(CN) – A federal judge in Washington, D.C., ordered the government to release a Guantanamo Bay detainee, calling the evidence against him “surprisingly bare.”
Kuwaiti Fouad al Rabiah, 50, worked as an aviation engineer for Kuwait Airlines for 20 years, regularly taking scheduled leaves to perform charity work in Bosnia, Kosovo and Bangladesh.
He traveled to Afghanistan in October 2001 to help deliver aid refugees and to assess the country’s need for medical infrastructure. He was captured outside Jalalabad in December 2001 as he was trying to leave the country.
The U.S. government claimed that his charitable trips were a front for terrorist activities and that al Rabiah was really an al-Qaida operative who mediated supply disputes among fighting factions.
But U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly found it highly unlikely for al Rabiah to have attained such power within the terrorist group after having only visited Afghanistan for a few weeks.
“If there exists a basis for al Rabiah’s indefinite detention, it most certainly has not been presented to this court,” Kollar-Kotelly wrote.
In 2001, “al Rabiah was a 43 year old who was overweight, suffered from health problems, and had no known history of terrorist activities or links to terrorist activities,” she noted.
The government eventually withdrew almost all of the evidence against al Rabiah, including a claim that al Rabiah had hand-delivered a suitcase full of money to Osama bin Laden.
According to al Rabiah, interrogators at Guantanamo Bay told him to confess or he would never see his family again.
“There is nothing against you,” an interrogator allegedly said to al Rabiah, “But there is no innocent person here.” The interrogator told him to pick something to confess to, “because you will not leave this place innocent,” he claimed.
So al Rabiah began repeating back the evidence that interrogators fed him, admitting to meeting Osama bin Laden and adopting a leadership role in Tora Bora, according to the ruling.
Al Rabiah said interrogators explained that his confession would be a way for the United States to “save face.” Interrogators then grew frustrated when his confessions were inconsistent, he claimed, so they stepped up interrogation tactics. They allegedly subjected him to the “frequent flier” program at Guantanamo Bay — a sleep-deprivation tactic in which prisoners were forced to move cells constantly, a violation of both the Army Field Manual and the 1949 Geneva Convention.
And yet al Rabiah “continued to parrot his previous confessions,” to the frustration of Guantanamo officials, the ruling states.
The government still relied on these confessions to make its case, even though his interrogators said the stories had “vast holes” and were designed to “please interrogators.”
“These confessions defy belief,” Kollar-Kotelly wrote.
She ordered the government to “take all necessary and appropriate steps” to release the detainee.
Al Rabiah filed his habeas petition in May 2002, making his one of the oldest habeas cases.