US appeals court overturns release order for Yemeni Gitmo detainee

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on March 29 overturned a lower court’s decision granting release to Yemeni Guantánamo Bay detainee Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman. Uthman’s 2004 habeas corpus petition challenging his basis for detention was granted when the US District Court for the District of Columbia determined that the government had failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Uthman had received and executed orders from al-Qaeda. The appeals court rejected this “command structure test” used by the lower court and struck down the ruling, blocking Uthman’s release. The appeals court found that decisions made since Uthman’s petition dictate that, regarding the detention authority granted by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF)], determinations of whether individuals are al-Qaeda members must employ a functional approach on a case-by-case basis, rather than the formal approach used in Uthman’s case.

Examining the evidence, appeals court then found that

Uthman’s account piles coincidence upon coincidence upon coincidence. Here, as with the liable or guilty party in any civil or criminal case, it remains possible that Uthman was innocently going about his business and just happened to show up in a variety of extraordinary places—a kind of Forrest Gump in the war against al-Qaeda. But Uthman’s account at best strains credulity; and the far more likely explanation for the plethora of damning circumstantial evidence is that he was part of al Qaeda. When presented with similar circumstantial evidence in prior cases, we have had no trouble reaching the conclusion that the detainee more likely than not was part of al-Qaeda…So too here.

Uthman was captured near the Pakistan-Afghan border in December 2001 and has been held at Guantánamo for over nine years. Uthman has denied the claims made against him as listed by the Combat Status Review Tribunal and the Administrative Review Board that reviewed his case.

From Jurist, March 27. Used with permission.