Happy Fourth of July.
This week, the DC Circuit Court had to tell the government that using false passports does not make someone an al Qaeda member.
At issue is the appeal of Belkacem Bensayah, an Algerian who had been living in Bosnia alleged to have arranged travel for five others (the rest of the detainees set free after the Boumediene decision gave them habeas rights) to go to Afghanistan to fight the Americans. In the past, the government has claimed the phone number of a “senior al Qaeda member”–reported to be Abu Zubaydah–was found in his possession (PDF 19); in addition, a senior al Qaeda member (presumably also a reference to Abu Zubaydah) “reported he has known the detainee since 1993 when the detainee went to Afghanistan from the war in Tajikistan.”
But the evidence presented in his factual return consists of the following:
- An intelligence report, labeled, “INFORMATION REPORT, NOT FINALLY EVALUATED INTELLIGENCE,” which the District Court determined could not be relied upon by itself because of “uncertainty about the source of the document and how the information therein was gathered”
- Claims that Bensayah had ties to Abu Zubaydah–though the Appeals ruling notes that the government provided no evidence of any contact between the two
- Proof that Bensayah had traveled on false passports in the past (Bensayah said he did so to avoid being sent back to Algeria where he feared prosecution)
- Questions about his whereabouts in the 1990s, none of which alleges a tie to al Qaeda
The Appeals Court bounced this case back to the District Court to see if the government could come up with any more evidence.
So at one level, this is another of the many cases where the government has detained someone for years based on what Courts say is a too-tenuous connection to al Qaeda.
But this case is all the more interesting because of the way it relates to questions I raised the other day about Kagan’s comments about indefinite detention. As Charlie Savage reported in detail in March, once the Obama Administration backed off Bush’s justification for detaining alleged terrorists under Article II, it set off a debate within the Administration over whether they could detain people who had just supported–but were not a part of–al Qaeda. Harold Koh said they could not, Jeh Johnson said they could, and David Barron, acting head of OLC, basically just punted. Read more