Gitmo Shut Down: Appeals Court Overturns Detainee Release

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on February 23, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

During the first week of his presidency, President Obama ordered Gitmo shut down within the year. An advisory board was to be created, and the record of each Guantanamo detainee was to be reviewed. Eventually, he hoped, the prison would be closed, and detainees would be released or moved elsewhere.

Two years later, this plan has yet to be realized, with few detainees being released. And according to the courts, they don't have to be.

Saeed Hatim, a Yemini national, has been a Guantanamo detainee for almost 9 years. According to court documents, in 2001 Hatim was captured in Pakistan, and then was later moved to Afghanistan, where he was allegedly tortured until he gave what he says is a false confession. He then became a Guantanamo detainee.

Hatim's attorneys filed a habeas petition in 2004, and after a variety of court rulings about whether a Guantanamo detainee was entitled to access U.S. courts, U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina ordered him released on December 16, 2009. This was 11 months after President Obama first started planning the Gitmo shut down.

The Department of Justice appealed the ruling, and last week the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision ordering the Guantanamo detainee release, saying that the law had changed while the appeal was pending.

The District Court had originally concluded that the government had not met its burden under the standard of detention used to dictate Guantanamo detainee release obligations. The government argued that it had the authority to detain persons who were "part of, or substantially support, Taliban or al-Qaida forces." Judge Urbina decided it did not.

Within the next year, the D.C. Circuit would determine that "those who purposefully and materially support" the Taliban or al-Qaida could be detained, and that they need not be part of the command structure.

Pointing to this change in the law, the court sent Hatim's case back to Judge Urbina. It is now his job to determine whether the evidence shows that Hatim supported a terrorist organization. Much of the information is confidential for national security reasons, so it's unclear whether this case will help fulfill the President's promise of a Gitmo shut down, or if Hatim will remain a Guantanamo detainee, release nowhere in sight.

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