After being held for 11 months without charge in U.S. military custody at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, 22-year old journalist Jawed “JoJo” Ahmad is a free man. “We’re beyond ecstatic,” said his lawyer, Barbara Olshansky, litigation director at the International Justice Network. She told Legal Times it’s the first time lawyers have successfully negotiated with the U.S. government for a prisoner to be freed from Bagram.
Ahmad was working as a local assistant and interpreter for private Canadian television station, CTV, when he was arrested in October 2007 and designated an enemy combatant. Ahmad said he was held because “the U.S. military believed he had contacts with local Taliban leaders and was in possession of a video of Taliban materials,” according to the non-profit Committee to Protect Journalists.
On June 20, 2008, the ICJ filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on Ahmad’s behalf and sought declaratory and injunctive relief in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The suit asked the court to compel the government to establish a lawful basis for Ahmad’s detention or to release him immediately.
The case was filed eight days after the Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision in Boumediene v. Bush, granting Guantánamo Bay detainees the right of habeas corpus. Legal experts say the next frontier is determining whether the same right applies to Bagram detainees. Olshanksy, who previously brought Rasul v. Bush (2004) to the Supreme Court, said the ICJ has filed a number of cases to test the question. “They will be heading to the Supreme Court very much for that purpose, which is to establish what the framers wanted in this country, which is that our leaders be accountable to the body politic … and to people around the world.”
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Virginia-based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said Ahmad’s was one of a number of prominent cases where journalists have been detained in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Unfortunately we’ve seen a number of these cases where local fixers really put their lives on the line when they try to cover U.S. military activities. What we would consider important information when covering a story, the U.S. military considers aiding terrorists.”
Olshansky hailed the decision as a win for press freedom. She said a group of journalists was waiting for Ahmad when he was released on Sunday, and they had all pitched in for a gift: “A room in the fanciest hotel in Kabul.”