By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Abdul Rahim Abdul Razak al-Janko was tortured by al-Qaeda and imprisoned by the Taliban for 18 months because the groups' leaders thought he was an American spy.
Abandoned by his captors in late 2001, he was picked up by U.S. authorities, who shipped him to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on suspicion that he was a member of the two groups.
Yesterday, a federal judge ordered Janko's release, saying the government's legal rationale for continuing to detain him "defies common sense."
In a 13-page opinion that he read from the bench, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon ordered the government to engage in diplomatic efforts to find a country that would host the 30-year-old detainee. It is unlikely that he will be sent to his native Syria. His attorney, Stephen R. Sady, would like Janko sent "to a safe haven."
"This is a tragedy," Sady said. "The guy was horribly tortured and then tries to report his human rights violation to the U.S. forces. He is a brave person and wants to tell his story. Instead, he gets mistaken for being a terrorist. . . . This is a nightmare for an innocent man being accused of all of these things."
Leon used most of his opinion to eviscerate the government's argument that officials could continue to detain Janko because he had once been "part of" the Taliban or al-Qaeda.
The government alleged that Janko went to Afghanistan in 2000 to join the Taliban or al-Qaeda. He is purported to have spent about five days at an al-Qaeda guesthouse and then about three weeks at an al-Qaeda training camp.
But al-Qaeda leaders suspected him of spying for the United States and tortured him for three months until he confessed falsely to the charges, Leon said. Janko then spent 18 months in a Taliban prison in Kandahar, the judge said.
The Taliban fled the prison in late 2001, leaving Janko behind, Leon said. U.S. authorities then picked up Janko. Janko, who denies trying to join al-Qaeda or the Taliban, was trying to make his way to Europe or Canada through Afghanistan as a refugee and stayed at the guesthouse and training camp against his will, Sady said.
Sady said Janko sought out U.S. authorities to report his abuse by the Taliban and al-Qaeda. They mistook him for a terrorist and arrested him, the lawyer said.
Leon ruled that the government's case was too weak and illogical to justify the continued detention. He said the government failed to prove that Janko had been a member of the two groups.
"Five days at a guesthouse in Kabul combined with 18 days at a training camp does not add up to a longstanding bond of brotherhood," Leon wrote.
Even if Justice Department lawyers had made their case, the judge said, it was clear from Janko's harrowing story and abandonment by the Taliban that any "pre-existing relationship had been utterly destroyed" by late 2001.
The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by Janko under the centuries-old legal doctrine of habeas corpus, which allows prisoners to challenge their confinement before independent judges. U.S. officials say there are 229 detainees at the prison.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.