US judge orders five Guantánamo detainees freed for lack of evidence
Experts say the ruling is 'a clear warning shot to the government' over Gitmo detention policies.
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All told, more than 200 detainees are challenging their confinements before judges in U.S. District Court in Washington.
Legal scholars and lawyers representing detainees said the ruling is the latest setback for the Bush administration's legal battle over the rights of the detainees. Leon, an appointee of President Bush, had been viewed by many as sympathetic to government arguments. He ruled in 2005 that the detainees did not have grounds to contest their detentions in his court. That was the decision the Supreme Court reversed in June.
"For a judge like Leon to order their release from detention is significant because the government has long maintained the evidence it had was more than sufficient to justify the detentions," said Scott L. Silliman, a national security law professor at Duke University. "This is a clear warning shot to the government. . . . These are probably not the last detainees to be ordered released."
SCOTUSblog, a legal news and commentary blog, notes that Leon expressed disagreement with the Supreme Court's ruling while announcing his decision, and warned that the ruling should not open the door to broader release of detainees.
The judge appeared to be mildly critical of the Supreme Court's ruling on detainees' habeas rights, saying that "the practical effect of imposing the habeas process on the world of intelligence-gathering" is "to create a virtually limitless complex of novel and difficult questions; as a result, the precedential value [of his decision] should be and is limited to these cases."...
Near the close of the oral announcement of his decision, the judge cautioned observers not to read any wider effect into his ruling. "Few if any of the others will be factually like" the Bosnians' case, he said, adding: "Nobody should be lulled into a false sense that all of the government's cases will look like this one."
The judge also added that "there comes a time when the desire to resolve novel legal questions...pales in comparison to effecting a just result based on the state of the record."
But commentators note that Leon's decision is significant, especially considering his background. Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com writes that Leon, a Bush appointee, is "known for ruling in favor of the Government and for expansive executive power."
He was Deputy Chief counsel for the Republicans on the Iran-Contra Committee in 1987, was Special Counsel to the Senate Banking Committee for the Whitewater investigation, and worked for both the Reagan and Bush 41 Justice Departments. That Judge Leon – of all judges – ruled that there was no credible evidence to suggest that these detainees are "enemy combatants" is as compelling a sign as one can imagine that there is no such evidence.
Simply juxtapose that finding with the fact that these men have been imprisoned for seven straight years with no meaningful due process, and one can vividly see the grotesque injustices we have wrought with Guantanamo and our denial of basic due process to detainees. That is a stain – one of many – that will never be fully expunged.