US judge rejects legal challenge from Guantanamo detainee

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Posted: Jul 30, 2015 5:38 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge on Thursday rejected a legal challenge from a Guantanamo Bay detainee who said his imprisonment was unlawful now that President Barack Obama has declared an end to hostilities in Afghanistan.

Muktar Yahya Najee al-Warafi, a Yemeni who was captured in Afghanistan, has been held since 2002 at the detention facility in Cuba for terror detainees. Judges have upheld his detention on grounds that he likely aided Taliban forces, though his lawyers have contended that he was simply a medic.

His latest challenge centered on Obama administration statements made in the last year indicating that the war in Afghanistan had come to an end, including a January 2015 declaration that "our combat mission in Afghanistan is over."

His lawyers said that those assertions made al-Warafi's detention unlawful under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force of 2001, which provided the legal justification for the imprisonment of foreign fighters captured on overseas battlefields. The Supreme Court stressed in a 2004 opinion, Hamdi vs. Rumsfeld, that detention of individuals judged to be enemy combatants was legal only as long as "active hostilities" continue.

But U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth wrote in a 14-page opinion that the president's statements notwithstanding, the government had offered "convincing evidence that U.S. involvement in the fighting in Afghanistan, against al-Qaida and Taliban forces alike, has not stopped" and that al-Warafi's detention therefore remains legal.

"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 mean what it says or say what it means."

Brian Foster, a lawyer for al-Warafi, said Thursday that the judge's opinion amounted to a "rubber stamp for endless detention."

He said he would review the opinion and decide whether to appeal.

At least two other similar petitions from Guantanamo Bay detainees are pending in federal court in Washington.

One comes from Faez Mohammed Ahmed al-Kandari, a Kuwaiti who was shipped to Guantanamo following his 2001 capture after the battle of Tora Bora. Another was filed on behalf of Moath Hamza Ahmed al-Alwi, a Yemeni who was captured in Pakistan and arrived at Guantanamo in January 2002.

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