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Appeals court nixes release of Gitmo detainee

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court on Tuesday vacated the release of a detainee still at Guantanamo Bay who says he was tortured into falsely confessing that he was part of al-Qaida.

U.S. officials say Saeed Hatim of Yemen acknowledged that he worked for al-Qaida and the Taliban and fought against American forces. But Hatim says he only confessed because he was repeatedly beaten, blindfolded and threatened with rape.

Justice Department attorneys arguing against Hatim’s release did not dispute his torture claims, but said they were only relying on statements that Hatim made when he arrived at Guantanamo after his alleged abuse ended.

In December 2009, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina granted Hatim’s petition for release, but Urbina later said Hatim should continue to be detained pending appeal. The three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals in Washington ruled that decisions issued in other Guantanamo cases after Urbina’s 2009 ruling have set new legal precedent and said Hatim’s case must be heard again in light of the new standards.

Hatim was captured in November 2001 in Pakistan as he fled bombings in Afghanistan that began after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S. He was sent to a military base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he said he was abused so badly that he still can’t raise his left arm without pain. He said he stuck with the confession after being transferred to the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in June 2002 because he feared he would be punished if he changed his story.

U.S. officials say Hatim trained at an al-Qaida terrorist camp, stayed at safehouses affiliated with al-Qaida and the Taliban, was under the command of al-Qaida and Taliban leadership at the battlefront against anti-Taliban forces and was identified by a witness as having fought against the United States at the battle of Tora Bora.

Urbina had been particularly troubled by that witness’ credibility because of reports from Guantanamo officials that he suffered from severe psychological problems, including hallucinations and two suicide attempts. Urbina wrote that he “refuses to credit what is arguably the government’s most serious allegation in this case based solely on one statement, made years after the events in question, by an individual whose grasp on reality appears to have been tenuous at best.”

ry to consider evidence of a defendant’s voluntary intoxication where relevant to mens rea has gained considerable acceptance, it is of too recent vintage, and has not received sufficiently uniform and permanent allegiance, to qualify as fundamental, especially since it displaces a lengthy common law tradition which remains supported by valid justifications today.” Montana v. Egelhoff, 518 U.S. 37, 51 (1996).