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WASHINGTON - The United States on Friday released the Guantanamo Bay prisoner who was at the center of a Supreme Court battle giving detainees the right to challenge their confinement, an Obama administration official said.
Lakhdar Boumediene left the U.S. naval facility in Cuba Friday headed to relatives in France, said the official, who spoke on a condition of anonymity because the release was not yet cleared for announcement.
Boumediene was arrested along with five other Algerians in 2001 in Bosnia, suspected in a bomb plot against the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo. He arrived in Guantanamo in January 2002.
In January 2002, the Supreme Court of Bosnia ruled that there was no evidence to hold the six men, ordered the charges dropped and the men released. American forces, including troops who were part of a 3,000 man American peace-keeping contingent in Bosnia were waiting for the six men upon their release from Bosnia custody, and transported them to Guantanamo.
On November 20th, 2008, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon ordered the release Lakhdar Boumediene along with four other Algerians he was being held with. A sixth Algerian detainee, Bensayah Belkacem, was not ordered to be released.
As for the sixth Algerian, Belkacem Bensayah, Leon said there was enough reason to believe he was close to an al-Qaida operative and had sought to help others travel to Afghanistan to join the terrorists' fight against the United States and its allies.
Thursday's ruling is the first since the Supreme Court cleared the way last June for civilian courts to hear challenges by detainees being held indefinitely without charges.
It largely hinged on Leon's definition of an enemy combatant, which he said included al-Qaida or Taliban supporters who directly assisted in hostile acts against the U.S. or its allies.
Much of the evidence against the Algerians is classified and could not be discussed during the two open court hearings in the seven-day trial — or even with the detainees themselves. The detainees listened to Thursday's ruling through a translated telephone conference call, but could not be heard during the nearly one-hour hearing.
The government initially detained Boumediene and the other Algerians on suspicion of plotting to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo in October 2001. They were transferred to Guantanamo in January 2002.
The Justice Department last month backed off the embassy bombing accusations, but said the six men were caught before they could join terrorists' global jihad. The Justice Department said it needed to be proactive against threats, especially in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
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The detainee's lawyers denied the men ever planned to join the battlefield. Even if they had, the lawyers argued, they did not fit Leon's definition of an enemy combatant because they never joined the terrorist fighters.
The cases of more than 200 additional Guantanamo detainees are still pending, many in front of other judges in Washington's federal courthouse.
The United States is holding dozens of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay who have no meaningful connection to Al Qaeda or the Taliban, and were sent to the maximum-security facility over the objections of intelligence officers in Afghanistan who had recommended them for release, according to military sources with direct knowledge of the matter.
At least 59 detainees -- nearly 10% of the prison population at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- were deemed to be of no intelligence value after repeated interrogations in Afghanistan. All were placed on "recommended for repatriation" lists well before they were transferred to Guantanamo Bay, a facility intended to hold the most hardened terrorists and Taliban suspects.
Dozens of the detainees are Afghan and Pakistani nationals described in classified intelligence reports as farmers, taxi drivers, cobblers and laborers. Some were low-level fighters conscripted by the Taliban in the weeks before the collapse of the ruling Afghan regime.
None of the 59 met U.S. screening criteria for determining which prisoners should be sent to Guantanamo Bay, military sources said. But all were transferred anyway, sources said, for reasons that continue to baffle and frustrate intelligence officers nearly a year after the first group of detainees arrived at the facility.
"There are a lot of guilty [people] in there," said one officer, "but there's a lot of farmers in there too."
Why am I doing it? Imagine if someone dropped a thousand leaflets over your city that said "we will pay you enough money to support you, your immediate family and your extended family for the rest of your life if you turn over individuals who are 'murderers and terrorists.'" Imagine- your immediate family and your extended family taken care of for the rest of your life and all you have to do is turn over "murderers and terrorists."
Thousands upon thousands of leaflets offering some of the poorest and most desperate people in the world something that would be hard for even the average American to turn down: financial security for their families for life.
First you have to decide who are those murderers and terrorists. Is it some creditor, a bad neighbor, or perhaps someone on the next block that you don't really know? Do you care when the bounty is enough money to take care of your family for the rest of your life? The reality is that a lot of people wouldn't care, and as it turns out, a lot of people in war ravaged countries didn't care.