A federal judge has ordered the government to release five terror suspects detained at Guantanamo, saying it failed to prove the men planned to take up arms against the United States.
Judge Richard Leon directed the government to "take all necessary and appropriate diplomatic steps" to bring about their release, according to a lawyer in the courtroom. Unlike another federal judge last month, however, he did not order them released into the United States.
Leon urged the government not to appeal, but to instead find a country to accept the men. They are native Algerians who were captured in Bosnia in 2001.
One of the five is Lakhdar Boumediene, who had argued that he and the other detainees had a constitutional right to a court hearing to challenge their imprisonment. The Supreme Court agreed in June, paving the way for the hearing in Leon’s courtroom on whether the government could continue holding the six detainees.
According to a lawyer in the courtroom, Leon faulted the government's evidence that the men were enemy combatants. It relied on one classified document by an unnamed source.
Nadia Asancheyev, a fellow at the Georgetown Center on National Security and Law, said Leon told the courtroom he could not "adequately assess the reliability of the sole source of information" the men were enemy combatants.
Justice Department Spokesman Peter Carr said the department was "of course disappointed by, and disagree with," Leon’s decision. He said it was "perhaps an understandable consequence" of the fact that neither Congress nor the Supreme Court set out any rules for how judges in these cases should proceed.
He urged Congress to step in and set up guidelines that allow "the Government to present its case without imperiling national security."
"These cases present extraordinary circumstances where wartime enemies have been captured abroad and are being detained based often on the same sort of classified intelligence relied upon by the military in conducting wartime operations,” Carr said.
Carr praised Leon for ruling that a sixth Gitmo detainee was an enemy combatant.
In his ruling, which he read from the bench, Leon also cautioned that the case was "unique" and that "no one should be lulled into a false sense" that other detainee cases would be similarly decided.
Last month, federal District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina ordered 17 Chinese Muslims released into the United States. The government had conceded those 17 were no longer enemy combatants, but said no country would take them. That case is on appeal and will be argued before a federal appeals court panel on Monday.
Earlier this year, a federal appeals court rejected the government's claims that another detainee was an enemy combatant.