[Ppnews] Judge Orders Five Detainees Freed From Guantánamo

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Nov 20 16:15:47 EST 2008

November 21, 2008

Judge Orders Five Detainees Freed From Guantánamo


In the first hearing on the government’s 
justification for holding detainees at the 
Bay detention camp, a federal judge ruled 
Thursday that five Algerian men were held 
unlawfully for nearly seven years and ordered their release.

The judge, Richard J. Leon of Federal District 
Court in Washington, also ruled that a sixth 
Algerian man was being lawfully detained because 
he had provided support to the terrorist group 

The case was an important test of the Bush 
administration’s detention policies, which 
critics have long argued swept up innocent men 
and low-level foot soldiers along with high-level and hardened terrorists.

The six men are among a group of Guantánamo 
inmates who won a 
Court ruling that the detainees have 
constitutional rights and can seek release in 
federal court. The 5-4 decision said a 2006 law 
unconstitutionally stripped the prisoners of 
their right to contest their imprisonment in 
corpus lawsuits.

The hearings for the Algerian men, in which all 
of the evidence was heard in proceedings that 
were closed to the public, were the first in 
which the Justice Department presented its full 
justification for holding specific detainees 
since the Supreme Court ruling in June.

Judge Leon, in a ruling from the bench, said that 
the information gathered on the men had been 
sufficient to hold them for intelligence 
purposes, but was not strong enough in court.

“To rest on so thin a reed would be inconsistent 
with this court’s obligation,” he said. He 
directed that the five men be released 
“forthwith” and urged the government not to appeal.

Judge Leon, who was appointed by President Bush, 
had been expected to be sympathetic to the 
government. In 2005, he ruled that the men had no habeas corpus rights.

Lawyers said the decision was likely to be seen 
as a repudiation of the Bush administration’s 
effort to use the detention center at the 
American naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as a 
way to avoid scrutiny by American judges. 
Obama has promised to close the prison.

“The decision by Judge Leon lays bare the 
scandalous basis on which Guantánamo has been 
based ­ slim evidence of dubious quality,” said 
Zachary Katznelson, legal director at Reprieve, a 
British legal group that represents many of the 
detainees. “This is a tough, no-nonsense judge.”

Because of the Bush administration’s claims that 
most of the evidence against the men was 
classified, Judge Leon ordered the entire case to 
be heard in a closed courtroom after brief opening statements on Nov. 5.

The government argued that the six Algerians, who 
were residents of Bosnia when they were first 
detained in 2001, were planning to go to 
Afghanistan to fight the United States and that 
one of them was a member of Al Qaeda.

The five men who were ordered freed on Thursday 
include Lakhdar Boumediene, for whom the landmark 
Supreme Court ruling in June was named. The one 
detainee Judge Leon found to be lawfully held, 
Bensayah Belkacem, has been described by 
intelligence agencies as a leading Al Qaeda operative in Bosnia.

It was not immediately clear whether the 
government would appeal, but some lawyers said 
they considered an appeal likely.

The case has become an example of the Bush 
administration’s pattern of changing strategy in 
its long legal war over Guantánamo as the courts 
have scrutinized the government’s justification 
for its detention policies in general and its 
reasons for holding individual detainees.

In 2002, President Bush made the government’s 
allegations against the men a showcase of his 
administration’s approach to dealing with 
terrorists. He said in his 
of the Union address that the six men had been 
planning a bomb attack on the United States 
Embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Last month, however, 
Justice Department lawyers said they were no 
longer relying on those accusations to justify the men’s detention.

The habeas corpus cases have moved slowly despite 
the Supreme Court decision that directed federal 
judges in Washington to act quickly after nearly 
seven years of detention for many of the 250 men still held in Guantánamo.

Detainees’ lawyers said Thursday’s ruling by 
Judge Leon would be a signal to other judges that 
they should be skeptical of the government’s efforts to delay hearings.

P. Sabin Willett, a lawyer for the 
said that Judge Leon’s decision “sends a powerful 
message to all the other judges to get these cases moving.”

J. Wells Dixon, a detainees’ lawyer at the Center 
for Constitutional Rights, said the ruling made 
clear that Guantánamo Bay had failed. But, he 
said, “Justice comes too late for these five men.”

Earlier this week, the Justice Department filed 
legal motions seeking to stop more than 100 of 
the other Guantánamo habeas corpus cases from 
proceeding, a move that lawyers for detainees 
said was a government effort to avoid further court scrutiny.

The Justice Department lawyers argued in motions 
filed Tuesday that there were flaws in the ground 
rules of other judges for the Guantánamo cases 
that would require the government to reveal classified evidence.

Last month, another district court judge in 
Washington, Ricardo M. Urbina, ordered the 
release of 17 other detainees, all ethnic Uighurs 
from western China. The judge did not hold a 
hearing on the evidence in that case because the 
government conceded that the men were not enemy combatants.

The Justice Department won a stay of Judge 
Urbina’s release order and is appealing. 
Arguments are scheduled for Monday in the United 
States Courts of Appeals in Washington.

Bernie Becker contributed reporting from Washington.

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