Thu, Oct 11, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Judge rules against transfer of Guantanamo detainee

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

In what appeared to be the first ruling of its kind, a federal judge has barred the Bush administration from sending a Guantanamo detainee to his home country, where he claims he would face torture, according to an order unsealed on Tuesday in Washington.

The judge, Gladys Kessler of US District Court for the District of Columbia, issued an injunction prohibiting the planned transfer of the detainee to Tunisia, which has been criticized by US and international officials for human rights abuses.

Saying that the detainee, Mohammed Rahman, claimed that such a transfer would amount to a death sentence, Kessler said "it would be a profound miscarriage of justice" if she allowed the government to send him to Tunisia.

"At that point, the damage would have been done," she wrote, adding that Rahman faced a 20-year sentence after a conviction at a terrorism trial the Tunisian government held while he has been in detention at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Advocates for detainees and human rights groups said the ruling was an important development in the legal battle over Guantanamo. They said it could reshape what have been frequent legal conflicts over administration plans to send detainees to countries where they say they face torture or mistreatment.

"It is the only time a court has said the government does not have the unfettered right to do what they will with these people," said one of Rahman's lawyers, Joshua W. Denbeaux.

The ruling was the latest illustration of the hurdles the government faces in its effort to reduce the numbers of detainees at Guantanamo. State Department officials have said their efforts to repatriate many of the remaining 330 Guantanamo detainees have been hampered by resistance from some countries and by the government's own concerns about human rights issues.

In other cases, lawyers for detainees have tried to block transfers based on human rights concerns but have failed. Detainees' lawyers said Tuesday that they knew of no other case in which a judge had barred a transfer. Some lawyers said on Tuesday that they expected an appeal and that it was far from clear how appeals judges would view the ruling. Erik Ablin, a Justice Department spokesman, said the department had argued that the judge lacked the power to issue the injunction. The government, he said, is "reviewing the district court order and considering its options."

Cynthia Smith, a Defense Department spokeswoman, said officials worked to ensure that mistreatment of transferred detainees did not occur and investigated accusations of mistreatment. "Detainees are not repatriated to countries where it is more likely than not that they will be tortured," Smith said.

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