U.S. Will Transfer Gitmo Child Soldier to Civilian Court, But Still Won’t Let Him Go
Monday, July 27, 2009 at 8:49 am
It wasn’t until late Friday afternoon that the Obama Justice Department, after years of wrangling over the fate of Mohammed Jawad, the Afghan boy arrested for allegedly lobbing a hand grenade at U.S. soldiers in 2002, admitted that it does not have enough evidence to continue to hold him indefinitely without trial under the laws of war.
That admission comes just days after the not-so-subtle declarations of Judge Ellen Huvelle of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., that the case had been “gutted” by the government’s admission that Jawad’s confessions were elicited through torture, and the fact that it still, more than six years later, hadn’t produced a single reliable eye witness to the crime.
The Justice Department evidently realized it wasn’t going to get very far in the habeas corpus case. But it wasn’t prepared to relinquish its right to imprison Jawad altogether. On Friday, it insisted that it has sufficient “new” evidence to warrant a criminal investigation.
Here’s what the Justice Department said in the papers it filed with the court Friday:
[I]n light of the multiple eyewitness accounts that were not previously available for inclusion in the record – including videotaped interviews – as well as third-party statements previously set forth in the government’s factual return, . . . the Attorney General has directed that the criminal investigation of petitioner in connection with the allegation that petitioner threw a grenade at U.S. military personnel continue, and that it do so on an expedited basis. As the Court is aware, the standard for detention under the AUMF [Authorization for the Use of Military Force] is different than the elements that must be proved in a criminal prosecution, and thus a decision not to contest the writ does not resolve whether the current eyewitness testimony and other evidence, or additional evidence that may be developed, would support a criminal prosecution stemming from the attack on U.S. service members.
Technically, that’s true. A habeas corpus proceeding is a civil case, and the burden of proof is different than in a criminal prosecution. In a civil case, the government has to prove its case only by “a preponderance of the evidence.” A criminal prosecution, however, requires proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.” But that’s actually a higher burden of proof. So how could the government prove a criminal case against Jawad and not be able to prove its right to hold him in his habeas case?
The answer couldn’t rely on the strength of the evidence: eyewitness testimony that Jawad committed a war crime would be strong evidence that would probably support the government’s claim that it could hold him indefinitely under the laws of war. The only way the government’s latest claim makes sense is if it’s now saying that throwing a grenade at U.S. soldiers is not a crime of war, but an ordinary criminal offense. But if that’s the case, then why did the U.S. government hold him for six and a half years at Guantanamo Bay as an enemy combatant? And can it really have “newly discovered” reliable eyewitness testimony almost seven years after the crime occurred? Or is it just that the Department of Justice realized it wasn’t going to be able to string along this particular federal judge who’s clearly become exasperated by the flimsiness of the government’s case?
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