DC Circuit denies Guantanamo detainee habeas petition

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Wednesday denied a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by Guantanamo Bay detainee Adham Mohammed Ali Awad, allowing for continued incarceration of the Yemeni national by the US government.

A federal judge, while saying that the evidence of Awad’s role in armed conflict was “gossamer thin,” had rejected his plea for freedom, and the Circuit Court upheld that result.

The Circuit Court ruling was based primarily upon facts found by District Judge Jamers Robertson. Awad is accused of participating in combat training against the US in Afghanistan and is being charged in an al Qaeda raid of an Afghan hospital.

Although the Court confirmed both the factual and legal findings of the lower court, it clarified two legal standards for the court to use going forward. First the circuit court confirmed that in defending prolonged imprisonment of a detainee, the government is not required to show that a captive was part of the “command structure” of the al Qaeda terrorist network, but simply “part of” the organization. This statement lowers the threshold for the amount of evidence needed for incarceration.

This threshold was further lowered by the other legal comment, in which the panel made a special effort to make clear that the government’s burden of proof to justify holding a detainee at Guantanamo was the lowest level — a  preponderance of the evidence.  The Circuit Court had upheld that standard in its earlier decision in Al-Bihani v. Obama, but Awad’s lawyers sought to raise doubts about it in his case.

The Circuit Court responded this way: “Awad seems to argue that there is some uncertainty in the evidentiary standard.  Lest there be any further misunderstandings, let us be absolutely clear.  A preponderance of the evidence standard satisfies constitutional requirements in consideraing a habeas petition from a detainee held pursuant to the AUMF [that is, the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force].”

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