Pete Yost – Associated Press December 5, 2007
A German man was detained as a suspected terrorist at Guantanamo Bay for four years despite findings by U.S. investigators that he had no link to al-Qaida, newly released documents say.
The former detainee, Murat Kurnaz, was turned over to German authorities and freed in 2006 after a personal plea from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Kurnaz's case was cited Wednesday at the Supreme Court by a lawyer who argued that the 305 prisoners remaining at the U.S. Navy facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should be allowed to use civilian courts to challenge their detention.
Attorney Seth Waxman pointed to Kurnaz, who like many other detainees, was told little about the evidence gathered by military tribunals.
The U.S. military's refusal to share evidence in Kurnaz's proceeding parallels the case of Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, who has been held in U.S. custody for more than 19 months in Iraq.
In regard to Kurnaz, a German intelligence officer reported on Sept. 26, 2002, that "USA considers Murat Kurnaz's innocence to be proven" and that he would be released in six weeks to eight weeks.
Newly declassified documents and court records cite reports from military investigators indicating no evidence had been found linking Kurnaz to al-Qaida or Islamic militants who once governed Afghanistan.
The military task force assessing Kurnaz said it "is not aware of any evidence that Kurnaz has knowingly harbored any individual who was a member of al-Qaida or has engaged in, aided or abetted or conspired to commit acts of terrorism against the U.S., its citizens or interests."
A military tribunal ruled that Kurnaz was an enemy combatant, based on allegations that he was associated with a suicide bomber and a religious group in Pakistan, some of whose members are hostile toward the United States.
In 2005, U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green expressed concern about military tribunals' withholding evidence from Kurnaz that was favorable to him. The judge summarized some of the information in a ruling, saying prisoners had a right to use civilian courts to challenge their detention. A federal appeals court subsequently overruled her.
Kurnaz's lawyer released the documents, most of which were recently declassified by the U.S. government. The Washington Post first reported on the newly released material.
At the Supreme Court, Waxman told the justices that the Kurnaz case shows the need for a redesigned system so detainees can see the evidence and challenge the U.S. military's findings that they are "enemy combatants" subject to indefinite detention.
Waxman said that at least Kurnaz was told of the allegation against him, "as many of these individuals were not." Kurnaz's lawyer established that the alleged suicide bomber was alive and had no links to terrorism, Waxman told the justices.
The lawyer, Baher Azmy, said "ignoring exculpatory evidence and seemingly manufacturing evidence about ties to a supposed suicide bomber demonstrates how profoundly flawed this process is. This is the process the government is asking the court to say complies with our laws."
Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey D. Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, said "it is misguided to draw conclusions based on only parts of some documents."
Gordon said the military's determinations about detainees are "necessarily impacted by a variety of factors which can include the passage of time. Also, such decisions are based on the entirety of the information before DoD."
Last updated 10/12/2007