By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said on Monday it
received assurances from Egypt’s government that an Egyptian
man sent back from Guantanamo Bay would be treated humanely,
but rights activities feared he would be tortured.
The Pentagon disclosed over the weekend that the man,
identified by human rights lawyers as wheelchair-bound
49-year-old teacher Sami Al Laithi, had been sent to Egypt from
the prison for foreign terrorism suspects at the U.S. naval
base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He had been held without charges
at Guantanamo for more than three years.
“The United States has made it clear that it does not
expel, return or extradite individuals to other countries where
it believes that it is more likely than not that they will be
tortured or subject to persecution,” said Cmdr. Flex Plexico, a
“Prior to returning this detainee to Egypt, the United
States received appropriate assurances from the government of
Egypt regarding this detainee’s treatment upon his return to
Egypt. This includes assurances that this individual will
continue to be treated humanely, in accordance with Egyptian
and international legal obligations, while he remains in
Egypt,” Plexico said.
The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which
represents numerous Guantanamo detainees and is affiliated with
his lawyer, criticized his return because of Egypt’s history of
human rights violations and state-sponsored torture.
The Pentagon said a tribunal cleared him of being an “enemy
combatant,” a designation given to Guantanamo prisoners rather
prisoner of war status, which confers a host of rights. This
paved the way for release.
“You have someone who the United States has decided is no
longer an enemy combatant and is not dangerous, and we sent him
back to a country that regularly puts people in secret
detention and tortures them,” said lawyer Barbara Olshansky of
the Center for Constitutional Rights.
“I don’t understand our willing disregard for the sanctity
of human dignity that’s reflected in human rights.”
Court papers filed by his lawyers stated Al Laithi is
confined to a wheelchair as a result of a spinal injury caused
when Guantanamo personnel stomped on his back, fracturing two
The Pentagon offered a different account.
“This individual’s current health problems resulted from an
injury sustained before our involvement with him. According to
the detainee’s statements to us, his injury was sustained in an
automobile accident, and the damage has progressed over time,”
“There are no indications that his condition was adversely
affected by his detention.”
His lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith had filed a court motion to
prevent his transfer to Egypt based on the likelihood he would
be tortured or abused. The court turned this down, but
Stafford-Smith asked for the decision to be reconsidered, the
It added the U.S. government transferred him without prior
notice to his lawyers or the court. It was unclear when Al
Laithi arrived back in Egypt.
The court papers stated he left Egypt in 1986 to stay with
his sister in Pakistan and never returned after criticizing the
lack of political openness in Egypt. He said he was seized in
Pakistan 3-1/2 years ago before U.S. authorities took custody
Olshansky said her group has heard through his friends and
relatives that Al Laithi had been sent back into government
detention in Egypt.
The Pentagon said “approximately 505” men are being held at
Guantanamo. Rights activists have criticized indefinite
detentions of detainees. Court papers stated Al Laithi faced
“torturous interrogations” there.