In the first hearing on the government's justification for holding detainees at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, a federal judge ruled Thursday that five Algerian men were held unlawfully for nearly seven years and ordered their release.
Judge Leon, in a ruling from the bench, said that the information gathered on the men had been sufficient to hold them for intelligence purposes, but was not strong enough in court.
“To rest on so thin a reed would be inconsistent with this court’s obligation,” he said. He directed that the five men be released “forthwith” and urged the government not to appeal.
Judge Leon, who was appointed by President Bush, had been expected to be sympathetic to the government. In 2005, he ruled that the men had no habeas corpus rights.
I gather from people who were there that the Judge was fairly impassioned in his request to the government lawyers to let this case drop. That's really unusual, and suggests that they really had no case.
Judge Leon has issued an opinion (warning: 3.1 MB scanned .pdf), which skirts the actual evidence for security reasons, but is still good reading.
This is a historic moment — the rule of law grinds slowly, but maybe it's got some life in it yet.