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One of the Youngest Gitmo Detainees Returns to Afghanistan

In a major victory for Mohammed Jawad and the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented him, Jawad today returned home to Afghanistan. That means he’s likely not going to be charged under U.S. criminal laws, as the Justice Department indicated that it might do.

Jawad is the young Afghan arrested in 2002 when he was only 12, according to the Afghan government. (His exact age remains unclear.) He was tortured by Afghan police, then “confessed” to throwing a grenade that wounded two U.S. soldiers. He confessed again after U.S. authorities threatened and roughed him up some more.

Years of litigation later, those statements were thrown out of court, first by a Bush administration military judge and then by a federal judge in Washington, leaving little to no evidence that the man had ever committed a crime. Still, the Justice Department claimed it had “newly available evidence” including eyewitnesses who would testify that they saw Jawad throw the grenade.

Except that, as I reported here a few weeks ago, it turned out that those “new” witnesses had been paid by the U.S. government. Two U.S. military lawyers confirmed that (the Justice Department refused to comment), and the case against Jawad quickly crumbled.

Although Judge Ellen Huvelle granted Jawad’s petition for habeas corpus in July, it wasn’t clear until today whether the Justice Department would file new criminal charges against Jawad. ACLU lawyer Jonathan Hafetz confirmed today that Jawad was returned to Afghanistan, but with little assistance from the U.S. government. Military defense lawyers had sought the government’s support to accompany Jawad on his return, but that was denied, so one of them, Eric Montalvo, who’s since retired from the military, paid his own way to go.

Jawad was not provided any money for resettlement or rehabilitation, despite nearly seven years of detention by the United States, which Huvelle ruled was unlawful. (Jawad was the 28th detainee whose petition for release has been granted.)

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child says child soldiers should be treated as victims rather than aggressors, and provided rehabilitation assistance, since they’re often forced into fighting. In Jawad’s case, as even the U.S. military prosecutor who resigned over the case has acknowledged, Jawad appears to have been forced into weapons training, although no reliable evidence has ever been produced that he actually threw a grenade at U.S. soldiers.

“Jawad’s rights have been vindicated, although at a profound human cost,” ACLU lawyer Jonathan Hafetz said today. “Were it not for habeas corpus and Judge [Ellen] Huvelle’s determination to provide Jawad a fair hearing, he would no doubt still be behind bars illegally at Guantanamo.”

The Department of Justice today confirmed that Jawad has been returned, and added: “The United States has coordinated closely with the government of Afghanistan to ensure the transfer takes place under appropriate security measures and will continue to consult with the Afghan government regarding Jawad.”

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