Federal Judge To Decide Gitmo Detainee's Request For Detention Hearing

Sam Dorman | December 7, 2015 | 3:05pm EST
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Mohamedou Ould Salahi, who has been detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba since 2002. (Int'l. Committee of the Red Cross)

(CNSNews.com)--A federal judge in the District of Columbia will decide whether a Guantanamo Bay detainee who recruited three jihadists involved in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks should be granted a court hearing to determine the legitimacy of his detention.

On November 24, U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth heard oral arguments from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) regarding Mohamedou Ould Salahi’s request for a hearing to review his status.

The ACLU represents Salahi, who is from the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, a North African country. He trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in 1990 to fight the Soviet-supported communist government of Mohammad Najibullah, according to court documents.

ACLU lawyers argued that since the United States has not provided Salahi with a hearing, his continued detention violates multiple laws.

Among them is a 2011 executive order issued by President Obama allowing Guantanamo Bay detainees a Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing to determine whether their detention is still warranted.

The president’s executive order states: “Detainees at Guantánamo have the constitutional privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, and nothing in this order is intended to affect the jurisdiction of Federal courts to determine the legality of their detention.”

However, a DOJ lawyer argued that Salahi already received three similar administrative review board hearings during the Bush administration, and that each of those reviews determined that he should continue to be held in detention at Guantanamo.

Authorities detained Salahi in January 2000 while he was en route from Canada to Mauritania.  He was extradited to Jordan in 2002 and was later transported to Bagram, Afghanistan where he was placed under U.S. military custody.

On August 4, 2002, Salahi was flown to Guantanamo Bay where he has been detained ever since under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force Act, which authorizes the use of "all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons" involved in the 9/11 attacks.

In Guantanamo Diary which was published in January, Salahi accused the U.S. military of torturing him.

The ACLU wants Judge Lamberth to order the government to provide a PRB hearing for Salahi.

But the DOJ says that the ACLU is in fact requesting that Salahi be given priority even though he does not face any unique circumstances that would warrant him receiving a hearing before other Gitmo detainees.

In 2010, Salahi successfully petitioned the D.C. District Court for a writ of habeas corpus (“you have the body”), which is a court order requiring a government official to bring a prisoner before the court under Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution.

But the order was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

“As the district court recognized, ‘[t]he most damaging allegation against Salahi is that, in October 1999, he encouraged Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Marwan al-Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrah to join al-Qaida.’ Bin al-Shibh helped coordinate the September 11 attacks, and al-Shehhi and Jarrah were two of the September 11 pilots,” the appeals court noted.

The ACLU also argued that the D.C. District Court has the authority to order a PRB hearing for Salahi, whom the Department of Defense considers a “high risk” detainee and “an admitted member of al-Qaida who swore bayat (oath of allegiance) to Usama Bin Laden.”

But DOJ attorneys said during oral arguments that requiring such an order was beyond the authority of the District Court, and that because Salahi’s detention and PRB hearing were administrative in nature, his case should be handled by the executive branch.

The ACLU also claimed that the Geneva Convention affords Salahi the right to a review of his detention.

DOJ responded that because Salahi is an enemy combatant and not a prisoner of war or a civilian, he is not entitled to the same privileges afforded to those protected groups under the Geneva Convention. 

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