Well, color us surprised! Just ten days ago, we reported (cynically) that Judge Richard Leon, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, had begun closed door habeas hearings for six Algerian detainees being held at Guantanamo. Included in this six, was Lakhdar Boumediene, whose Supreme Court case, Boumediene v. Bush, made it possible for these men to file habeas petitions. We did not have high hopes for a positive outcome. Turns out, our fears were unfounded.
Today, Judge Leon ordered the release of five of the six Algerians, claiming that the evidence against them may have been strong enough to question them, but not to hold them. According to his opinion, “to rest on so thin a reed would be inconsistent with this court’s obligation.” He ordered that the government release the men “forthwith” and encouraged it not to appeal the decision.
Judge Leon’s request that the government consider not appealing his decision is rather telling. For years, detainees have been seeking help from the courts, only to have the government delay their release while it looked for loop holes. Just last month, another judge ordered the release of 17 Uighurs, who the government had already said pose no threat. Unfortunately for the Uighurs, President Bush did not like being told what to do with his own detainees, and has appealed the decision to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
Still, despite efforts by the Bush administration to get around the courts, it has been rebuked at every stage. Even its own appointees (i.e. Judge Leon) refuse to get behind its detention policies. Today’s decision was not only the culmination of a six year battle for the freedom of these Algerians, but also a victory in the fight to restore habeas rights to all detainees at Guantanamo Bay.