Government To Allow Release of Guantanamo Detainee

Photo by flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulk/3080299313/">Paul Keller</a> used under a <a href="http://www.creativecommons.org">Creative Commons</a> license.


For nearly seven years the US government has defended its detention of Mohamad Jawad, possibly the youngest inmate at Guantanamo Bay. But in an abrupt about-face late on Wednesday, Justice Department lawyers said they will allow Jawad to be released, acknowledging that key evidence in their case had been tainted by torture. This admission could affect the cases of more detainees and complicate the administration’s attempt to close down Guantanamo by the end of the year.

The government’s decision to release Jawad suggests that it may stop trying to delay the release of at least some of the detainees whose cases hinge on evidence contaminated by torture. It could also signal a real break between Obama’s Justice Department and the agencies that have previously run the show at Guantanamo: the Defense Department and the CIA.

Jawad’s detention was controversial from the beginning. He was brought to Guantanamo after being apprehended in December 2002 when he was as young as 14—perhaps even younger. He had been accused of throwing a hand grenade at two US service members and their Afghan interpreter in an attack in Kabul.

However, when a military prosecutor named Darrel Vandeveld was assigned to Jawad’s case, he found serious problems with the evidence. In particular, he came to the conclusion that Jawad’s statements about his alleged crimes had been obtained under torture. Vendeveld eventually resigned and started helping Jawad’s defense effort.

Less than a week ago, government lawyers conceded Jawad had been tortured at Guantanamo, and that his statements could not be used against him. (In a blistering exchange on July 16, the federal judge hearing the case described it as “an outrage.”) However, the government also said that it had access to alternative evidence that could be used to continue to hold Jawad, and asked for more time to assemble it. On Wednesday, it abandoned that tactic. (Keeping their options open, DOJ lawyers did suggest that they may still pursue criminal charges against Jawad after he’s released.)

“I think it just shows the rule of law is starting to take hold again,” Major David Frakt, one of Jawad’s military lawyers, told me on Wednesday evening. He said the Obama administration’s lawyers “are starting to take a critical, skeptical eye to what they were given.”

Now the big question for the Obama administration is: How many Jawads are there?

Libby Lewis is a print and public radio journalist and a former Knight Fellow at Yale Law School.

MORE HARD-HITTING JOURNALISM

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones, a special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.