[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 governments
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
administrations 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
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 courts 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 administrations
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 administrations 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
administrations pattern of changing strategy in
its long legal war over Guantánamo as the courts
have scrutinized the governments justification
for its detention policies in general and its
reasons for holding individual detainees.
In 2002, President Bush made the governments
allegations against the men a showcase of his
administrations 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 mens 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 Thursdays ruling by
Judge Leon would be a signal to other judges that
they should be skeptical of the governments efforts to delay hearings.
P. Sabin Willett, a lawyer for the
said that Judge Leons 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
Urbinas 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.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the PPnews