"I was never a terrorist," Boumediene insists. "I am a devout Muslim. I pray, and I observe Ramadan, but I have no hatred toward the West." Still, he admits that he knew Belkacem Bensayah, an Algerian who was thought to have ties to al-Qaida. Boumediene explains the acquaintance by claiming that he helped his family once after Bensayah had been arrested -- but nothing more.
On Jan. 17, 2002, Bosnia's highest court acquitted Boumediene and five other Algerians, citing a lack of evidence against them. On the same day, the six men were handed over to the US Army at a military base in Bosnia and flown to Guantanamo.
Once there, Boumediene claims that he was tortured for 16 days. He says that he was kept awake day and night and forced to walk across sharp stones with his bare feet tied together. He also claims that he was told that if he refused to confess, his handlers would put makeup on and rape him.
Other detainees have recounted similar events, which were part of the special interrogation methods authorized by then-President George W. Bush.
Robert Kirsch, a senior partner at a well-known commercial law firm in Boston, eventually became Boumediene's attorney and visited him for the first time in June 2004 after he and his colleague Stephen Oleskey agreed to take on the cases of the six Algerians. Both men are high-earning, well-respected attorneys who no one could reasonably suspect of sympathizing with terrorists.
They defended the Algerians free of charge -- and it was a case that would prove tremendously time-consuming and costly. The two attorneys devoted more than 35,000 hours to the six Guantanamo detainees with a team that included up to 30 other legal experts. Under normal circumstances, such efforts would have brought in approximately $17 million (€12 million) in legal fees.
Two years after Kirsch and Oleskey started their path through the appeals process, one of their clients -- Boumediene -- went on a hunger strike for the first time. "It was the only weapon I had," he says. He was force-fed and, like all detainees who went on hunger strikes, punished.
In June 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that the case of the six Algerians had to be tried in a civilian court. A short time later, in November, a US federal court acquitted Boumediene and four other Algerians. Kirsch and Oleskey had achieved a surprising victory, and Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly named them its "lawyers of the year."
From then on, the Algerians were classified, according to military jargon, as "free detainees."
When Barack Obama moved into the White House on Jan. 20, Boumediene was still at Guantanamo. The files of each detainee had to be reviewed once again, which entailed a lengthy procedure. On top of that, no country had been found that was willing to accept Boumediene. He wanted to go to France -- but not to Algeria, where he feared he would be the target of repression.