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Federal Court Rejects Guilt-by-Association, Orders Release of Gitmo Prisoner

Though it doesn’t mean he’ll actually get to go anywhere, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler in a decision filed on Monday granted the petition for habeas corpus of Guantanamo Bay prisoner Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, held by the United States since 2002, when he was a teenager.

Kessler’s opinion — issued last week but only filed yesterday because it had to be redacted and declassified — rejects the government’s “mosaic theory” of the evidence, which the Justice Department used to claimed that the collection of tiny bits of evidence here and there — that Ahmed was traveling in Afghanistan (which he denies), that he had a nickname, according to various informants (who the judge deemed unreliable); that he stayed at a particular guesthouse where other suspected al-Qaeda or Taliban fighters have stayed (and where many impoverished students stayed as well); and that other prisoners identified him as a fighter, though many of those prisoners were tortured and gave contradictory statements based on second and third-hand hearsay — was insufficient to establish that Ahmed was fighting with al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

“Once those pieces of the mosaic have been removed because of their unreliability, the Government is left with what is essentially a charge of guilt by association,” Kessler wrote.

Finding “no solid evidence that Ali Ahmed engaged in, or planned, any future wrongdoing,” Kessler concluded that “the fabric — or mosaic — simply will not hold. The connections are too weak and attenuated.”

Defense lawyers say that this is the sort of evidence that the government has against many of their clients, so the 45-page opinion — which, although partially redacted for security purposes, carefully parses through the evidence — bodes well for other Guantanamo prisoners.

Given that the courts don’t have the authority to release prisoners into the United States, however, it remains unclear what will happen to those, such as Ahmed, for whom the court has determined there is no justification to continue holding.

Acknowledging her limited power, Kessler ordered the government “to take all necessary and appropriate diplomatic steps to facilitate Petitioner’s release forthwith…”

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