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Court clears Guantanamo captives for return to Algeria

The U.S. Supreme Court late Friday cleared the way for the repatriations from Guantanamo of two Algerian men who argued they'd be in danger if they were sent home.

Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed, 49, ordered freed by a federal judge in November, and Abdul Aziz Naji, 35, could be sent home at any time after the high court refused to block their transfers.

Both have been held at Guantánamo since 2002 and neither were ever charged with a crime. Each had argued that, because of the stigma of having done time at Guantánamo, even cleared, they could face repression if not death in their homeland.

In Naji's case, his Boston lawyer, Ellen Lubell, said by email Saturday that ``he fears extremists will try to recruit him -- associating him with Guantánamo -- and will torture or kill him if he resists.''

``He has nothing against the Algerian government,'' Lubell added, ``but he fears that the government will be unable to protect him from Algerian extremists.''

They are among six Algerians at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba seeking resettlement elsewhere for fear of torture or death at home. Algeria has an active extremist movement that identifies with al Qaeda.

Saturday, the detention center census was 180 captives.

Naji, 35, is one of Guantánamo's dwindling prosthetic population. He lost a leg to a land mine accident in Pakistan's Kashmir region. Pakistani security forces picked him up in Peshawar in May 2002 and turned him over to U.S. forces, who sent him to Guantánamo.

An Obama era task force approved his release from the prison camps as part of a sweeping review it undertook last year to try to close the detention center. But his lawyers asked the U.S. government to find him safe haven elsewhere.

In Mohammed's case, Judge Gladys Kessler ruled Nov. 20 that the U.S. military was unlawfully holding him. But his lawyers said he feared going home.

Mohammed's lawyer, Jerry Cohen of Boston, said his client fled his native Algeria years ago and kicked around Europe as an itinerant laborer in the 1990s before his capture in Pakistan.

For her part, the judge wrote in an 80-page ruling that Justice Department lawyers didn't prove the captive had joined either al Qaeda or the Taliban while in South Asia. Mohammed, she said, ``may well have started down the path toward becoming a member or substantial supporter of al Qaeda and/or the Taliban, but on this record he had not yet achieved that status.''

In a bid to block his repatriation, lawyers for Mohammed had unsuccessfully sought to question under oath Obama's closure czar, U.S. ambassador at large Dan Fried, on whether there were attempts to resettle the Algerian elsewhere.

The State Department is responsible for deciding which detainees can safely go home and government attorneys said the United States had Algerian assurances that Mohammed would not be abused.

At the Supreme Court, the vote was 5-3 in the Mohammed case, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissenting, joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. By the time the court cleared the way for Naji's repatriation several hours later, there was no dissent.

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