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Federal appeals court overturns Guantanamo detainee release order

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Tuesday overturned [opinion, PDF] a lower court's decision to grant habeas corpus to Yemeni Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Saeed Hatim, blocking his release. In a per curiam opinion, the judges stated that the lower court's decision was inconsistent with current laws on detainees, and that, since advances in the law had been made since Hatim's case came to trial, his case must be reconsidered:

The district court ruled that the military could detain only individuals who were "part of" al-Qaida or the Taliban; and that Hatim did not fit that description. That ruling is directly contrary to Al-Bihani v. Obama, which held that "those who purposefully and materially support" al-Qaida or the Taliban could also be detained. Hatim admits the error, but says it was harmless. We cannot see how. As the district court stated in issuing the stay, Al-Bihani "calls into question" a "key determination" upon which the order rested. The district court also ruled that in order to detain Hatim the government had to prove that he was part of the "command structure" of al-Qaida or the Taliban. Our intervening decisions in Bensayah v. Obama and Awad v. Obama held that although it is sufficient to show that an individual is in the command structure, such a showing is not necessary in order to defeat a habeas petition.
A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] granted [opinion, PDF] Hatim's petition for habeas corpus in December 2009, ordering his release [JURIST report]. The US Department of Defense [official website] alleged that Hatim trained at the al Farouq paramilitary camp in Afghanistan. Tuesday's opinion ordered future proceedings in Washington's federal trial court.

Earlier on Tuesday, detainee Noor Uthman Mohammed [DOD materials] pleaded guilty [press release] before a military tribunal to terrorism charges [JURIST report]. Earlier this month, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) [advocacy website] used the death of a Guantanamo detainee to highlight what it claims are problems [JURIST report] with the detention system currently used by the US for dealing with suspected terrorists. The detainee, Awal Gul, had been at the Guantanamo Bay detention center since October 2002, suspected of having aided the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan [DOD press release, PDF]. Gul died of an apparent heart attack after he had completed some aerobic exercises. The CCR believes that the circumstances surrounding Gul's death illustrate the inherent problem with the detention center and the policy the US follows in detaining and indefinitely holding suspected terrorists, claiming that the facility has become a purgatory, where people are held indefinitely. As the number of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay facility decreases, the issue of what to do with those remaining in US custody continues to be a significant issue. In January, Human Rights Watch criticized President Barack Obama [JURIST report] for failing to shut down the facility as he promised during the 2008 presidential campaign.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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