A federal judge has ordered the release of another Yemeni captive at Guantanamo, the 37th time a war on terror captive in southeast Cuba has won his unlawful detention suit against the U.S. government.
Judge Paul Friedman’s order in the case of Hussein Almerfedi at the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., instructs the Obama administration to “take all necessary and appropriate steps to facilitate the release of petitioner forthwith.”
His reasoning on why the U.S. had unlawfully detained Almerfedi, 33, held at Guantanamo since May 2003, was still under seal.
But as far back as 2005, Almerfedi had argued before a military panel at the Navy base in southeast Cuba that he fled his native Aden, Yemen, with plans to settle in Europe, not to join a jihad. Instead, he said, his journey took him to Pakistan and then Tehran where Iranian forces turned him over to Afghan forces, who in turn handed over to the United States.
Justice Department attorneys argued that Almerfedi was a former Aden-based salesman of the narcotics plant called qat who came to support al Qaeda “and is thus an enemy of the United States.”
A chunk of the case file is censored in federal court but government lawyers also argued that, while in Afghanistan, he stayed at al Qaeda safehouses.
The U.S. also said that Almerfedi was subjected to a lie detector test and was found to be deceptive. Almerfedi told a military panel at Guantanamo in 2005 that he was polygraphed in Bagram, Afghanistan, on the eve of his transfer to Cuba.
The U.S. government has won just 14 of the 51 decided cases filed by prisoners at Guantanamo, although an appeals court has found a flaw in one of the 14 rulings and ordered a new review in the case of Algerian captive Belkacem Bensayah.
In contrast, civilian judges have so far ruled for the release of 37 so-called “enemy combatants” — ordering them repatriated or resettled safely elsewhere if the stigma of Guantánamo detention would endanger them in their homelands.
About half of the 181 detainees at Guantanamo today are citizens of Yemen, Osama bin Laden’s ancestral homeland. A total of 15 Yemenis so far have had their habeas corpus petitions heard. Eight detentions have been upheld and seven have been ruled unlawful.
Attorneys at the firm that handled Almerfedi’s case, Covington and Burling in Washington D.C., declined comment on Thursday. Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said attorneys would review the decision to decide whether to appeal.
Thursday’s ruling was the first by Friedman in a courthouse where more than 100 Guantánamo habeas corpus petitions have been divided up among the judges.