Federal judge calls Guantanamo inmate's detention 'unlawful'

June 10, 2010
By Michael Doyle
McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON -- A federal judge has forcefully put Yemeni citizen Mohammed Mohammed Hassan Odaini on the path to freedom after eight years of incarceration at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In a 36-page opinion formally released Thursday, U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. called Odaini's continued detention "unlawful" and said he'd "emphatically" grant Odaini's petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

The ruling issued secretly last month but published Thursday sets the 26-year-old Odaini up for potential release, though when and where he'll go remains unclear. The ruling also represents the latest defeat for U.S. officials in their efforts to keep Guantanamo detainees behind bars.

"(U.S.) officials kept a young man from Yemen in detention in Cuba from age eighteen to age twenty-six," Kennedy wrote. "They have prevented him from seeing his family and denied him the opportunity to complete his studies and embark on a career."

Pointedly, Kennedy added that "the evidence before the court shows that holding Odaini in custody at such great cost to him has done nothing to make the United States more secure."

Kennedy's ruling brings to 36 the number of Guantanamo Bay detainees who have successfully challenged their detentions through U.S. court proceedings. Over the Bush administration's objections, a divided Supreme Court two years granted the Guantanamo detainees the right to file habeas corpus challenges.

In a decision striking both for its extensive redactions and its occasionally passionate language, Kennedy noted that Odaini's story has remained consistent throughout his long incarceration.

Odaini was born in Taiz, Yemen, on Sept. 20, 1983. After high school, he traveled to Pakistan in 2001 to study Islam. In November 2001, he enrolled in Salafia University, where he was one of approximately 200 students.

On March 27, 2002, Odaini had the misfortune to visit a house raided that night by Pakistani police. After his initial detention, Odaini was held in Lahore and then taken to Islamabad. He was transported to Afghanistan, and ultimately to Guantanamo.

Odaini has always denied being affiliated with al Qaeda, insisting that the first time he heard of the terrorist organization was when he arrived at Guantanamo. Interrogators came to believe him.

"He was told shortly after being taken into custody and upon arrival at Guantanamo Bay that he would be released within two weeks," Kennedy noted.

By 2004, a Pentagon official had concluded Odaini could be cleared for release, and a task force evaluating Guantanamo detainees likewise concluded "there is no information to confirm Taliban or al Qaeda ties on his part." Each of the men who identified Odaini stated that he was, as he asserts, a student, Kennedy noted.

More time passed, and in 2007 Odaini's pro bono attorney was advised that his client had been approved for release.

"Needless to say," Kennedy wrote acerbically, "Odaini was not released from Guantanamo Bay."

In January, following an attempted Christmas Day airliner attack that U.S. officials believe originated in Yemen, the Obama administration declared that no Guantanamo detainee would be released there.

Three other men captured in the same March 2002 raid as Odaini previously have been ordered released.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said Thursday that officials were still reviewing the full opinion.

ON THE WEB

Read Judge Kennedy's opinion

Information on Odaini's case

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