Dispatches from the Creation Wars

This is actually a few days old but I somehow missed it until now. Daphne Eviatar writes at the Washington Independent that the Obama administration is refusing to comply with court orders in multiple cases where detainees from Guantanamo Bay have been ordered to be released.

The problem seems to be particularly acute with detainees originally from Yemen. For some reason, both the Bush and Obama administrations have refused to release anyone from Yemen back to their home country, even if they themselves determined that the detainee had done nothing wrong and was being imprisoned for no reason. Daphne explains:

Obama administration officials on Wednesday boasted that they’d secured agreements from six European countries to accept Guantanamo detainees, although the United States itself has still refused to free any Guantanamo prisoners on U.S. soil. But since President Obama’s inauguration in January, the administration has not released a single prisoner to Yemen, although that country is willing to have them back and many would be happy to go there. (Some prisoners from other countries, such as the Uighurs from China, cannot be returned to their home countries for fear of persecution.) The administration has not stated its reasons, but said only that the State Department is negotiating with the Yemeni government over the prisoners’ return. At least three Yemeni prisoners since April have won their petitions for habeas corpus in federal court — meaning a judge has ordered that the government must let them go. (The government has cleared for release an unknown number of others.) So far, though, the Obama administration has not complied with those court rulings.

The United States has long been reluctant to return Guantanamo detainees to Yemen, where al-Qaeda is believed to be active. As a result, of about 550 prisoners released from Guantanamo by Bush officials, only 14 were from Yemen. But that trickle has slowed to a complete halt under the Obama administration, despite court rulings that the government hasn’t shown the men have done anything wrong or present any security risk.

Nearly 100 of the remaining 223 detainees at Guantanamo Bay are from Yemen. A government official on Wednesday said that negotiations are ongoing. Now that two U.S. federal courts have ordered at least three Yemeni prisoners freed, however, it’s not clear under what power the United States can continue to hold them.

“We appreciate that the United States has security concerns about Yemen, but continuing to hold these men without charge is morally wrong, is in violation of court orders, and it’s handing al-Qaeda a recruiting tool,” said Letta Taylor, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who wrote a report on the Yemeni detainees’ situation in March. “It creates its own sets of risks.”

The standoff between the court and the president in the Yemeni prisoner cases is another example of the executive branch ignoring the orders of the federal judiciary. In previous court cases, the government has refused to turn over evidence that it deemed a “state secret,” for example, even after a federal judge ordered the evidence be disclosed.

“The way our system is supposed to work is that if a federal district court orders that a branch of the government do something, they’re supposed to do it,” said John Chandler, a lawyer in Atlanta who represents al-Adahi in his court case and won his order of release on Monday. “I have every hope that they will. But they haven’t done anything yet. And he’s not the first one to be ordered released.”

In April, Judge Ellen Huvelle granted the habeas corpus petition of Yasin Muhammed Basardah, a Yemeni who was known to have provided information — often found to be unreliable — against other Guantanamo detainees. As a result, he faces security risks wherever he’s released.

And in May, Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the release of Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, a Yemeni man arrested seven years ago as a teenager. The Pentagon claimed he was a terrorist based largely on statements from other Guantanamo prisoners whose testimony the judge deemed unreliable, as well as bits and pieces of other circumstantial evidence that Judge Kessler found were too “weak and attenuated” to support his continued detention.

Despite the federal court orders to release them, both men are still at Guantanamo Bay. And many more Yemenis have been cleared for release by the U.S. government, although in a strange twist, the government refuses to say how many and their lawyers are forbidden from divulging this information to the media. Among them is a 38-year-old orthopedic surgeon captured in Afghanistan in January 2002, who the Justice Department announced in March that it had cleared for release. Two more Yemeni prisoners at Guantanamo apparently committed suicide, according to the government.

Maybe they figure if they keep holding on to them, they’ll all commit suicide and the problem will solve itself.