The two men were convicted in absentia on 30 September 2003 by the Court of First Instance in Brussels, Belgium, for giving material support to terrorism. They both entered Afghanistan with fake Belgian passports. Hakimi was sentenced in absentia to 4 years, Sliti to 5 years. The Belgian Federal prosecutor has prepared an extradition request to the United States in October 2009 in order to give Hakimi and Sliti a new trial so they can respond to the charges against them. Most recently, the U.S. ambassador in Belgium, mr. Howard Gutman, has hinted at this case as well, asking Belgium to ‘accept more detainees’ from Guantanamo.
However, the Belgian government, which ultimately has to send the extradition request to the United States, still hasn’t done this. In a reply to the Belgian daily ‘La Libre Belgique’, Minister of Justice remains very vague about the procedure, saying that eventually he “must make a decision”. Under Belgian law there is no time limit to request the extradition.
The Belgian government is probably not keen on having another row with Tunisia, which started with a speech in which Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme questioned Tunisia’s human rights record. Tunisia has always stated that they would ‘welcome’ all the remaining Tunisian prisoners from Guantanamo, saying that they are ‘capable of conducting fair trials’. Both men have been convicted in absentia in Tunisia. Asking for the extradition of the two detainees would again sour diplomatic relations between Belgium and Tunisia.
While it is unknown at this moment whether the two men will have a civilian or military trial in the U.S., it is certain that they won’t be sent back to Tunisia. A U.S. District Court has de facto prohibited any transfers from Tunisian Guantanamo detainees in 2007, when it judged that a Tunisian detainee would face a serious risk of torture if sent back to Tunisia. Such a transfer would also be a violation of international law.
Now it gets really tricky: if Belgium would not send such an extradition request, and Hakimi and Sliti remain detained without charge in Guantanamo Bay – or another site – Belgium could violate international law as well, because its inaction would contribute to the prolongation of an existing human rights violation.
On 26 January 2005, a Tunisian military court convicted Hakimi under article 123 of its Code of Military Justice to 20 years in prison on charges of participating in a terrorist organisation abroad. The main evidence against Hakimi, according to the court ruling, came from statements made to the judical police by their codefendants in custody, who claimed that they had met Hakimi at a military camp in Afghanistan where they had undergone military training in preparation for returning to Tunisia to carry out operations there. During the trial those codefendants tried to disavow their statements to the police, but the judge refused this request.
In a separate trial in the Military Court Hakimi was also convicted to 20 years in prison for participating in Afghanistan in the establishment of a new ‘fundamentalist jihadist organisation’.
On 22 March 2005 the Tunisian Court of First Instance convicted al-Sliti in absentia on five counts under Tunisia’s 2003 anti-terrorism law. He was sentenced to 32 years in prison. Sliti has already been in Guantanamo for more than a year when the 2003 law was passed. International human rights law prohibits the retroactive application of criminal laws.