Court Orders Young Guantanamo Prisoner Freed

A judge ordered the Obama administration Thursday to release a prisoner who is one of the youngest at Guantanamo Bay, saying the government doesn't have evidence to hold him there. The Justice Department initially indicated it might prosecute him in civilian court, but now says it wants to release him.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

Mohammed Jawad has spent almost all of his teenage years at Guantanamo. Now he's a few weeks from leaving the prison camp. In a Washington courtroom today, a judge said Jawad's seven-year imprisonment is illegal.

NPR's Ari Shapiro was at the hearing, and he has this report.

ARI SHAPIRO: Judge Ellen Huvelle called the case of Mohammed Jawad a horribly long and tortured history. He was picked up in Afghanistan in 2002. No one knows how old he was, maybe as young as 12. His lawyers say he has grown five inches during his time behind bars. He was accused of throwing a grenade and wounding Americans.

But the case ran into trouble early on. A judge said Jawad's confessions were obtained through torture and threw them out. Jawad's military prosecutor, Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld became so disillusioned with the prosecution that he resigned and became a defense witness. Vandeveld wrote: There is no credible evidence or legal basis to justify Mr. Jawad's detention. He said: Holding Mr. Jawad for over six years with no resolution of his case and with no terminus in sight is something beyond a travesty.

This morning, Judge Ellen Huvelle agreed. She has clearly run out of patience with the government. When Justice Department attorney Ian Gershengorn rose to speak, Huvelle asked: Have you decided to be reasonable? Gershengorn replied: Yes, your honor. Huvelle said: It's taken a while.

In a long speech, Huvelle excoriated the government for the way it has handled this and other Guantanamo cases. She said: One arm of the government appears not to know what the other arm is doing. That's not acceptable. She went on: There's a consistent pattern by the government that predates this administration, but continues, saying, we need more time. We need more time.

Six years after detainees first arrived to Guantanamo, the courts were told to process these cases quickly. Huvelle said: If the government would move quickly, we could. But instead, there are delays at every turn.

Today she granted the government's request for one final three-week delay. The first week is to work out a deal with Afghanistan's government to send Jawad home. Two more weeks are because Congress requires two weeks' notice before any detainee is transferred out of Guantanamo.

Jawad's lawyer, Major David Frakt quipped: Mohammed Jawad's status at this point is congressional prisoner. He is basically a prisoner of Congress. Frakt said he believes the two-week notification rule is unconstitutional, but he won't challenge it, because he doesn't want to slow things down more. Standing on the steps of the courthouse after the hearing, Frakt called Judge Huvelle's order to release his client a staggering victory.

Major DAVID FRAKT (Attorney): This is the first detainee who was charged, actually charged in the military commissions, who was on the verge of trial and is now to be released.

SHAPIRO: The government lawyers did not speak to reporters. There is one more catch: The Justice Department has agreed not to hold Jawad in military custody. But they might still charge him as a civilian. That would mean bringing him to the U.S. and putting him on trial.

At today's hearing, Judge Huvelle urged the government not to go that route. She said there are issues about a speedy trial and Jawad's mental competency. Huvelle told the government lawyer she would be happy discuss those concerns with the attorney general and added: Enough has been imposed on this young man to date.

A civilian trial would have to take place in the United States. Congress requires 45 days notice before any detainee is brought to the U.S. And Jawad must be freed from Guantanamo in 21 days. So if the government does charge him, it's not exactly clear where he'd go in the meantime. His lawyers said they hope not to cross that bridge. They're meeting with justice officials tomorrow and will try to make the case that prosecution is not warranted.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.