(CN) – A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has declined to release a Libyan national from his detention at Guantanamo Bay, citing “compelling” evidence that he was a member of al-Qaida.
Omar Mohammed Khalifh was captured by Pakistani forces in March 2002. He was transferred to U.S. custody and has been held at Guantanamo Bay.
The government claimed it had the power to detain Khalifh because he was a member of the terrorist group al-Qaida.
Khalifh denied any affiliation with the organization, but argued that even if the court determined that he was once a member, his membership had lapsed by the time of his capture.
U.S. District Judge James Roberston ruled that the evidence seemed to suggest Khalifh was indeed a member of al-Qaida.
“[T]he government has shown more than probable cause to believe that Khalifh was a part of al-Qaida and associated forces through a steady string of activity right up until the time of his capture,” Roberston wrote.
According to the government, Khalifh became affiliated with Libyan Islamic Fighting Group at age 20. He remained active for three years, helping the group obtain weapons, housing, vehicles and intelligence.
In 1995 he fled to the Sudan, where he purportedly worked for a trucking company owned by Osama bin Laden and received training in firearms and explosives.
The government claimed he left for Afghanistan in 1996, where he worked at the Jihad Wahl training camp. Judge Roberston said Khalifh “certainly was a part of al-Qaida during this period.”
Two years later, Khalifh lost his leg while working as a Taliban minesweeper, according to the government. This story, though denied by Khalifh, was corroborated by another prisoner’s testimony that he had visited “Omar the Libyan,” a Taliban minesweeper, in the hospital.
Khalifh allegedly recuperated in al-Qaida safehouses, where he met high-level al-Qaida and Taliban members — an opportunity government lawyers argued would not have been afforded to non-members of the organizations.
Khalifh eventually made his way to Pakistan, where he was captured at a guesthouse in Jalalabad.
He challenged the government’s claim that he had fought at Tora Bora or Taloqan, but Judge Roberston found this allegation irrelevant, given the evidence that Khalifh was a member of al-Qaida.
“Given the clear proof of his long-standing membership in al-Qaida … and the absence of any evidence of active dissociation or of a compellingly lengthy lapse in activity, I find that Khalifh was a part of al-Qaida at the time of his capture,” Roberston concluded.
Khalifh had filed his petition in 2005. It was put on hold until the Supreme Court ruled in Boumediene v. Bush that Guantanamo detainees have a right to challenge their detentions in U.S. courts.
Roberston’s ruling, issued in May, was unsealed this week. Portions of the opinion, including sections describing Khalifh’s alleged mistreatment, were redacted as classified information.