(CN) – A federal judge appointed by President Bush ordered the release of five Algerian men from the U.S. naval prison in Guantanamo Bay, saying the government lacked the evidence to hold them there for nearly seven years.
“To rest on so thin a reed would be inconsistent with this court’s obligation,” wrote U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon. He ordered the men released “forthwith” and urged the government not to appeal.
The judge also upheld the detention of a sixth Algerian man who had provided support to al-Qaida terrorists.
The six men won judicial review in Boumediene v. Bush, when Supreme Court justices voted 5-4 that Guantanamo prisoners may challenge their detention in U.S. civilian courts.
“The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times,” Justice Kennedy wrote.
The Bush administration has long argued that detainees have no legal rights, but if they do, the government’s review tribunals were sufficient.
Leon’s ruling was seen as a rejection of the Bush administration’s efforts to avoid judicial scrutiny by imprisoning terrorist suspects at an offshore naval base, ostensibly outside the jurisdiction of U.S. courts.
Critics say the Guantanamo prison holds a number of innocent men who were swept up by the government’s bounty system and were unable to challenge the evidence against them.
President-elect Barack Obama promised to Guantanamo after he takes office in January.