Thursday, July 30, 2009

U.S. court system tries to heal itself in detainee case

Yes, it's frustrating how long this is taking. Finally, gradually, it looks like the U.S. court system is going to clean up the worst abuses of the Bush administration. How else to interpret Thursday's decision by a U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C., ordering the release of a young Guantanamo Bay detainee who alleged he had been tortured in detention in Afghanistan and mistreated while in U.S. custody? "Enough has been imposed on this young man to date," Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle told in a crowded U.S. District Court courtroom, according to the New York Times. Mohammed Jawad has been in custody since he was accused of throwing a hand grenade that injured two U.S. soldiers and their Afghani interpreter in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, in 2002. Jawad may have been as young as 14 when he was captured, the Times said. Federal prosecutors have been trying to get Jawad before a military tribunal under the system set up by President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks. But a military judge ruled last year that the case against Jawad was largely based on confessions he gave after being tortured. Those concerns were reflected in Huvelle's ruling on Thursday. She said the government's case was "riddled with holes," including violations of Jawad's rights and the fact that the confessions would likely not be admissible in court. Huvelle also said from the bench that she "hoped" Jawad would be returned to Afghanistan, where his lawyers said he would be released to his family, the Times said. Unfortunately, the new administration of President Barack Obama has not been much help in this case, the Times said, despite his promise during the 2008 campaign to close the Guantanamo prison by the year's end. A U.S. Justice Department spokesman told the Times on condition of anonymity that the government was considering filing charges against Jawad in civilian court, which could mean years of further delay. It looks like closing the prison was an easy position to take rhetorically but is turning out to be quite difficult and complex as a practical matter. For the courts, years of permitting the government to unabashedly commit gross violations of detainees' rights may finally be coming to an end.

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