Wednesday, December 6, 2023
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Detainee Loses Challenge to Gitmo Transfer Hurdles

(CN) - A Syrian detainee approved for transfer out of Guantanamo Bay does not have standing to challenge factors that impede his resettlement in another country, a federal judge ruled.

The U.S. Naval Base in Cuba has detained Ahmed Adnan Ahjam as an enemy belligerent since 2002. He was identified in 2009 as a candidate for transfer and resettlement in a new country.

That transfer process has taken years, however, and Congress imposed new prerequisites for transfers of Guantanamo detainees in the 2013 and 2014 National Defense Authorization Acts.

These requirements place a heavy burden on the president to show that the transfer candidate is "no longer a threat to national security," that a plan is in place to "mitigate the risk of such individual engaging or reengaging in any terrorist or other hostile activity," and that "the transfer is in the national security interest of the United States."

President Barack Obama has said that the prerequisites are coextensive with his own standards for detainee transfers, so they so not impose an additional barrier to detainee transfer.

But Ahjam argued in a federal complaint that the requirements unconstitutionally intrude on the president's control of foreign affairs, and function as a bill of attainder that punishes detainees without ever having found them guilty at trial.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth found that Ahjam lacks standing to challenge Congress's imposed requirements.

"As a threshold matter, barring a successful habeas petition, the Constitution confers no 'right to be free,' upon enemy belligerents detained at Guantanamo," the March 21 opinion unsealed Tuesday states.

Ahjam is incorrect in claiming that he has been cleared for "release," Lamberth said.

He has in fact been identified as a candidate for transfer, not release.

"Not a single detainee was cleared for release, which requires a unanimous finding that a detainee 'does not pose an identifiable threat to the national security of the United States,'" the 12-page redacted opinion states.

As such, the government still has the legal authority to detain Ahjam as an enemy belligerent, according to the ruling.

The decision to transfer Ahjam is akin to "commut[ing] a long-term sentence of a validly-convicted inmate," not to releasing an innocent man, the court found.

Because "military detention is not punishment," it is furthermore not true that Congress' requirements act as a bill of attainder, Lamberth said.

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