Justice Department considers release of hunger striker from Guantanamo

The World
Camp Delta, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Camp Delta, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Kathleen T. Rhem/Department of Defense

The Justice Department is weighing whether to release a hunger striker in detention at Guantanamo Bay.

Tariq Ba Odah is a Yemeni national who has been on hunger strike since 2007. He currently weighs just 74 pounds. He’s force-fed through a nasal tube.

Ba Odah was picked up by the Pakistani military at the end of 2001, as he was allegedly trying to enter Afghanistan to join the Taliban. He’s also accused of having received weapons training. His lawyers dispute the allegations.

In fact, security agencies cleared Ba Odah for release several years ago, but successive secretaries of defense have refused to sign waivers permitting his release. The waivers are required by Congress.

So now Ba Odah’s lawyers, worried about his health, have requested a writ of habeas corpus from a judge that would order Ba Odah be released. The Justice Department can contest the writ, or not. A judicial release would circumvent Congress’ rules on Pentagon sign-off.

David Rohde investigated the case for Reuters news agency, and wrote:

“Lawyers for detainees and legal experts say the case is one of several examples of the president not using executive powers that could speed the transfer of 52 men cleared for release. US government officials said last week that a dozen foreign countries have agreed to accept nearly half of the men.”

“A senior administration official dismissed the criticism saying the president's ‘entire national security team is working together to fulfill the president's steadfast commitment to closing the Guantanamo detention facility.’”

“The Ba Odah case shows how the president could reduce the ranks of detainees through court-ordered releases, according to lawyers for detainees. Such releases avoid a congressionally mandated requirement that the Secretary of Defense personally sign a waiver approving each transfer.”