Judge orders release of Guantánamo detainee

A US official says released detainees are taking up arms against the US.

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A federal judge has ordered the release of an Al Qaeda suspect held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, because of insufficient evidence that the Chadian national was an "enemy combatant."

The judge told that court that much of the evidence against the suspect came from statements from other Guantánamo detainees that were deemed questionable, reports Reuters.

On Tuesday, a Pentagon spokesman said an increasing number of former Guantánamo detainees were taking up arms against the US and its allies, the Associated Press reported. As of December, 61 former prisoners were believed to have rejoined the fight, out of around 520 released or transferred to overseas custody. In 2007, 122 were released, the highest annual total so far.

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"There clearly are people who are being held at Guantánamo who are still bent on doing harm to America, Americans, and our allies," [Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell] told reporters at the Pentagon. "So there will have to be some solution for the likes of them, and that is among the thorny issues that the president-elect and his new team are carefully considering."
Morrell said the new numbers showed a "pretty substantial increase" in detainees returning to terror missions — from 7 percent to 11 percent.
He said intelligence, photographs and forensic evidence such as fingerprints and DNA were used to tie the detainees to terror activity. He did not know where they had been released, or what missions they are now believed to have rejoined.
Human rights groups and lawyers for detainees have argued that many Guantánamo prisoners pose no security risk and should be released.

The BBC reports that President-elect Barack Obama is still grappling with the challenge of how and when to close the Guantánamo detention center. He has vowed to honor a campaign pledge and issue an executive order to shutter the facility but acknowledges that the US still needs to figure out where to send released prisoners and a legal process for putting others on trial.

John Bellinger, a legal adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, told NPR that the new administration must devise a legal framework for holding current and future detainees. This may require legislation to clarify the status of prisoners who can't be put on trial in federal courts but are deemed too dangerous to release. The Bush administration justified the indefinite detention of terror suspects on the grounds of their designation as enemy combatants.

"If that legal theory of holding people because they are enemy combatants is jettisoned, then the next administration will have to have a different legal theory for holding people," Bellinger says. "Many people, and I will have to say myself included, have supported seeking congressional legislation that clarifies who can be held even if in some cases they couldn't be tried."

The Times (of London) reports that dozens of detainees at Guantánamo are on hunger strike in what appears to be a bid to draw attention as Mr. Obama takes power. Most are being force-fed, a standard practice for prisoners there. Of 248 detainees, 44 are refusing food. A lawyer for a human rights group in New York claims that the total number of hunger strikers is more than 70. Inmates are aware of Obama's upcoming inauguration and his promise to shut down the detention center.

In Wednesday's court ruling, District Judge Richard Leon said the government's evidence against Mohammed el-Gharani, the Chadian, was a "mosaic of allegations" that failed to prove he had abetted either Al Qaeda or the Taliban in Afghanistan. Reuters reports that the hearing was one of hundreds of federal court reviews of cases involving Guantánamo detainees following a Supreme Court ruling last June that restored partial habeas corpus rights that the Bush administration had abrogated.

"Judge Leon did justice today," said Zachary Katznelson, legal director at Reprieve, a London-based non-profit group representing about 30 prisoners in Guantánamo Bay.
"This is an innocent kid, only 14 years old, who was seized illegally by the Pakistanis," said Katznelson. "He never should have been seized in the first place. He's spent one third of his life in Guantánamo."
Katznelson said Gharani, who is a citizen of Chad but was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, would hopefully be sent home within a few weeks. He did not know if Gharani would go to Saudi Arabia, where most of his family lives but where the government has said it was not interested in him, or to Chad.
Gharani's lawyers said he left Saudi Arabia in 2001 to study in Pakistan, where he was detained and eventually sent to the United States. The U.S. government had said Gharani had actually gone to Afghanistan where he took part in fighting and was fleeing to Pakistan when he was detained.

The ruling comes as The Washington Post quoted a senior Bush administration official as saying torture was used against a Saudi detainee at Guantánamo. For this reason, Mohammed al-Qahtani, who allegedly sought to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US, hasn't been put on trial, said Susan Crawford, who oversees military commissions at the Department of Defense.

Crawford, a retired judge who served as general counsel for the Army during the Reagan administration and as Pentagon inspector general when Dick Cheney was secretary of defense, is the first senior Bush administration official responsible for reviewing practices at Guantánamo to publicly state that a detainee was tortured.
Crawford, 61, said the combination of the interrogation techniques, their duration and the impact on Qahtani's health led to her conclusion. "The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent.... You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge" to call it torture, she said.

CNN reports that the Department of Defense has defended the treatment of Mr. Qahtani. In a statement, it said the interrogation methods used in 2002 were lawful at the time. Later they were overhauled and interrogators put under closer oversight. An updated Army field manual has removed some of the "aggressive questioning techniques," it said.

The Miami Herald reports that lawyers for a suspect accused in connection with the October 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole have written to ask Ms. Crawford to drop charges against him. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri faces criminal charges for his role in the deadly attack. He was held by the CIA and later transferred to Guantánamo Bay. His lawyers cite the use by interrogators of waterboarding – a method of near-drowning – as grounds for dropping the charges against Mr. Nashiri.

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