A federal judge has ordered the release of five of the six Algerian men detained at Guantánamo Bay since 2001, in the first full habeas corpus hearing since the Supreme Court this summer granted detainees the right to challenge their detention.
Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled this morning that there was not enough evidence to justify holding five of the men, one of whom is Lakdhar Boumediene, who brought the Boumediene v. Bush Supreme Court case decided in June. "We’re immensely gratified that a habeas court has spoken so decisively and so eloquently about the need for these men to be freed immediately," the detainees’ lead lawyer Stephen Oleskey, a partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, said in a statement.
In their opening statements, Justice Department lawyers argued that the six men, who were swept up in Bosnia in 2001, would take up arms against the United States in Afghanistan if released. But just before trial, they said that they would not rely on President George W. Bush’s original allegation, made during his State of the Union address in 2002, that the men plotted to bomb the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo.
After reviewing classified evidence in a closed hearing, Judge Leon said the allegations against five of the men were based on a single source, whose credibility he did not have enough information to judge. But he ruled that the evidence against the sixth man, Belkacem Bensayah, was strong enough to justify his continued detention.
“I think it says a lot that despite the fact that the hearing was closed to the public, closed to the press, and largely closed to the detainees, the government still couldn’t bring forth sufficient evidence to justify holding these men,” Wells Dixon, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, told Legal Times.
Judge Leon downplayed the prospect of the case setting a landmark precedent, emphasizing that the facts before him were unique and could be likened to “few if any” other detainee cases. He also urged the government not to appeal, noting that it could take a further two years. Seven years in detention, he said, was “more than plenty.” Nixon says the judge’s request “reflects just how little basis there was for holding these men, and it really underscores the illegality of their detention.”