Judge: DOJ Improperly Withheld Evidence of Witness' Mental Illness
More prosecutorial misconduct, this time by prosecutors in the case of Guantanamo detainee, Dr. Ayman Saeed Abdullah Batarfi, who brought a habeas petition in federal court. (Background here from our post last week noting that the Government decided to release the Yemeni physician although it's still looking for a country to accept him.)
The Judge issuing the ruling: Emmett Sullivan, the same judge who today threw out Ted Stevens' conviction.
The Justice Department improperly withheld important psychiatric records of a government witness who was used in a "significant" number of Guantanamo cases, a federal judge has concluded.
The government censored parts of the records, but enough has been made public that it's clear that the witness, a fellow detainee, was being treated weekly for a serious psychological problem and was questioned about whether he had any suicidal thoughts. The witness provided information in the government's case for detaining Aymen Saeed Batarfi, a Yemeni doctor who the government announced last week it would no longer seek to detain.
During a hearing last week, Sullivan castigated the government for not turning over the medical records and ordered department lawyers to explain why he shouldn't cite them for contempt of court.
"To hide relevant and exculpatory evidence from counsel and from the court under any circumstances, particularly here where there is no other means to discover this information and where the stakes are so very high . . . is fundamentally unjust, outrageous and will not be tolerated," Sullivan said, according to a transcript of the hearing.
"How can this court have any confidence whatsoever in the United States government to comply with its obligations and to be truthful to the court?"
The Judge didn't stop there:
He also criticized the government for deciding at the last minute to drop the case against Batarfi, who's been held at Guantanamo for seven years, and questioned its motives for doing so. He suggested that the government's announced plans to seek a country that would take Batarfi were really just a scheme to continue to detain him without due process.
"I'm not going to let this case drag on, or any of the other cases on my calendar, indefinitely while the government embarks on what it calls its diplomatic process, because I have seen in the past that that diplomatic process can indeed span months and years, and I have some serious concerns as to whether it's yet and still another ploy . . . to continue with his deprivation of his fair day in court."
The Judge wants progress reports on efforts to release Batarfi. He also had some harsh words for Guantanamo:
..."I'm not going to continue to tolerate indefinite delay on the part of the United States government," Sullivan said. "I mean this Guantanamo issue is a travesty . . . a horror story . . . and I'm not going to buy into an extended indefinite delay of this man's stay at Guantanamo."
And, he issued this warning to the Justice Department:
"The sanction is going to be high," he said. "I'll tell you quite frankly if I have to start incarcerating people to get my point across I'm going to start at the top."
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