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Published: Monday, 7/7/2008

Rabbit-hole justice

ONE of the perennial claims made by Americans who approve of the detention of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is that those people are just getting what they deserve, that the detainees should get no more consideration than the hijackers gave their victims on 9/11.

But this nation is supposed to be committed to justice. While Guantanamo Bay does hold some hardened terrorists, it has become increasingly clear that others who have been detained did nothing to harm America.

In the opinion of a U.S. appeals court, one of them is Huzaifa Parhat, whose continued detention ought to raise serious second thoughts for anyone who still thinks Guantanamo Bay represents sensible and just policy.

Huzaifa Parhat is a Chinese citizen of Uighur heritage, a Muslim ethnic group in the far west of China. He says he fled that country in May, 2001, because of government oppression and settled in a Uighur camp in Afghanistan.

Months later, U.S. airstrikes destroyed the camp and with 17 others he made his way to Pakistan, where he was eventually handed over to U.S. authorities. This refugee from communist tyranny was taken to Guantanamo Bay in 2002. Although a military officer recommended his conditional release in 2003, a Combatant Status Review Tribunal in 2004 declared him an enemy combatant.

Last month, as authorized by the Detainee Treatment Act, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reviewed the tribunal's decision and found it seriously wanting.

"It is undisputed," the court's opinion said, "that he is not a member of al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and that he has never participated in any hostile action against the United States or its allies." The unanimous panel declared his enemy combatant status to be invalid.

That status was based on a finding that he was "affiliated" with a Uighur independence group and that group in turn was "associated" with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But the court found the evidence of this unpersuasive.

The court took particular aim at the government's claim that several of the assertions made in intelligence documents were reliable because they were made in at least three documents.

"Lewis Carroll notwithstanding, the fact the government has 'said it thrice' does not make an allegation true." (The "said it thrice" reference is from Lewis Carroll's Hunting of the Snark.) The opinion observed that three documents could conceivably all be citing the same source.

The appeals court was onto something in citing Lewis Carroll, because a surreal Alice in Wonderland quality pervades the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Terrorism is our Jabberwock, with eyes of flame, and we hunt it with all the logic of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party.

As justice goes down the rabbit hole, Huzaifa Parhat will remain in Guantanamo Bay while the government decides whether to present more evidence against him.



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