A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the military to release one of its first Guantanamo Bay detainees, a 21-year-old man who has been detained and accused of being a terrorist since he was 14.
Mohammed el Gharani, who is of Chadian nationality but had lived in Saudi Arabia, should be released from the U.S. prison in Cuba "forthwith," U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said in a ruling from the bench.
The military had accused el Gharani of being part of al-Qaida, working for the Taliban and fighting American forces in Afghanistan. However, Leon said those accusations were based on testimony from other Guantanamo Bay detainees, which he found unreliable.
"Simply stated, a mosaic of tiles bearing images this murky reveals nothing about the petitioner with sufficient clarity, either individually or collectively, that can be relied upon by this court," Leon said.
El Gharani listened to the ruling live by telephone from Cuba but did not react.
He could be on his way home to his family in a few weeks, lawyer Zackary Katznelson said. "Judge Leon did justice today."
The government can appeal Leon's decision.
"We're disappointed by the ruling and will consider our options," Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said.
El Gharani was arrested in Pakistan in 2001 at a mosque by local police, and turned over to United States forces in 2002. He was one of the first Guantanamo Bay detainees and also one of the youngest.
Katznelson said el Gharani now has spent a third of his life in military prison in Cuba. "He never should have been in prison in the first place," Katznelson said.
He was accused of receiving military training from al-Qaida in Afghanistan and serving as a courier for several high-ranking members. He also is accused of fighting against U.S. and coalition forces at the battle of Tora Bora in Afghanistan in late 2001 and of being a member of an al-Qaida cell based in London in 1998.
El Gharani denied all of the accusations.
The government's only evidence is statements made by two other Guantanamo Bay detainees whose credibility and reliability has been called into question by "government personnel," Leon said.
For example, El Gharani's lawyers pointed out that he would have been 11 in 1998, when he is accused of being part of an al-Qaida cell in England.
And "putting aside the obvious and unanswered questions as to how a Saudi minor from a very poor family could have even become a member of a London-based cell, the government simply advances no corroborating evidence for these statements it believes to be reliable from a fellow detainee, the basis of whose knowledge is — at best — unknown," Leon said.