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Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child

Mohammed El-Gharani arrived at Guantánamo when he was 14 years old and has spent a third of his life in prison.
 
 
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Just two weeks ago, in a habeas corpus case in a Washington D.C. court, Judge Richard Leon turned the clock back to January 11, 2002 (the day Guantánamo opened) by ruling that the U.S. government could continue holding two prisoners at Guantánamo -- the Yemeni Muaz al-Alawi and the Tunisian Hisham Sliti -- because the authorities had demonstrated, to his satisfaction, that they met the criteria for being regarded as "enemy combatants."

According to the definition of an "enemy combatant" that Leon himself had been obliged to choose from several options before proceeding with the cases, this meant that they were "part of or supporting Taliban or al-Qaeda forces, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the U.S. or its coalition partners," which "includes any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported hostilities in aid of enemy armed forces."

This was a disturbing development, because both men, who have been held for seven years, remain in an unprecedented legal limbo, despite having secured the right to have their cases reviewed in a court of law following a ruling by the Supreme Court last June. Unlike enemy prisoners of war, who are held in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, or criminal suspects, who are expected to face a trial in a timely manner, the "enemy combatants" imprisoned solely on the President's whim in the wake of the 9/11 attacks can apparently be held indefinitely.

As I explained in a recent article, Judge Leon was observing the law as it currently stands when he ruled that al-Alawi and Sliti were "enemy combatants" (and when he also held, in November, that although the government had failed to establish a case against five Bosnians of Algerian origin, the sixth, Belkacem Bensayah, had also been correctly designated as an "enemy combatant"), but it remains a cruel and unjust law, as the three men in question continue to be held with less rights than those afforded to the most murderous individuals imprisoned on the U.S. mainland, even though none of them is alleged to have harmed a single U.S. citizen.

As I explained in a recent article, Judge Leon was observing the law as it currently stands when he ruled that al-Alawi and Sliti were "enemy combatants" (and when he also held, in November, that although the government had failed to establish a case against five Bosnians of Algerian origin, the sixth, Belkacem Bensayah, had also been correctly designated as an "enemy combatant"), but it remains a cruel and unjust law, as the three men in question continue to be held with less rights than those afforded to the most murderous individuals imprisoned on the U.S. mainland, even though none of them is alleged to have harmed a single U.S. citizen.

While this remains a deeply disturbing problem that Barack Obama will have to remedy of he is to have any chance of fulfilling his stated ambition to "regain America's moral stature in the world," Judge Leon struck another blow for justice on Wednesday by ruling that the government had failed to establish a case against another prisoner, Mohammed El-Gharani, and ordering his release "forthwith."

 

Torturing a teenager

A Chadian national and Saudi resident, El-Gharani was just 14 years old when he was seized by Pakistani forces in October 2001, in a raid on a mosque in Karachi, Pakistan, 700 miles from the battlefields of Afghanistan. As with all but three of the 22 confirmed juveniles who have been held at Guantánamo, the U.S. authorities never treated him separately from the adult population, even though they are obliged, under the terms of the UN's Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child (on the involvement of children in armed conflict) to promote "the physical and psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration of children who are victims of armed conflict."