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Citing Weak Evidence, Judge Orders Guantanamo Detainee Freed

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 15, 2009

A federal judge ordered the release yesterday of a detainee at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, ruling that the government's evidence is too weak to justify the man's continued confinement.

It is the second time that U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon has ordered the release of a detainee after examining government evidence, most of it classified. Leon said that the Justice Department failed to prove that Mohammed El Gharani, 21, is an enemy combatant because it relied heavily on statements made by two other detainees whose credibility is questionable.

"A mosaic of tiles this murky reveals nothing about this petitioner with sufficient clarity" to justify his detention, Leon ruled.

Gharani, a citizen of Chad, was picked up in Pakistan and turned over to the United States in 2002. Since then, he has been held at Guantanamo Bay.

The government alleged that Gharani traveled to Afghanistan and trained at an al-Qaeda-affiliated military camp, fought in the battle of Tora Bora and was a courier for high-level al-Qaeda members.

The government also accused Gharani of belonging to a London-based al-Qaeda cell in 1998, an accusation that Leon questioned. Gharani was 11 at the time, living with immigrant parents in Saudi Arabia, his attorneys said.

"Putting aside the obvious and unanswered questions as to how a Saudi minor from a very poor family could have even become a member of a London-based cell, the government simply advances no corroborating evidence for these statements it believes to be reliable from a fellow detainee, the basis of whose knowledge is -- at best -- unknown," the judge said.

Leon said the government describes the credibility of that informant as "undetermined." Government personnel have "directly called into question" the reliability of the other informant in Gharani's case, he said.

Gharani's attorneys said the detainee, then 14, left Saudi Arabia for Pakistan in 2001 to learn English and develop computer skills.

"Judge Leon did justice today," said attorney Zachary Katznelson. "This is an innocent kid when he was seized illegally in Pakistan and should never have been in prison in the first place."

Justice Department attorneys declined to comment.

Leon's order comes in one of scores of lawsuits challenging detainee confinement under the legal doctrine of habeas corpus. In November, he ordered the release of five Algerian detainees who were living in Bosnia when arrested.

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