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The Washington Independent
The Washington Independent

U.S. Will Transfer Gitmo Child Soldier to Civilian Court, But Still Won’t Let Him Go

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

Mariella Blankenship
News
Last updated: Jul 31, 2020 | Jul 27, 2009

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?

“Until now, the Administration has been talking about detaining people who can’t be prosecuted,” said David Remes, a lawyer who represents more than a dozen detainees at Guantanamo, in an email over the weekend. Remes was referring to the heated debate over whether the government has the right to hold alleged “combatants” indefinitely if it can’t prove in a court of law that they’ve committed a crime. “Now the Administration is talking about prosecuting people who can’t be detained. This is a new twist.” Indeed, defense lawyers have been insisting for years that the government either charge the men imprisoned at Guantanamo or release them. Increasingly, however, Remes noted, they’re charging the men simply to* avoid* their release.  In the cases of “enemy combatants” Ali al-Marri and Jose Padilla, for example, the government transferred them to the civilian court system to avoid facing a potentially adverse decision from the U.S. Supreme Court about the president’s power to continue holding them. “As soon as the courts force the government’s hand in a habeas case, it simply lowers the boom on the detainee by prosecuting him,” says Remes. Either way, “they always get their man.”

Mariella Blankenship | Mariella is an SEO writer who helps companies improve their Google search rankings. Her work has appeared in a variety of e-zine publications. She writes articles for site-reference newletter.com on a daily basis about SEO techniques. Her articles strive to strike a balance between being insightful and meeting SEO requirements–but never at the cost of being enjoyable to read.

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