By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
A federal judge has ordered a Yemeni detainee released from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, ruling that the government relied too heavily on problematic witnesses to make its case that he was a terrorist.
In a 45-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler said the government failed to prove that Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, 25, supported the Taliban or al-Qaeda. He was arrested in Pakistan and has been held at the Guantanamo Bay prison since 2002.
She ordered the government to enter into diplomatic negotiations to release Ahmed, though it is unclear whether that will work. The United States has hesitated to send Yemenis back to their home country because of its instability.
Most of the evidence against Ahmed was classified, and the Justice Department has not released a public version of its allegations.
In her heavily redacted opinion, Kessler wrote that the government presented a "mosaic" of evidence to back up allegations that Ahmed fought in Afghanistan, received military-style training there, traveled the country with fighters and stayed at a guesthouse in Pakistan with terrorists.
But Kessler ruled that the evidence was weak, inconsistent or too speculative to justify Ahmed's continued confinement. She wrote that the government "produced virtually no credible evidence" to prove that Ahmed fought U.S. or allied forces.
Most of the government's problems stemmed from its witnesses, she wrote.
The credibility of one was called into question by another judge. A second's statements were riddled with "equivocation and speculation," Kessler wrote. A third alleged that he was tortured, Kessler wrote, and apparently suffered from "psychosis." And a fourth prisoner provided only a vague statement that could have been about another detainee, she wrote.
"When taken all together as facts which comprise a mosaic theory, the evidence does not satisfy the Government's burden of proof," Kessler wrote.
Kit Pierson, Ahmed's attorney, said Kessler's ruling vindicated their legal fight. "This is someone who never should have been in Guantanamo," Pierson said.
Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said government lawyers "continue to review the ruling and consider our options."
Federal judges have ordered eight detainees released after they challenged their confinements in federal lawsuits. Three have been sent home.