On Friday the government declassified an opinion in which U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered the release of a Kuwaiti held at Guantanamo since 2002, saying he was imprisoned based on coerced confessions that even his interrogators did not believe. Fouad Al Rabiah, a 50-year-old aviation engineer and father of four, was captured as he tried to leave Afghanistan in December 2001. He said he came to Afghanistan that October to help refugees, an explanation the judge found credible:
The evidence in the record strongly supports Al Rabiah's explanation....There is no evidence in the record that anyone directed any allegations toward Al Rabiah nor any indication that interrogators believed Al Rabiah had engaged in any conduct that made him lawfully detainable. To the contrary, the evidence in the record during this period consists mainly of an assessment made by an intelligence analyst that Al Rabiah should not have been detained.
Later four Guantanamo inmates made several implausible accusations against Al Rabiah—claiming, among other things, that the engineer, who had worked at Kuwait Airlines for 20 years, suddenly became a leader of the fight against U.S. forces in Tora Bora. Kollar-Kotelly noted that the charges were either inconsistent or demonstrably false. The Pentagon eventually stopped relying on these wild claims to justify Al Rabiah's detention, but by then interrogators had used the charges, along with sleep deprivation and threats of rendition to countries where he would be tortured or killed, to extract confessions from him. In the end, the interrogators concluded that Al Rabiah was making up a story to please them. "Incredibly," Kollar-Kotelly wrote, "these are the confessions that the government has asked the Court to accept as truthful in this case."
Al Rabiah's treatment is reminiscent of what happened to Mohammed Jawad, the Afghan who was captured as a young teenager and held for almost seven years before he was released last month. Both detainees were locked up based mainly on coerced confessions that appear to have been false, and it looks like both might have remained imprisoned but for the intervention of the federal courts. The track record of habeas corpus petitions by Guantanamo detainees poses a challenge to those who think that (contrary to what the Supreme Court has said) federal judges have no business reviewing these cases, which can be handled fairly and expeditiously by the Pentagon itself. In 30 of the 37 habeas corpus cases from Guantanamo that have been heard so far, the judges, even while applying a government-friendly standard of proof, have found the evidence for holding the detainees inadequate and ordered their release.