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Judge Orders Release of Prisoner Accused of Assisting Terrorists at Age 11

Is it better to be a child stuck indefinitely at the Guantanamo Bay prison, or to stand trial by military commission?

Neither option sounds very good. But the question is becoming more urgent these days, as the Bush administration brings military commission charges against detainees arrested when they were teenagers, and as I’ve written before, insists on submitting a child’s confession as evidence, even though the judge ruled it was elicited by torture.

But then there’s the case of Mohamed el-Gharani, who was arrested at a mosque in Pakistan when he was just 14-years-old and held at Gitmo every since. Yesterday, a federal judge in Washington hearing his habeas corpus petition ordered his release.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon found no evidence to support the government’s claim that el-Gharani is a dangerous “enemy combatant.”

A Chadian national, the young teenager was arrested at a mosque in Pakistan in October 2001. This was a time of particular hysteria among American authorities, who accused el-Gharani of being a member of Al Qaeda in 1998 — when he was only 11-years-old.

According to a BBC report, the U.S. government claimed el-Gharani stayed at an Al Qaeda-affiliated guest house in Afghanistan, fought in the battle of Tora Bora after the United States invaded Afghanistan, and worked as a courier for senior Al Qaeda operatives.

But Leon found no evidence to support the government’s claims. He said U.S. officials had relied largely on information from two less-than-reliable detainees at the Guantanamo prison.

El-Gharani’s lawyers, from the British legal organization Reprieve, say there’s no evidence that their client ever even went to Afghanistan.

Leon is the same judge who in November ordered the release of five Algerians held at Gitmo, finding insufficient evidence to support holding them, either. Three of the men were released in December.

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