A court order today to release five Guantanamo detainees comes six years after Bosnian authorities declared them to be innocent.
A federal judge concluded the government had insufficient evidence against the five Algerians. In an unusual statement, he urged government prosecutors not to appeal his verdict, saying they had already suffered "seven years of waiting for our legal system to give them an answer."
The judge also ruled that evidence of an al-Qaida link involving a sixth detainee, Belkacem Bensayah, was enough to keep him in government custody.
In his 2002 State of the Union speech, President Bush claimed the Algerian detainees had been plotting to attack the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo. Government prosecutors later dropped that accusation and said that the men intended to attack U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
But as Mother Jones has noted, even before Bush’s speech a Bosnian court had concluded that the six men should be released for lack of evidence. Instead, after what Bosnian officials said were strong-arm tactics from the U.S., the men were handed over to the U.S. government:
Wolfgang Petritsch, the international community's top official in Bosnia at the time, recalls that Bosnian leaders told him they felt obliged to comply with the U.S. request, because "the U.S. put a tremendous amount of pressure on them."
Further, Petritsch claims U.S. officials conveyed to him that Washington was ready to withdraw its support for the international mission he was leading if he publicly protested the handover."If I would have protested more vocally at the time against this obvious breach of law, I believe it would have jeopardized the international mission," Petritsch said.
According to Mother Jones, the men were shipped to Gitmo against the orders of a Bosnian court:
Matters came to a head on January 17, when Bosnia's federal prosecutor informed the investigating magistrate at the Supreme Court that there was no evidence justifying keeping the men in jail and the judge ordered their immediate release. That same day, the Human Rights Chamber, one of Bosnia's highest courts, issued an interim order requiring the government to take all necessary steps to ensure that the men would not be forcibly deported. Meanwhile, the Bosnian government had received a request to take custody of the men from the U.S. embassy that day. Three days later the men arrived at Gitmo on a C-130, handcuffed and blindfolded.
The Government nowhere acknowledges—and indeed, has done its utmost to avoid—the thorough investigation performed on the ground by Bosnian authorities in 2001. ... By mid-January 2002, both the prosecutor and the investigating judge had concluded that no basis had been established to hold Petitioners even for further investigation.
The Department of Justice, which stood in the way of another judge’s order to release 17 Chinese detainees held in Guantanamo, has responded to today’s ruling by saying it’s "reviewing the decision." In other words: Be prepared for an appeal.