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Freedom for Jawad?

Anna Christensen,
National Security Project
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July 31, 2009

After nearly seven years of illegal detention and abuse at the hands of the U.S. government, Guantánamo Bay detainee Mohammed Jawad has won his habeas corpus case, which challenged his detention by the U.S. government. In a long-awaited ruling (PDF) yesterday, Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered that Jawad — who may have been as young as 12 when he was first detained by the U.S. — could no longer be held in military custody, and must be returned home to Afghanistan by August 21. Judge Huvelle’s decision to grant Jawad’s habeas corpus petition, and the Obama administration’s concession (PDF) that his detention is illegal and unjustified, represent a decisive victory for the rights of unlawfully detained prisoners.

However, this may not be the end of the ordeal. The Justice Department has signaled that it may try to bring criminal charges against Jawad in the United States. But the administration can only make good on its commitment to recognizing Jawad’s habeas rights by abandoning this proposed plan to investigate the possibility of bringing a criminal indictment against him. As we pointed out earlier this week, any criminal investigation of Jawad would represent a desperate and pathetic attempt by the government to revive a weak and consistently undermined case. As we’ve argued many times, the Obama administration’s case against Jawad consists of nothing more than unreliable hearsay evidence and confessions obtained under torture, both of which are soundly prohibited by international human rights law. Not only that, but our argument has been echoed by two judges — first by a military judge last fall, and then by Judge Huvelle.

The fact that federal judges are appalled (PDF) at the government’s petty attempts to prolong Jawad’s ordeal (Judge Huvelle berated the government’s lawyers earlier this month, calling their case “lousy” and “full of holes”) should serve as a hint to the Obama administration that it’s time to send him home. While Jawad’s age has not been confirmed, it’s clear that he was still a child when he was captured, and since then he’s been subjected to torture, abuse, uncertainty, and hopelessness. Rather than attempting to resurrect its failed case with more faulty evidence and unsubstantiated claims, the government should recognize Judge Huvelle’s order and abandon any thought of indictment. We are confident that once it has examined the facts of the case and Jawad’s past treatment at the hands of the U.S., the Justice Department will conclude, as Judge Huvelle did, that he must be returned home without further delay. While we can’t give Mohammed Jawad these seven years back, we can still make things right by sending him home to his family.

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