The confusion over the video collection found in an al-Qaida safehouse is one of the stranger twists in the unusual case of Rassak, a Guantanamo detainee. On Monday, a federal judge ordered Rassak released, chastising the government for claiming he was still part of the same terror network that tortured, imprisoned and abandoned him.
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon emphatically rejected the government’s claims against Rassak, even going so far as to add punctuation to get his point across.
Federal prosecutors had argued that even though Rassak was tortured by al-Qaida as a suspected Western spy and imprisoned by the Taliban for a year and a half, he still maintained some kind of allegiance to his tormentors.
“I disagree!” wrote the judge, adding that U.S. officials are “taking a position that defies common sense.”
The judge said the government and the U.S. media initially mistook Rassak as one of a number of suicide martyrs, based on a videotape captured at an al-Qaida safehouse. Further investigation found the tape actually showed al-Qaida torturing him.
In a 13-page written decision, the judge heaped scorn on the suggestion that Rassak could be part of the same terrorist organizations that had abused him.
Rassak, a Syrian, had admitted to U.S. interrogators that in 2000, he stayed for several days at a guesthouse used by Taliban and al-Qaida fighters, where he helped clean weapons, and then briefly attended a terror training camp.
“There is no evidence — from either side — as to why he suddenly was suspected by al-Qaida leaders of spying and was tortured for months into giving a false confession,” Leon wrote. “It is highly unlikely that by that point in time al-Qaida (or the Taliban) had any trust or confidence in him. Surely extreme treatment of that nature evinces a total evisceration of whatever relationship might have existed!”
One of the detainee’s lawyers, Steven Wax, said the judge’s decision “is yet another reminder that there are innocent men in Guantanamo.”
Wax said his client “was conscripted by the Taliban and, when he wanted to leave, was imprisoned and then subjected to barbaric torture. He was imprisoned by the United States when he tried to provide information to us about his torturers.”
Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said it was reviewing the judge’s ruling.
Since his captivity at Guantanamo, Rassak has adopted a different last name, Janko.
There are 229 detainees still held at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. President Barack Obama ordered the detention center closed by early next year. Associated Press, Devlin Barrett