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April 06, 2009

A judge loses patience over Guantanamo

It's only taken seven years, but finally a federal district judge has made it clear he's had enough delay in a Guantanamo case, and he leaves no doubt that he has no faith in the Obama Justice Department to carry through on promises to release a detainee. Here's Marisa Taylor's story on the hearing, during which the judge castigates the Justice Department for hiding evidence that he said undermines its cases against several detainees.

For a full picture of U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan's rising ire, read the transcript of the hearing. The case is that of Dr. Aymen Batarfi, a Yemeni doctor seized in Afghanistan in 2002 who's been in Guantanamo since.

The government agreed last week that Dr. Batarfi should go home.

That's not enough for Judge Sullivan. He's openly skeptical of the government's motive for making that announcement just a week before Batarfi's habeas case was to be heard in his court. He wants to know why the government won't let him enter an order mandating Batarfi's release, since everyone agrees he shouldn't be detained any longer. He wants to know when Batarfi will go free. He calls Guantanamo a "travesty" of American justice, "a horror story," he equates it to the injustice of the U.S. internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II.

He's dismissive of the "quote diplomatic process end quote" that's being pursued toward finding a place for Batarfi to be released. He talks about "the months and years" it could take for "diplomats to sit around and drink tea" while Batarfi remains in jail. When the government's attorney talks about giving the process "a fair shake" Sullivan will have none of it. "Fairness? You're talking about fairness? This man's been in jail for seven years and the govenment now says it's time to look at fairness?"

The judge begins getting wound up on Page 8 and pretty much doesn't stop. As for government misconduct in the case, someone, he says, will go to jail for that. On Page 22: "I'll tell you quite frankly if I have to start incarcerating people to get my point across I'm going to start at the top. I'm not going to start at the bottom."

We'll see.


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I read the transcript from start to finish. Truly incredible. But I couldn't help wondering, was this judge, or other judges, prevented from saying these things during the Bush years? Other prisoners have been "released" into foreign prisons... Still, it brings back some of the warm fuzzy feelings about the American justice system that I'd lost.

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"Planet Washington" covers politics and government. It is written by journalists in McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

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