Guantanamo Detainee to File Habeas Petition

By Josh White and Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mohammed Sulaymon Barre fled his native Somalia as civil war raged in the early 1990s, receiving U.N. refugee status and landing in Pakistan, where he settled his family and worked for a financial services company. In a nighttime raid in November 2001, Pakistani authorities arrested Barre, holding him for four months and then turning him over to U.S. forces in Afghanistan as an alleged terrorist.

Soon thereafter, Barre was flown to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

More than six years later and now armed with a recent Supreme Court decision, Barre plans to file a habeas corpus petition in a U.S. federal court in Washington today, the first time he will be able to challenge his detention before a civilian judge. Barre's is among the first new habeas petitions to follow the Supreme Court's ruling June 12 that Guantanamo detainees have a right to access U.S. courts. Lawyers representing other detainees have indicated they plan to file similar cases this week.

For men like Barre, the hearings offer a chance to see the U.S. government's evidence against them and the rationale for determining that the detainees are "enemy combatants." Barre has argued that he is an innocent banker who had regular contacts with the United Nations, and Barre's lawyers now argue that the U.S. government has presented no evidence that Barre has done anything wrong.

"They have never attempted to set forth any basis for Mr. Barre's detention," said J. Wells Dixon, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights who represents Barre. "This will give him an opportunity to go into court and be heard."

Barre's new petition will join about 200 detainee habeas cases that were filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before such legal avenues were blocked by Congress and the cases were put on hold pending the Supreme Court's review.

The District Court's chief judge, Royce C. Lamberth, met with lawyers for the detainees and the Justice Department yesterday to discuss how to move forward. Lamberth has appointed Thomas F. Hogan, a senior district judge, to help manage the habeas cases, and the court's judges are scheduled to meet July 1 "to discuss the lawyers' suggestions," Lamberth said in a statement.

Sources familiar with the meeting said the Justice Department would like to consolidate the cases and plans to add about 50 new attorneys to manage the workload. Justice officials also proposed filing amended court papers detailing the evidence in support of detention.

"Department attorneys have had two meetings with Chief Judge Lamberth and opposing counsel to discuss these issues informally," Justice spokesman Erik Ablin said. "We made a commitment to the court not to comment on these issues in the media while we try to work out a suitable arrangement for moving forward."

U.S. officials have said roughly 65 of the 270 detainees at Guantanamo already have been cleared for release or transfer, and about 80 detainees are expected to be tried at military commissions. That leaves at least 125 detainee cases that likely will be hotly contested in U.S. court, with judges having the power to order detainees released or transferred.

Barre, 42, is one of three Guantanamo detainees with U.N. refugee status. In Pakistan, he worked for a well-known money transfer company with offices worldwide. Military officials allege he had contact with terrorism financiers.

Barre has denied those accusations and has asked for proof, which he and Dixon say the government has never provided. "Terror is what departed me from my country and I am one of the people who hates terror most," Barre told a military panel in 2005.

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