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DC Circuit rules detainees denied habeas must be 'part of' terrorist group

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] released a redacted opinion [opinion, PDF] Thursday holding that evidence against Algerian Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Belkacem Bensaya must be reviewed to determine if he was "part of" al Qaeda [JURIST archive]. The three-judge panel overturned the district court ruling, which held that Bensaya's imprisonment by the US government was legal because evidence showed he was an al Qaeda supporter and that it was unnecessary to determine if the government could also prove that he was part of al Qaeda. Circuit Judge Douglas Ginsburg, writing the opinion for the panel, held that there appeared to be no direct evidence linking Bensaya to al Qaeda, and that the government's authority under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) [text, PDF] only extends to the detention of individuals who are "functionally part of" a terrorist organization. Ginsburg also stated that "the evidence upon which the district court relied in concluding Bensayah 'supported' Al-Qaeda is insufficient...to show he was part of that organization." If the government, upon remand to the district court, cannot provide a preponderance of evidence that Bensaya was part of al-Qaeda, then his indefinite detention would be deemed illegal under AUMF and he should be granted habeas corpus relief. Bensaya was captured in Bosnia in 2001 along with five other Bosnian-Algerian nationals. The men were accused of planning to travel to Afghanistan to fight against US forces and were sent to Guantanamo Bay in January 2002.

Bensayah was the only one of the six petitioners from the 2008 Boumediene v. Bush [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] decision who was not granted habeas relief after the Supreme Court remanded the case for further review of evidence. Under Boumediene federal courts have jurisdiction to review habeas corpus petitions filed by Guantanamo detainees who have been classified as "enemy combatants." In May the DC Circuit ruled in Al Maqaleh v. Gates that Boumediene was narrowly tailored to detainees being held at Guantanamo and that detainees held at Bagram Air Force Base [official website; JURIST news archive] in Afghanistan cannot bring habeas corpus challenges in US courts.

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