(CN) A federal judge in Washington, D.C., ordered the release of Guantanamo detainee Khalid Al Mutairi of Kuwait, saying the government failed to provide enough evidence to detain him.
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly granted Al Mutairi’s petition for habeas corpus, ending a case pending more than seven years – “the oldest of the pending Guantanamo Bay habeas cases,” according to the ruling.
Al Mutairi was detained in Pakistan in 2001 after traveling to Afghanistan for charity work. He had boarded a plane from Kuwait to Iran with $15,000 cash shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. He used part of the money to help build a mosque in Iran, and then traveled to Afghanistan in late September 2001 to donate funds to build a school for al Wafa, a group with ties to al-Qaida. But Al Mutairi’s $1,000 donation to the group did not make him “part of” the organization, Judge Kollar-Kotelly ruled.
“[T]he government has at best shown that some of Al Mutairi’s conduct was consistent with persons who may have become a part of al-Qaida or an associated force of al-Qaida, but there is nothing in the record beyond speculation that Al Mutiairi did, in fact, train with or otherwise become a part of either or both of those organizations,” Kollar-Kotelly wrote.
The court did not credit Al Mutairi’s version of events, pointing out numerous “inconsistencies, implausibilities, and in some respects, impossibilities,” but said the government bore the burden of showing that Al Mutairi was legally detained. And the government has not “filled in these blanks,” Kollar-Kotelly wrote.
Though Al Mutairi’s travels within Afghanistan during late 2001 were consistent with the movements of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters – Al Mutairi headed to a village in southern Afghanistan when Kabul fell in November, just as Taliban and al-Qaida fighters fled south toward the border – that alone was not enough to detain him, the court ruled.
The judge said there was evidence that Al Mutairi was admitted to an al-Qaida training camp. When he was detained, he claimed to have lost his passport, which the government said was consistent with al-Qaida training procedures requiring fighters to surrender their passports before admission to the camp. But again, the judge said Al Mutairi’s missing passport was not enough to support the charge that he attended a terrorist training camp.
And although Al Mutairi’s name appeared on public lists of captured al-Qaida fighters, this was not evidence enough to prove connections to the terrorist group, the court added, because Al Mutairi had volunteered the information to a guard in 2001, after being told it would be published so his family would know where he was. The list then appeared in the Kuwait news as a list of detained al-Qaida fighters.
Kollar-Kotelly also discredited the government’s claim that Al Mutairi fought with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1991, an accusation lifted from an interrogation of the detainee, saying there is no evidence of this association. It is unlikely that Al Mutairi would leave home, at the age of 16, to fight against Soviet Union forces in another country, the judge said. Moreover, in interrogation records, Al Mutairi looks “agitated” and “appears to have been goaded into making these statements by the linguist in the interrogation room,” the ruling states. During another interrogation, Al Mutairi claimed that he was Osama bin Laden, Kollar-Kotelly noted.
The court refused to admit the government’s evidence with a presumption of accuracy, citing the government’s erroneous belief, held for more than three years, that Al Mutairi manned an anti-aircraft weapon in Afghanistan due to a typographical error in an interrogation report. The judge wanted the chance to evaluate raw evidence.
Al Mutairi filed his habeas petition on May 1, 2002, but his case was delayed during the Bush administration over concerns that the courts lacked jurisdiction to review the charges against him. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Boumedienne v. Bush in 2008 allowed Guantanamo detainees to challenge their detentions in U.S. courts.