‘Open Sesame’ Doesn’t Work at Guantanamo

     WASHINGTON (CN) – President Barack Obama’s recent remarks about ending the war in Afghanistan are not helpful to a Guantanamo Bay detainee, a federal judge ruled.
     “War is not a game of ‘Simon Says,'” U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said Thursday in denying a petition by Mukhtar Yahia Naji al Warafi for habeas relief.
     Al Warafi has been imprisoned at the the U.S. naval base in Cuba since Afghan forces apprehended him while he was allegedly working as a medic for the Taliban in November 2001.
     The detainee sought habeas relief after a federal judge rejected his claim that his position as medical personnel shielded him from detention under the Geneva Conventions.
     After the Supreme Court declined to hear that challenge last year, the Afghan detainee saw new hope in remarks President Obama made about concluding the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan.
     Obama followed up a Dec. 15, 2014, statement to that effect with his Jan. 20 state of the union address.
     “Our combat mission in Afghanistan is over,” Obama said.
     On Thursday, Judge Lamberth shot down al Warafi’s claim that the end of the conflict upends the ability of the United States to detain him under the Authorization for the Use of Military force.
     “Petitioner’s obsession with presidential speeches recalls the tale of the man who lost his keys,” Lamberth wrote.
     The story goes that a police officer spends several fruitless moments helping a man look for his keys under a streetlamp.
     When the man later concedes that he lost his keys in the park, he says he was looking under the streetlamp because “the light’s better over here.”
     “A court cannot look to political speeches alone to determine factual and legal realities merely because doing so would be easier than looking at all the relevant evidence,” Lamberth wrote. “The government may not always say what it means or mean what it says.”
     After taking a dig at the government’s shifting defense of the health care reform law, Lamberth found that the hostilities in Afghanistan are not over upon an objective view of the evidence.
     The 14-page opinion notes Obama’s admission on Memorial Day that roughly 9,000 residual troops remained in Afghanistan.
     “Petitioner essentially argues that the President has a peculiar strain of King Midas’s curse: Everything he says turns to law,” Judge Lamberth wrote, adding “the president’s position, while relevant, is not the only evidence that matters to this issue.”
     As evidence of continued warfare in the region, the Department of Justice submitted a June 11 letter signed by President Obama, acknowledging “active hostilities” against al-Qaida and the Taliban, which “remain ongoing.”
     Al Warafi had argued that such statements were purposefully designed to prolong detention.
     “Petitioner is right that a court should be wary of deception,” Judge Lamberth wrote. However, “the president’s earlier statements that the war is over could, hypothetically, be false, and his later statements that active hostilities continue could, hypothetically, be true,” the decision states.
     “Petitioner fails to recognize that this is possible, let alone provide reasons to believe that it is not so.”

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