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Slahi: Another Habeas Defeat for the Justice Department

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On March 22, Judge James Robertson, reviewing the habeas corpus petition of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, concluded that the United States had failed to produce sufficient evidence to justify his detention. The Justice Department apparently relied heavily on statements made by Slahi during his detention by the CIA and subsequently in the military prison at Guantánamo. He was the thirty-fourth prisoner to prevail against the United States in the habeas process. Writing in the Miami Herald, Carol Rosenberg notes that Judge Robertson’s opinion is still undergoing declassification and therefore is unavailable. However, she offers some well-grounded speculation about the basis of the case:

[Slahi’s] name was already well known because of investigations into detainee abuse. Those probes found Slahi had been subjected to sleep deprivation, exposed to extremes of heat and cold, moved around the base blindfolded, and at one point taken into the bay on a boat and threatened with death. Investigators also found interrogators had told him they would arrest his mother and have her jailed as the only female detainee at Guantánamo if he did not cooperate. The interrogations were so abusive a highly regarded Pentagon lawyer, Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, quit the case five years ago rather than prosecute him at the Bush administration’s first effort to stage military commissions.

The Slahi case is a good demonstration of the problems that the regime of state-sanctioned torture produces when prosecutors wade into legal proceedings attempting to make use of evidence extracted when torture has been used. This very failure will likely be used by the administration to justify a regime of preventive detention. For the moment, however, the Obama Justice Department is satisfying itself with an appeal.

In Sherry Jones’s documentary “Torturing Democracy,” the Slahi case is very effectively recapped. The outcome of the habeas process was obvious even when this first aired more than a year ago:

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