A U.S. federal judge in Washington, D.C. on Thursday ordered the release of Mohammed Jawad, one of the youngest detainees at the U.S. military facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The government will have until late August to send Jawad back to Afghanistan or file civilian criminal charges against him. He was aprehendended in Afghanistan for allegedly attacking U.S. forces with a grenade in 2002.
U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle said she has concluded that Mohammed Jawad has been held illegally by the United States for 6.5 years. In earlier court filings, the U.S. government alleged that Jawad threw a grenade into a vehicle in December 2002, seriously injuring two U.S. Special Forces soldiers and their Afghan interpreter. He was taken into custody in Afghanistan, where he says Afghan officials coerced him into confessing, and then sent to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in 2003.
One of Jawad's attorneys, U.S. Air Force Major David Frakt, says the ruling is a victory for the rule of law in the United States.
"It's really a staggering victory. This is the first detainee who was charged, actually charged in the military commissions, who was on the verge of trial, and is now to be released. So this is one of the people that the Bush administration falsely labeled as the worst of the worst," he said.
Jawad's age is uncertain because he was born in a refugee camp in Pakistan. He says he was about 12 years old when he was apprehended in 2002, but the Pentagon says he was 17. The U.S. Justice Department agreed this month not to use any of Jawad's statements given during interrogations because of torture allegations.
Jawad's attorney David Frakt says Thursday's ruling will likely set a powerful precedent for other Guantanamo detainees who say they were forced into giving confessions.
"The conclusion of the Justice Department that all the statements made at Bagram, at Guantanamo, were coerced and involuntary and inadmissible in a court has tremendous implications for other detainees who were subjected to similar conditions and similarly abusive interrogation techniques," he said.
Judge Huvelle gave the government until August 6 to notify Congress whether it intends to send Mohammed Jawad back to Afghanistan. The judge said she expects a status report from the Justice Department on August 24, stating that Jawad is en route to Afghanistan. Afghan officials have indicated they are willing to accept Jawad unconditionally, and that they believe he was detained illegally.
The Justice Department says it has not decided whether it will seek civilian criminal charges against Jawad. But that is unlikely, according to another one of Jawad's attorneys, Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"I think the judge made abundantly clear today that any kind of prosecution would face virtually insurmountable obstacles, would be a terrible idea and would be totally inconsistent with what she has seen in her court and with the basic American committment to justice and the rule of law." he said.
Jawad's attorneys say he has held up remarkably well at Guantanamo, and that his mother, uncle and extended family are waiting for him in Afghanistan "with open arms". They add that Jawad would like to help people, and possibly study to be a doctor after he is released.