Press Release of the Day

By Benjamin Wittes
Friday, November 5, 2010, 7:50 PM

Ok, I know press releases are supposed to be self-serving, but this is taking it a bit far. How did the ACLU headline its release on today's D.C. Circuit opinion in Salahi--you know, the opinion that vacated the district court order granting Mr. Salahi a writ of habeas corpus? "Federal Court Refuses to Throw Out Challenge to Guantanamo Prisoner's Nine Year Detention." The word "vacated" never appears in the release. You can actually read the whole thing and never find out that, well, to put it bluntly, the ACLU lost this round big-time.

Here's the whole text:

WASHINGTON - November 5 - A federal appellate court today sent a lawsuit challenging the unlawful detention of Guantánamo prisoner Mohamedou Ould Salahi back to district court for further review. In March, the district court had ordered Salahi released from Guantánamo because the government could not prove that he was part of Al Qaeda when he was captured in 2001. The government appealed that ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which today ruled that the government can continue to hold Salahi in military detention while the case returns to the lower court for further factual findings.

The American Civil Liberties Union and attorneys from the law firms of Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg Ives & Duncan P.A. and Linda Moreno brought the petition for habeas corpus on behalf of Salahi. Salahi, who never took part in any hostilities or attacks against the U.S., was captured at his home in Mauritania far from any battlefield, tortured and abused by the U.S. government and has now been in U.S. custody for approximately nine years.

In its ruling, the appellate court rejected the government’s radical argument that the oath Salahi swore to Al Qaeda in 1991--when it was allied with the United States in opposing the communist government of Afghanistan – was sufficient proof that he was still connected to the group when he was captured in Mauritania in 2001. The court also acknowledged that Al Qaeda was a different group in 1991 than it was in 2001, and that allegiance to the earlier formation of the group could not be equated with allegiance to the group in later years.

The following can be attributed to Theresa Duncan of the law firm Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg Ives & Duncan P.A.:

“While we are disappointed that Mr. Salahi will remain imprisoned after nearly a decade of unlawful military detention, we’re confident the district court will once again find no legal or factual basis to continue holding him. The appeals court correctly recognized that it is up to the government to prove that Mr. Salahi can be held indefinitely--which it has failed do in the nine years it has kept him imprisoned. The district court should order Mr. Salahi’s release from Guantánamo--hopefully, this will be the beginning of the end to his long nightmare.”

The following can be attributed to Jonathan Hafetz, cooperating attorney with the ACLU:

"After nine years in unlawful custody, it is well past time for Mr. Salahi to go home. The failure of the courts to order his release would undermine their role as a check against lawless detention and a guarantor of individual rights."