[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Tuesday overturned [opinion, PDF] a lower court’s decision granting release to Yemeni Guantanamo Bay detainee Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman. Uthman’s 2004 habeas corpus petition challenging his basis for detention was granted when the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official site] determined that the government had failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Uthman had received and executed orders from al Qaeda. The appeals court rejected this “command structure test” used by the lower court and struck down the ruling, blocking Uthman’s release. The appeals court found that decisions made since Uthman’s petition dictate that, regarding the detention authority granted by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) [S.J.RES.23 text, PDF], determinations of whether individuals are al Qaeda members must employ a functional approach on a case-by-case basis, rather than the formal approach used in Uthman’s case. Examining the evidence, appeals court then found that
Uthman’s account piles coincidence upon coincidence upon coincidence. Here, as with the liable or guilty party in any civil or criminal case, it remains possible that Uthman was innocently going about his business and just happened to show up in a variety of extraordinary places – a kind of Forrest Gump in the war against al Qaeda. But Uthman’s account at best strains credulity; and the far more likely explanation for the plethora of damning circumstantial evidence is that he was part of al Qaeda. When presented with similar circumstantial evidence in prior cases, we have had no trouble reaching the conclusion that the detainee more likely than not was part of al Qaeda…So too here.
Uthman was captured near the Pakistan-Afghan border in December 2001 and has been held at Guantanano for over nine years. Uthman has denied the claims made against him [NYT backgrounder] as listed by the Combat Status Review Tribunal and the Administrative Review Board [official site] that reviewed his case.
Federal courts have struggled with habeas corpus rights for Guantanamo detainees. In September, Kuwaiti Guantanamo detainee Fawzi Khalid Abdullah Fahad al Odah petitioned [text, PDF; JURIST report] the US Supreme Court [official website] to reverse a federal appeals court decision that denied him habeas corpus relief. The DC appeals court denied [text, PDF; JURIST report] habeas corpus relief to al Odah in July. The court affirmed the district court’s ruling [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that there was sufficient evidence against al Odah for him to be considered “part of” al Qaeda and Taliban forces. In August, the DC district court released a partially redacted opinion [text, PDF] ordering the release [JURIST report] of Yemeni Guantanamo Bay detainee Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif [NYT profile] for lack of evidence.
Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.