A federal judge recused himself yesterday from a case challenging the detention of a Guantanamo prisoner after the detainee’s lawyer complained that views he expressed in a ProPublica interview meant he couldn’t be fair.
In a January article exploring the court’s role in policing indefinite detention, Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., said judges were struggling with how to assess the risks posed by detainees. Referring to no detainee in particular, he said, "How confident can I be that if I make the wrong choice that he won’t be the one that blows up the Washington Monument or the Capitol?"
Lawyer H. Candace Gorman of Chicago promptly filed a motion demanding that the judge withdraw from the case of her client, Abdal Razik Ali. Lamberth’s comment, Gorman argued, suggested that his personal fears – apart from the facts of the case – could drive him to deny her client’s request for release.
Justice Department lawyer Nancy Safavi countered in a response brief that Lamberth’s comments to ProPublica were too general to indicate bias against Razik Ali.
In his recusal order Lamberth dismissed Gorman’s complaints as "much ado about nothing," but decided nonetheless to withdraw.
Razik Ali, an Algerian captured by Pakistani authorities in 2002 and then transferred to U.S. custody, is one of 181 men who are still being held at Guantanamo as suspected al-Qaida or Taliban militants. Nearly all have filed federal lawsuits, known as a habeas petitions, contesting the government’s evidence or legal rationale for holding them. In April we reported that the government had lost 34 of the 47 habeas cases decided up to that point. Of the three cases decided since, the government has lost two.
Razik Ali’s case was randomly reassigned to Judge Richard Leon, who has ruled in favor of six detainees and against five. "I think he’ll be fair," Gorman said.