Huzaifa Parhat, well into his seventh year at Guantánamo, had a civilian judge review the evidence for his detention for the first time last week. The court ruled that the Pentagon's Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) declaration that Parhat was an unlawful enemy combatant is "invalid." They declared that Parhat must be released or given a new hearing.
Parhat is one of 17 ethnic Uighurs, a Muslim minority in China, who are currently being held at Guantánamo.
The decision came a little over a week after the Supreme Court ruled that Guantánamo detainees were subject to habeas proceedings and it was the first such decision to be issued.
Parhat was found to be an unlawful enemy combatant in a CSRT in which prisoners are not allowed lawyers, cannot see all the evidence against them, and cannot freely present their own evidence. CSRTs are weighted proceedings intended to reach a predestined conclusion. Such findings are "invalid" indeed.
While the decision still leaves Parhat's fate up in the air (China will not take him back and the story of seven Uighurs who were sent to Albania, where they don't know the language and are having trouble adjusting, has been well documented). But no matter what happens, it's heartening to know that a court moved so quickly after so many years of dragging their feet, to set at least one thing at Guantánamo right.
The swiftness of the court's finding that the military has improperly labeled a detainee as "enemy combatant" casts an even greater shadow over the Bush administration's detention policies. In case you thought the shadow couldn't get any darker, today 200 former cabinet members, military, and religious leaders issued a statement calling for an executive order to officially ban torture.
The group was comprised of dignitaries from every administration since the Vietnam War including former secretaries of state George Shultz, Madeleine Albright, and Warren Christopher alongside former secretaries of defense Harold Brown, William Perry and William Cohen, and former Sens. John Glenn and Gary Hart.
The statement reads:
"Though we come from a variety of backgrounds and walks of life, we agree that the use of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment against prisoners is immoral, unwise, and un-American. In our effort to secure ourselves, we have resorted to tactics which do not work, which endanger US personnel abroad, which discourage political, military, and intelligence cooperation from our allies, and which ultimately do not enhance our security. "Our President must lead us by our core principles. We must be better than our enemies, and our treatment of prisoners captured in the battle against terrorism must reflect our character and values as Americans."
And to top it off, they end with this little warning:
"All US personnel - whether soldiers or intelligence staff - deserve the certainty that they are implementing policy that complies fully with the law. Henceforth all US officials who authorize, implement, or fail in their duty to prevent the use of torture and ill-treatment of prisoners will be held accountable, regardless of rank or position."
Leadership AND accountability? These guys are making me feel all nostalgic for a time when at least American policy attempted to live up to American values.
(The full statement is available here.)