After seven years in detention, five of six Algerian terror
suspects at the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have been ordered freed by a
federal district judge. In his decision, Judge Richard Leon, a Bush appointee,
noted that the government had provided enough evidence to continue holding the
sixth Algerian, Belkacem Bensayah, who is accused of helping others travel to
Afghanistan to join al-Qaida in its attacks on US interests. Washington attorney Annemarie Brennan has
been following the trial for Amnesty International and its Counterterror with
Justice program.She points out that government prosecutors failed to show
that the other defendants had assisted in the subversion campaign.
“Although the information was likely sufficient
for intelligence purposes, it was not legally sufficient to hold them as enemy
combatants within the US legal system,” she said.
Thursday’s decision follows a landmark US Supreme
Court ruling back in June that determined that the detainees had the legal
right to contest their imprisonment.Attorneys for the Algerians had argued that
the prisoners should not be considered enemy combatants because they had not
actually been captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan.
In its June decision, the court rejected
prosecution claims that the men, who were taken into custody in Bosnia in 2001,
were planning to travel to Afghanistan to join al-Qaida. The Supreme Court gave
the five detainees, who included Algerian Boumediene Lakhdar, the right to
challenge their Guantanamo imprisonment in court.Amnesty International’s Annemarie Brennan says she’s not sure
whether Judge Leon was convinced by that verdict that US prosecutors lacked
sufficient evidence.But she contends
that the direction charted out by the Supreme Court made it possible for
yesterday’s setback of the government’s case.
“It was the Boumediene decision in June, 2008
that struck down the portion of the military commission’s act that stripped the
courts of the right to hear these cases.I think he (Judge Leon) felt he had the authority now to go forward on
that.That said, I think there was some
speculation that the case actually would come out the other way.This judge, I believe, was a Bush appointee,
and thought to be fairly conservative.And so I think there were some people who were surprised by the
outcome,” Brennan noted.
The US Defense Department says the government
plans to appeal yesterday’s ruling.However, with US President-Elect Barack Obama looking into ways to close
down Guantanamo, Brennan says the future disposition of a prosecution appeal
“It’s going to be necessary for them to weigh the
possible benefits of continuing to prosecute, or at least to detain these men
with the fact that they really have what’s been a series of losing court
battles.And I’m not sure if
continually having people named not-enemy combatants helps their case at
all.In the case of these five men, the
judge cautioned them (the prosecution) to take a hard look at the evidence and
suggested that any appeal would take at least 18 months to two years to play
out.And he really seemed to be
suggesting that even if they did pursue an appeal, it would end up in the same
decision,” she explains.
During the recent US presidential campaign, both
Senators Obama and John McCain agreed that it would be hard for the US
government to justify continuing to operate Guantanamo during their
“I’m not surprised that the current
administration would like to move forward with that appeal, but I don’t know if
the next administration will find that the best use of time or resources,” said
If Thursday’s court order is
upheld, Brennan says the five detainees would likely be repatriated either to
Algeria, if security and conditions ensuring their safety permit, or to Bosnia,
where she says some of them maintain residency, or to another destination where
they will be allowed to move on with their lives.