Judge Leon orders release of 5 of 6 detainees in Boumediene

* Boumediene v. Bush (D.D.C. Nov. 20, 2008)

In the first habeas rulings on the merits in connection with GTMO, Judge Leon has ordered the release of 5 of the Boumediene petitioners on the grounds of insufficient evidence, while confirming the detainability of a 6th detainee.

Lyle Denniston (SCOTUSblog) has the details below:

Judge orders five detainees freed

Thursday, November 20th, 2008 12:21 pm | Lyle Denniston

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon, in the first ruling to carry out the Supreme Court’s June decision on detainees’ rights, ordered the federal government to release five Guantanamo Bay detainees “forthwith.” The judge found, however, that the government had justified the continued imprisonment of a sixth detainee, Belkacem ben Sayah.

The judge, in an unusual added comment, suggested to senior government leaders that they forgo an appeal of his ruling on freeing the five prisoners, suggesting that “seven years is enough” in captivity. He argued that the government could pursue whatever legal issues it wished to while defending on appeal his ruling in the case of ben Sayah.

Robert Kirsch, one of the detainees’ lawyers, said after the session that they would appeal  the decision to continue the imprisonment of ben Sayah. Kirsch also told reporters that there have been diplomatic negotiations with Bosnian authorities to take the five detainees once they are released. The six prisoners were captured in Bosnia, where they had been living, although they are all natives of Algeria.

In ruling against the government as to the five detainees, Judge Leon said that the Justice Department and intelligence agencies had relied solely on a classified document, which he found was not persuasive on the government’s claim that the five had planned to travel to Afghanistan to join in hostile actions against the United States and allied forces.

The judge said that the government had persuaded, however, him that ben Sayah was “an al Qaeda facilitator” who said sought to arrange travel to Afghanistan by others to join in armed hostilities toward U.S. and coalition partners.

It took nearly an hour for the judge to announce his ruling, because it was being translated sentence by sentence so that the six detainees could keep up with it via a telephone link with the U.S. Naval prison at Guatanamo Bay.

Government lawyers did not have any immediate comment on the judge’s ruling, but the Justice Department said it would issue a statement shortly.

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