Reprieve applauds US court order that five Guantánamo Bay prisoners be set free

November 20, 2008

Graphic of the fence flying off into the sky

Reprieve, the British legal action charity whose lawyers represent 33 Guantánamo Bay prisoners, applauds today’s ruling by a civilian court in the United States that five Guantánamo Bay prisoners must be set free.

In a shocking blow to the Bush Administration’s failing efforts to maintain some credibility for the Guantánamo experiment, District Court Judge Richard Leon held in Washington that there was no legal basis to keep five Algerian nationals in prison, and ordered the US Government to release them.

“The decision by Judge Leon lays bare the flimsy basis on which Guantánamo has been founded – at best, slim evidence of dubious quality, at worst, nothing. This is a tough, no-nonsense judge. If he found there wasn’t evidence to justify holding the men, you can be sure it wasn’t there,” Zachary Katznelson, Legal Director of Reprieve stated.

These are the first verdicts in the more than 200 habeas corpus petitions moving forward in the US civilian courts, many of which have been brought by Reprieve. The petitions challenge the US government to prove that there is evidence justifying keeping the men in Guantánamo Bay.

Injustice continues

“The Bosnian courts found these five men innocent, and ordered their release. It is an illustration of the catastrophic policies of the Bush Administration – ignoring the legitimate ruling of the court of an ally, rendering these men away from their homes and families, and holding them without legal recourse in Guantánamo Bay for six years,” said Clive Stafford Smith, Director of Reprieve. “But there are plenty more cases of injustice ahead of us, including the plight of the British residents who remain in this terrible place.”

The hearings involved six Algerian nationals, five of whom are also Bosnian citizens. The men were originally accused of plotting to blow up the American Embassy in Bosnia. However, those charges were dropped on the eve of these hearings when the US military apparently conceded that no such charge could be proven. This is hardly surprising, since they were acquitted on these charges in Bosnia in the first place, only to be seized by the US and rendered to Guantánamo Bay the moment they were set free by the Bosnian authorities. The five men to be released were therefore only alleged to have wanted to go to Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002.

The ruling by District Court Judge Richard Leon is the first decision since the United States Supreme Court ruled in June 2008 that every prisoner in Guantánamo has the right to contest his imprisonment in the civilian courts. Judge Leon, who is considered a firm conservative among jurists, found that there was no basis to hold them.


For further information, please contact Clive Stafford Smith (07940 347125;; or Reprieve’s Press Office on 020 7427 1099.

Note for Editors:

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 33 prisoners in the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

ReprievePO Box 52742London EC4P 4WSTel: 020 7353 4640Fax: 020 7353 4641Email:

Reprieve is a charitable company limited by guarantee; Registered Charity No. 1114900 Registered Company No. 5777831 (England) Registered Office 2-6 Cannon Street London EC4M 6YH; Patrons: Alan Bennett, Martha Lane Fox, Sir John Mortimer, Gordon Roddick, Jon Snow, Marina Warner