufyian Barhoumi
This is the final installment of a five-part series on the remaining cleared Guantanamo Bay detainees. Read part one on Ridah Bin Saleh Al-Yazidi, part two on Muieen Adeen Al-Sattar, part three on Abdul Latif Nasir, and part four on Tawfiq Nasir Awad Al-Bihani.
Sufyian Barhoumi is a 43-year-old Algerian who has been imprisoned at the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay since June 2002. Of the 26 Algerians ever held at Gitmo, Barhoumi is one of only two left at the prison. The rest have been transferred out, the large majority home to Algeria, but some to third countries such as France, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the United Kingdom.
Barhoumi has never been tried for any crimes, and in 2016, the government determined his detention was no longer necessary. Yet he is still held at Guantanamo.
Barhoumi was cleared for transfer in August 2016 by the Guantanamo Periodic Review Board (PRB). The PRB is made up of senior officials from the Departments of Defense, State, Justice, and Homeland Security, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The board assesses the cases of Guantanamo detainees “to determine whether certain individuals detained [at Guantanamo] represent a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States such that their continued detention is warranted.”
The PRB decided unanimously to clear Barhoumi for transfer. According to the board, Barhoumi’s detention “is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.” Moreover, “the risk the detainee presents can be adequately mitigated.”
The PRB recommended repatriation to Algeria. Barhoumi has a strong family network and job and marriage prospects there, and the country has a “strong track record in prior transfers.” The board also noted Barhoumi’s good behavior while imprisoned at Gitmo.
The U.S. government has made public very little information about Barhoumi’s time before capture. For what information is public, the government has provided no proof. However, files published by Wikileaks show that in 2004, the Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay (JTF-GTMO), the U.S. military group that runs the prison, assessed Barhoumi to be a possible explosives trainer who was associated with al Qaeda and other jihadist groups.
The reliability of these assessments has been repeatedly refuted and called into question by the U.S. military, federal courts, and other groups. One reason for this distrust is that the information in them often came from other detainees, some of whom told interrogators what they wanted to hear to gain better treatment. Other information came from detainees who were subjected to torture, which leads to unreliable and false intelligence.
In Barhoumi’s file, much of the information about his alleged crimes and connections came from his fellow Guantanamo detainee Abu Zubaydah. Barhoumi was captured in the same raid as Zubaydah, who the U.S. government misrepresented for years as a high-level al Qaeda official. The CIA subjected Zubaydah to its post-9/11 torture regime, including waterboarding, after which he provided a slew of incorrect information to interrogators.
This may explain why Barhoumi was charged several times in the Guantanamo military commission system and why the Obama Administration’s Guantanamo Review Task Force recommended him for possible prosecution, though he was never actually brought to trial. Barhoumi has even begged the military commission to charge him with any crime so he could plead guilty and receive a sentence and release date. But no subsequent charges were filed.
Despite the PRB’s decision that his detention is no longer necessary, Barhoumi remains stuck at Guantanamo, with no idea if or when he will be sent home or to a third country. The government has provided no reason for any delay in transfer. Like fellow cleared detainee Abdul Latif Nasir, Barhoumi’s lawyers attempted to obtain a court order to force the U.S. government to transfer him out of prison, but were denied by the D.C. District Court.
Barhoumi’s continued detention is not only an injustice, but a waste of taxpayer funds and U.S. military resources. The prison at Guantanamo is incredibly expensive to operate, costing over $10 million per detainee each year. Barhoumi’s case, like the cases of the other detainees we have profiled in this series, highlights the continuing absurdity of indefinite detention at Guantanamo.