Evidence Of Innocence Rejected at Guantanamo

Combatant Status Review Tribunals, created by the Pentagon, have overwhelmingly supported continued detention of those at Guantanamo Bay.
Combatant Status Review Tribunals, created by the Pentagon, have overwhelmingly supported continued detention of those at Guantanamo Bay. (Photos By Brennan Linsley -- Associated Press)
By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Just months after U.S. Army troops whisked a German man from Pakistan to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2002, his American captors concluded that he was not a terrorist.

"USA considers Murat Kurnaz's innocence to be proven," a German intelligence officer wrote that year in a memo to his colleagues. "He is to be released in approximately six to eight weeks."

But the 19-year-old student was not freed. Instead, over the next four years, two U.S. military tribunals that were responsible for determining whether Guantanamo Bay detainees were enemy fighters declared him a dangerous al-Qaeda ally who should remain in prison.

The disparity between the tribunal's judgments and the intelligence community's consensus view that Kurnaz is innocent is detailed in newly released military and court documents that track his fate. His attorneys, who sued the Pentagon to gain access to the documents, say that they reflect policies that result in mistreatment of the hundreds of foreigners who have been locked up for years at the controversial prison.

The Supreme Court intends to weigh the legitimacy of the military tribunals at a hearing this morning. Lawyers for Kurnaz and other detainees plan to argue that the panels violate the U.S. Constitution and international law. They say that the proceedings have not provided Guantanamo Bay detainees with a fair and impartial hearing.

Lawyers for the Bush administration will argue that the tribunals have afforded suspected enemies all the rights to which they are entitled. The administration maintains that detainees need not know all of the evidence against them. The tribunals were established in 2004 after the Supreme Court ruled that such panels are needed when holding prisoners indefinitely, and Congress endorsed them in 2005.

U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green, who was privy to the classified record of the tribunal's decision-making about Kurnaz in 2004, concluded in January 2005 that his treatment provided powerful evidence of bias against prisoners, and she deemed the proceedings illegal under U.S. and international law. But her ruling, which depicted the allegations against Kurnaz as unsubstantiated and as an inappropriate basis for keeping him locked up, was mostly classified at the time.

In newly released passages, however, Green's ruling reveals that the tribunal members relied heavily on a memo written by a U.S. brigadier general who noted that Kurnaz had prayed while the U.S. national anthem was sung in the prison and that he expressed an unusual interest in detainee transfers and the guard schedule. Other documents make clear that U.S. intelligence officials had earlier concluded that Kurnaz, who went to Pakistan shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to visit religious sites, had simply chosen a bad time to travel.

The process is "fundamentally corrupted," said Baher Azmy, a professor at Seton Hall Law School who represents Kurnaz. "All of this just reveals that they had the wrong person and they knew it."

He added: "His entire file reveals he has no connection with terrorism. None. Confronted with this uncomfortable fact, the military panel makes up evidence" to justify its claim that only real terrorists are incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay.

Cmdr. Jeffrey D. Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to comment on whether the military now believes that it erred in imprisoning Kurnaz, or to discuss the release of new records. He stressed that a substantial amount of information about Kurnaz remains classified.

In a written statement, Gordon said that the military's determinations about detainees are "necessarily impacted by a variety of factors which can include the passage of time. Also, such decisions are based on the entirety of the information before DoD, and it is misguided to draw conclusions based on only parts of some documents."

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