By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 28, 2009 1:47 PM
A federal judge today ruled that the government may continue to detain a 29-year-old Yemeni at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said from the bench that the government had met its burden in alleging that Ghaleb al-Bihani was an enemy combatant who supported al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan. The government relied largely on Bihani's own statements to interrogators over the years, the judge said.
Bihani's attorneys argued that their client was only a cook for the Taliban and never fired a weapon at U.S. forces. But Leon said such allegations were enough to justify Bihani's continued detention. Quoting from Napoleon, Leon said, "An army marches on its stomach."
Shereen J. Charlick and Reuben Camper Cahn, federal public defenders in California who represented Bihani, said they would appeal the ruling. "He's been locked up for seven-plus years on allegations of being a cook," Cahn said. "I don't think he will be happy" with Leon's decision.
Federal judges in U.S. District Court in Washington are presiding over about 200 lawsuits brought by detainees challenging their confinement under the legal doctrine of habeas corpus.
Leon's action might be the last such ruling by a federal judge for quite some time. Leon was the first judge to have moved ahead with hearings in the cases. Since November, Leon has ordered six detainees to be freed and ruled that the government may detain four others. Attorneys for six detainees have been granted continuances of their hearings, Leon said at a recent hearing.
The habeas cases before other judges have proceeded more slowly, and none have been scheduled for hearings on the government's evidence. The government has recently been granted delays in several cases that were nearing critical legal rulings so Justice Department attorneys could have more time to assess matters. The government requested the delays within hours of President Obama being sworn in as president.