No evidence against Mohammed Jawad, judge says, but that won't stop the government from trying to keep him locked up

Today's New York Times reports that federal Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle has given the U.S. government until Friday to put up or shut up in the case of Mohammed Jawad, an Afghani who was arrested as a young teenager and has been in U.S. custody for seven years, most of that time at Guantanamo. The case against Jawad, as the judge pointed out in her comments yesterday, is based almost entirely on confessions that were exacted through torture by both Afghan and American interrogators. For months, lawyers for the Obama administration's Department of Justice continued to rely on those coerced statements as the backbone of its case.

Many readers of this blog will be familiar with this notorious affair. But be sure to read the entire transcript of the judge's conversation with the government attorney, Kristina Wolfe (note that you can open the transcript in pdf format, see upper left section of the page.) Print it out, and if you are a teacher, assign it to your class and have your students read the entire thing. There is a whole education here about what the U.S. Constitution requires when somebody is accused of a crime. And, in reference to the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings, there is a lesson about the kind of "judicial temperament" that is appropriate when the government has been holding a prisoner for seven years despite major indications that they are not guilty--and is now trying to pull rabbits out of hats in order to keep him locked up.

Sadly, the Obama administration has tried to defend and uphold nearly every unconstitutional act committed by the Bush administration, for reasons that can only range from political expediency to political cowardice. And what will the Obama Justice Department do if the judge rules that Jawad must be set free? Read this segment from the Times story:

Jonathan Hafetz, Mr. Jawad’s lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union, said Judge Huvelle’s comments were an indication that judges were growing uneasy about many of the government’s claims.

“It reflects the pent-up frustration among judges who have seen first hand the government’s lack of evidence,” Mr. Hafetz said.

Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the Justice Department, did not respond to that assertion. But he said, “We are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security.”

Even if a judge orders it? And by the way, how is releasing a man who is innocent in the eyes of the law a threat to national security? Oh, yes, this is the adminstration that is still considering a program of "preventive detention" of terrorist suspects. We are a nation of laws, until, that is, the law decrees something we don't like.

Addendum. Bob Herbert provided a lot of the background to the case in an earlier column. Since that column was written, the government has belatedly agreed that Jawad's statements during torture cannot be used in the habeas corpus proceeding (after maintaining just the opposite for many months.) As the judge herself put it, the government's case is now “riddled with holes.”

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Richard Parker said…
If I was Mohammed Jawad, after spending a third of my life to date in an American hell hole, and losing seven years of higher education forever, I would feel very inclined to pick up a gun or a bomb and kill as many Americans as I could. Wouldn't you?
Michael Balter said…
Since the Obama administration has argued that photos of prisoners being abused cannot be released because they might inflame opinion against the United States, the day may come soon when they argue that we can't release the prisoners because they are too inflamed themselves, as you point out.
Anne Gilbert said…
I honestly don't understand this. How could they keep imprisoning a kid like this, even after a judge says there's nothing they can hold him for? The guy probably now is mad as hell and won't take it any more. Which is going to mean trouble down the rad if he ever gets out. . . .
jqb said…
Reading at how this poor kid has been treated is sickening. He's very likely innocent, but even if he did throw the grenade, his treatment is grossly inhumane. When it comes to our national security, people like Dean Boyd are far greater threats.