Once labeled a suspected terrorist, Abdul Aziz Naji doesn’t have a home or a country. But some officials in Newton are doing what they can to give him both. Naji has spent much of the past eight years being held as an enemy combatant in Guantanamo Bay, before being cleared for release in May 2009.
Once labeled a suspected terrorist, Abdul Aziz Naji doesn’t have a home or a country. But some officials in Newton are doing what they can to give him both.
Naji has spent much of the past eight years being held as an enemy combatant in Guantanamo Bay, before being cleared for release in May 2009.
Members of Newton’s Board of Aldermen are proposing a resolution asking Congress to allow cleared detainees into the United States and to welcome Naji into “into our community as soon as such ban is lifted.”
“We’re raising our hands,” said Alderman Stephen Linsky, who proposed the nonbinding resolution. It unanimously passed out of committee and will go before the full board on Jan. 19.
The 34-year-old Algerian has been connected to Newton for several years — local lawyers Doris Tennant and Ellen Lubell having been working for him pro bono since 2006, trying to appeal his classification as an enemy combatant.
Though he was cleared to be released by the Guantanamo Detainee Review Task Force — and was never charged with any crimes — he’s still at Guantanamo because he fears persecution from the Algerian government if he’s repatriated to his home country, Lubell said.
Lubell holds no illusions about a municipal resolution changing the minds of congressional lawmakers, but she’s delighted that the resolution makes a stand for her client and the principles she’s fought for.
“It’s a symbolic gesture that really runs counter to what we think as fear-mongering, the fear that has been generated that all these guys are bad and are going to blow us up,” Lubell said. “Some of them, including our client, should never have been in Guantanamo in the first place.”
Naji was arrested by Pakistani police in 2002 during a house raid and eventually was transferred to Guantanamo.
Most of the evidence against Naji came from torture, both of him and other prisoners, Lubell and Tennant said. The United States government alleged Naji was a member of designated terrorist group Lashkar al-Tayyibi, but Naji said he worked in a legally operated charitable wing of the organization.
Though Naji and other detainees have been deemed safe to release, the United States bans them from entering the country, and other nations are also reluctant to grant them asylum. Lubell said she’s been trying to resettle Naji in Switzerland, which allows people to apply for asylum from outside the country.
Allowing people once designated as terrorists to live in America is not a popular issue to begin with, Lubell said, and the attempted bombing of a plane flying into Detroit over Christmas has not helped matters.
“It’s understandable that people are going to respond, but that doesn’t mean men who have been cleared should have nowhere to go,” she said. “We’ve done something really wrong here, we need to address it. Keeping people locked up because we’re afraid is not helping at all.”
The attorneys are not able to communicate frequently with Naji, but Lubell said she would tell him about the resolution at the next opportunity. She said his “fondest wish” was to start a family and support himself with a regular job, and that the resolution reflected those basic desires.
“I think it’s a really wonderful gesture,” she said. “It’s a stand we can take, to say we stand by the law and recognize these people as human beings.”
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