Judge Orders Five Guantanamo Detainees Freed

After hearing the Bush administration’s evidence for holding six Algerians as enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, a federal judge appointed by the first President Bush and who had been expected to be sympathetic to the government, sided with the defense and ordered the government to free five of the six men. The New York Times reports:

After the first hearing on the government’s evidence for holding detainees at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, a federal judge ruled on Thursday that five of the prisoners are not being lawfully held and ordered their release.

The case, involving six Algerians detained in Bosnia in 2001, was an important test of the Bush administration’s detention policies, which critics have long argued swept up innocent men and low-level foot soldiers along with high-level and hardened terrorists.

The hearings for the Algerian men, in which all evidence was heard in proceedings closed to the public, were the first in which the Department of Justice presented its full justification for holding specific detainees since the Supreme Court ruled in June that Guantánamo detainees have a constitutional right to contest their imprisonment in habeas corpus suits.

Ruling from the bench, Judge Richard J. Leon of Federal District Court in Washington said that the information gathered on the men had been sufficient to hold them for intelligence purposes, but was not strong enough in court.

Even more notable, the judge issued an appeal to the government, asking that it not appeal his decision that five of the six were not enemy combatants. He told the government that it would be able to make all its legal arguments when the defense makes it appeal concerning the one detainee whom the judge ruled did qualify as an enemy combatant. In other words, the judge, not exactly a jurist most predisposed toward the defense, emotionally requested that the government let these five fellows, who were detained in the first place under suspicious circumstances, go after many years of unjustified imprisonment.