Thursday, January 19, 2017

U.S. Court Rules Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners Have No Right to Be Released

I'm very worried this story will be swamped by other news.

Below is a press release put out today by the international human rights organization, Reprieve. It concerns an outrageous ruling by Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia. The ruling stated that long-time Guantanamo prisoner Abdul Latif Nasser cannot be released from Guantanamo, even though a government board said he could, and even though the only reason give is bureaucratic red tape.

The situation for 56-year-old Moroccan Abdul Latif is dire, because while President Obama has been able to release dozens of detainees from Guantanamo in his final weeks in office, the incoming president, Donald Trump, whose inauguration is imminent, has said he wants to keep Guantanamo open, and has criticized Obama for the recent prisoner releases.

According to Reprieve's website, Abdul Latif was "sold for a bounty to the US military in 2002." His original habeas petition for release from detention dates back to April 2005. Can the wheels of justice grind any slower?

According to Kollar-Kotelly's court ruling, last July the Guantanamo Periodic Review Board (PRB), established by President Obama to assess whether or not prisoners at Guantanamo merited ongoing incarceration, “determined that continued law of war detention of [Petitioner] is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

But Abdul Latif's home country, Morocco, was slow in giving the security assurances the U.S. wanted prior to release. Those assurances were made, however, via diplomatic note on December 28, 2016. But Congress requires a 30-day notice prior to release, and that 30-day notice will not be up by the time Trump becomes President. Tough luck for Abdul Latif, says the judge.
Because Morocco’s response came "less than 30 days before the Secretary of Defense would leave office, the Secretary of Defense did not make a final decision regarding the transfer, including whether the requirements of § 1034 of the 2016 NDAA were satisfied and the transfer was in the national security and policy interests of the United States, as he elected to leave that decision to his successor. Resp’ts’ Resp. at 6–7."
That "successor" is likely to be Marine Gen. James Mattis, who is on record as opposing any further Guantanamo releases. Because of red tape, Abdul Latif, who the PRB, a board composed of six agencies — the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State; the Joint Staff, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — cleared for release, may be sealed up as in a tomb in what will now be Trump's Guantanamo.

Even worse, it seems, is what Reprieve calls the "advisory" only aspect of the PRB ruling: "The Executive authority enacting the PRB review process unequivocally states that the PRB’s findings '[do] not address the legality of any detainee’s law of war detention.' Exec. Order No. 13,567 § 8 (2011)" To Judge Kollar-Kotelly, Abdul Latif cannot demonstrate any "invasion of a legally protected interest" in his continued indefinite detention. Maybe this makes some legal sense, but damn if anyone else will find reason in it.

Yesterday, January 18, Reprieve attorneys "filed emergency litigation on Abdul Latif’s behalf, asking the court to relieve the Obama Administration of the burden of the 30-day Congressional notice requirement. This would allow the Administration to release him to Morocco, his home, before President-elect Trump took office."

Emergency Plea to President Obama

But the court said today that the PRB ruling was only "advisory. Reprieve has written an emergency letter today to President Obama asking him to release Abdul Latif immediately.
We have just learned that Abdul Latif's freedom will be denied by government red tape — a result that is as pointless as it is cruel. He was due to be released before you left office, but as the final days of your administration rushed by, we learned he would be left behind....

We learned yesterday that the transfer process has simply been too slow. The Moroccan government just took too long to respond to the United States' resettlement request....

We implore you now to use your enormous power to help a man whose fate is entirely in your hands. A man who your State Department promised to return to his brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews in Morocco. We implore you to withdraw opposition to our motion today, and instruct your Defense Department to transfer Abdullatif home to Morocco immediately — a home that affirmatively requests his return. This is a result that all parties seek — Abdul Latif, the United States Government, and the Moroccan Government. Bureaucracy will steal yet more years of our client’s life unless you act now.

Abdul Latif has a stable, loving family eagerly awaiting his return, as noted by the Periodic Review Board, and he will have the ongoing support of Reprieve's Life After Guantánamo program. There is no sense in the United States holding him even a day longer. We beg that you do not leave him stranded in Guantánamo Bay.
Imagine being one week shy of liberty, and then being trapped in a torture hell for life!

Reprieve Press Release
An American court has today ruled that men cleared for release in Guantánamo Bay have no legal right to leave the prison - despite winning in the only viable release mechanism they have.

In declining to enable the emergency release of cleared prisoner Abdul Latif Nasser, the DC federal court insisted that Abdul Latif had no right to be released because a win at the Periodic Review Board is merely 'advisory'. This leaves prisoners at Guantánamo stranded: with no charge, no trial and no viable, enforceable path to release.

Abdul Latif, a 51 year-old Moroccan, was unanimously cleared by the Periodic Review Board for transfer home to Morocco on July 11. He remains imprisoned simply because the government's transfer process has been too slow. There is no evidence that the Obama Administration did anything to hurry the process along.

With no release in sight and fearing the worst, Abdul Latif filed emergency litigation last Friday. As part of this litigation, the US government admitted that bureaucratic slowness was the only reason he had not been returned home.

Abdul Latif now faces indefinite detention at the mercy of the Trump Administration.

Reprieve attorney Shelby Sullivan-Bennis said: "It is distressing that we cannot rely on our courts to enforce basic justice and common sense. Everyone wants Abdul Latif to go home—the US government, the Moroccan government, and his family. The government admits that his detention is “no longer necessary,” but will keep him simply because the change in administration has halted their plans—a devastating conclusion for Abdul Latif."

The court's ruling is here. More information about Abdul Latif‘s case and emergency litigation is available on the Reprieve US website, here.

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