A federal judge in Washington on Thursday ordered the release of five Algerians who have been held without charges at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for seven years.
U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said the five men could not be held indefinitely as enemy combatants, but he said the military could continue to detain Belkacem Bensayah, one of the six Algerians who challenged his confinement.
Leon made the ruling at the conclusion of the first hearings to be held since June's Supreme Court ruling that Guantanamo prisoners have the legal right to challenge their detention. Lakhdar Boumediene, whose suit was the impetus for the Supreme Court decision, is among those whose release Leon ordered.
The government had accused all six of the men of planning to travel to Afghanistan to join al-Qaida, but Leon said prosecutors failed to prove the allegation against five of them. The judge said the government did not prove the allegation, which was based on a single source.
"To allow enemy combatancy to rest on so thin a reed would be inconsistent with the court's obligation," Leon told the crowded courtroom.
Leon said there was enough reason to believe that the sixth man, Bensayah, was close to an al-Qaida operative and had sought to help others travel to Afghanistan to join the terrorists' fight against the United States and its allies.
The Algerian detainees were allowed to listen to Leon's decision via a telephone hookup from the prison.
Last month, another judge ordered the immediate release of 17 other prisoners from Guantanamo, but they remain in prison pending an appeal by the Bush administration.
U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has promised to close the prison camp after he takes office in January. Meanwhile, U.S. judges in Washington are moving ahead with case-by-case reviews of detainee legal challenges.