A judge has ordered the release of a Guantanamo prisoner who suffers from such a severe mental and physical illness that he is virtually guaranteed to never “return to the battlefield.”
Judge Royce Lamberth ordered the United States government to “take all the necessary and appropriate diplomatic steps” to release Ibrahim Osman Ibrahim Idris after the government withdrew opposition to his habeas petition arguing his detention was unlawful under the Authorized Use of Military Force (AUMF) because he is so ill and incapable of rejoining any fight.
The motion Idris’ defense attorney, Jennifer Cowan, filed indicates he was diagnosed with schizophrenia soon after he arrived at Guantanamo in January 2002. It says he has developed a number of other “serious physical conditions” during his detention.
A military psychiatrist concluded in 2009 that his “thought processes and speech” are “grossly disorganized.” He “suffers from auditory and visual hallucinations.” He is “operating in a delusional reality system, with little foundation in his real-world circumstances” and is incapable of focusing attention on his “actual surroundings.”
Idris also is “morbidly obese” and suffers from “pitting edema (an abnormal accumulation of liquid which results in swelling) and from problems with his circulation, digestion, joint flexibility, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure.”
Cowan argued, “The substantial deterioration of [Idris'] mental and physical health during his years of detention at Guantanamo would make it nearly impossible for him to engage in hostilities if he were to be transferred to Sudan, especially given the limited availability of psychiatric care in that country.”
Currently, Idris is refusing to take medication. Cowan suggested that his family would be “eager to welcome him home to Sudan and to care for him,” but also acknowledged his condition probably would not improve in Sudan. He probably would not be able to afford the medicine or treatment necessary and he also has become socially isolated in the prison (likely as a result of wearing underwear on his head).
Idris is one of 164 prisoners still being held in Guantanamo. For Idris, though he may not understand what is happening to him when they transfer him, there is hope that he will leave a prison the administration of President George W. Bush began to utilize because it could detain and torture alleged terror suspects outside the confines of the law.
The other 163 prisoners could continue to be held without charge or trial for quite some time. That is why organizations sent yet another letter to President Barack Obama’s administration today urging that he fulfill his pledge to close Guantanamo. Specifically, they demanded the administration appoint a Defense Department envoy to lead the effort to close the prison and direct Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to begin using “existing statutory authority” to “transfer cleared detainees from Guantanamo to foreign countries that will respect their human rights.”
Many of the prisoners in Guantanamo have been there for around ten or eleven years. They have been held without charge or trial. Eighty-four of them have been cleared by a review task force Obama appointed when he signed the executive order to close the prison in 2009. However, being cleared has not been enough to convince Congress, the Defense Department and the wider Obama administration that the prisoners should be released immediately. (And Obama has sought to maintain this perception that it is solely the fault of Congress, and not his administration, that cleared prisoners have not been transferred and the facility has not been closed.)
A hunger strike that escalated in February is winding down. It was one way the prisoners had to put pressure on the administration to release them, but, cruelly, the Obama administration allowed the Pentagon to force-feed detainees to ensure they would not die in the prison. In reaction, Rupert Cornwell for The Independent, based in the United Kingdom, reacted, “Today, even George Orwell would have been pressed to conceive the plight of the 86 [now 84]: cleared for release, but denied freedom, using a hunger strike as their last weapon, only to be kept alive by the very people who will not let them go.”
There is little reason to hope for a political solution that would lead to the prisoners’ release. There may be increased administrative action, but so far Obama does not want to take the bold steps necessary. That leaves legal motions, such as what Idris filed, where a judge can order the government to release detainees.
Habeas petitions have a slim to none chance of working because a federal judge is going to be sensitive to whatever the government claims about each prisoner and why they cannot release that person yet. As can be seen with Idris, the best thing to do is to make a case in a motion that a prisoner is severely ill to force the government to allow that prisoner to be released.
Shrewdly, the US government withdrew opposition before a judge could decide whether it was unlawful to keep Idris detained. That was done so the judge would not issue any kind of ruling that would be binding and force the release of other prisoners who are being held unlawfully at Guantanamo. Nonetheless, given the fact that most prisoners have been held around a decade or more, many probably have some kind of illness that make them unfit to rejoin any conflicts against the United States.
If being cleared by a presidential review task force cannot get one released from Guantanamo, maybe being insane or horribly sick from a disease or disorder can.