Another Detainee Debacle

Sunday, June 28, 2009

ABDULRAHIM Abdul Razak Al Ginco traveled to Afghanistan in 2000 and spent several days in a guest house used by Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives before setting off for an al-Qaeda training camp. The Syrian citizen, who now uses the surname Janko, claims that he was taken to the camp against his will. After three weeks there, al-Qaeda leaders suspected him of being a U.S. spy; Mr. Janko, the U.S. government acknowledges, was tortured for three months before falsely confessing to the charge. Mr. Janko was then imprisoned by the Taliban for 18 months in the notorious Sarposa prison in Kandahar.

When the Taliban abandoned the prison after the U.S. invasion in late 2001, Mr. Janko was detained by U.S. forces. He was sent in early 2002 to the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the Bush administration argued that he was an enemy combatant and subject to indefinite detention. Seven years and an administration later, the government continues to argue that it has the right to hold Mr. Janko because he was "part of" the Taliban or al-Qaeda at the time of his capture -- despite the prolonged torture and inhumane treatment he received at the hands of his supposed comrades.

"I disagree!" Judge Richard J. Leon virtually shouted in a brief but caustic ruling on Monday in which he ordered Mr. Janko's release. We agree with Judge Leon.

Judge Leon, a George W. Bush appointee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, wrote powerfully and convincingly that the torture and abuse exacted on Mr. Janko by al-Qaeda "evinces a total evisceration of whatever relationship might have existed. . . . Stated simply, absent proof to the contrary -- which is totally lacking here -- no remnant of that preexisting relationship appears to have survived."

The decision is all the more remarkable because Judge Leon was the first judge to weigh in on whether those held at Guantanamo had the right to challenge their detentions in federal court. He concluded that there was no legal basis to allow such challenges. The Supreme Court disagreed, which set the stage for Judge Leon to examine the actual evidence justifying Mr. Janko's detention. Judge Leon concluded that there was none. In fact, the revelations about Mr. Janko put the lie to the Bush administration's assertions -- recently repeated by former vice president Richard B. Cheney -- that only the "worst of the worst" were being held at Guantanamo.

The Obama administration once again finds itself in a bind. Like the Chinese Uighurs who were wrongly detained for years but were unable to return to China for fear of persecution, Mr. Janko may not be able to return to his home country of Syria because he likely would face mistreatment or worse. Yet he cannot be allowed into the United States because of restrictions Congress has placed on the transfer of detainees. The administration must try to persuade an ally to accept Mr. Janko. Several European countries recently said that they may consider taking detainees cleared for release. The administration should make Mr. Janko's resettlement a top priority.

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