Justice Department won't appeal order to free Guantanamo detainee

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 3, 2009 

WASHINGTON — A Kuwaiti Airways engineer who the U.S. military has accused of being a key aide to Osama bin Laden has been moved to the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center's minimum-security section that's reserved for prisoners slated to be released.

Fouad al Rabiah, who the Pentagon says was bin Laden's logistics chief during the 2001 battle at Tora Bora in Afghanistan, was transferred to Camp Iguana after the Justice Department decided not to appeal a judge's order that he be released, his civilian lawyer, David Cynamon, said Tuesday.

In separate letters to the Senate Armed Services Committee and the inspectors general of the Defense and Justice departments, Cynamon demanded an investigation into allegations that Rabiah was tortured by his American interrogators at Guantanamo, where he's been held for nearly eight years.

Cynamon noted in the letters that U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly's Sept. 17 ruling ordering Rabiah's release included "a detailed description of the abusive and coercive tactics used by interrogators to extract patently false confessions from Mr. Al Rabiah." Cynamon said he made a similar request to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Oct. 5, but hasn't received a response.

Kollar-Kotelly's opinion, one of 30 release orders that have been issued in response to habeas corpus petitions by Guantanamo prisoners, was the most scathing to date about the government's actions and raised questions about how the Pentagon vetted evidence used to bring charges against Rabiah _ an overweight 50-year-old father of four who failed two weeks of required basic training for the Kuwaiti military.

Still, he remains accused before a military commission of providing material support for a terrorist organization and conspiracy. Pentagon spokesman Joe DellaVedova said "no decision has been made on whether to drop the military commission charges."

Those charges aren't likely to prevent Rabiah's release, however. Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said in an e-mail that the Obama administration "is working towards completing the administrative and diplomatic processes necessary to effectuate (Rabia's) transfer expeditiously." He declined to comment further.

Under U.S. law, the Obama administration must notify Congress 15 days in advance of plans to transfer a Guantanamo detainee to a third country. That notification is classified, and Cynamon said he didn't know if it had been made. He said he'll continue to press Kollar-Kotelly to hold U.S. officials in contempt if Rabiah isn't released soon.

"They hate to admit they made a mistake," Cynamon said.

The move to Camp Iguana, however, is implicit acknowledgment that Rabiah will be released. Prisoners at Camp Iguana have access to computers, can receive phone calls from their lawyers and can order food from base restaurants, including Pizza Hut and McDonalds.

In her September ruling, Kollar-Kotelly said the government had presented no credible evidence that Rabiah had been an aide to bin Laden or that his trip to Afghanistan was anything other than a humanitarian mission, as he claimed. She said that an unnamed U.S. intelligence analyst had concluded that Rabiah should never have been detained and that the witnesses the government offered against him weren't believable.

Much of Kollar-Kotelly's description of Rabiah's interrogations at Guantanamo was censored in the public version of her order, but there's no doubt that she concluded he'd been abused into making confessions that even his interrogators didn't believe.

Frustrated interrogators, she wrote at one point, "began using abusive techniques that violated the Army Field Manual and the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War."

Cynamon pledged to press for an investigation. "I'm not going away quietly on this one," he said.

ON THE WEB

Pentagon charges against Rabiah

Judge Kollar-Kotelly's release order

Rabiah's attorney's requests for torture probes

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