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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  • Display: Sort:
    Sullivan's (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by Bemused on Tue Apr 07, 2009 at 03:00:35 PM EST
     conduct in these two cases is one example where the virtue of lifetime tenure for judge's is seen.
    Interstingly his first judicial appointment was by Reagan and then Bush I appointed him to a higher D.C. court and then Clinton appointed him to the United States District Court.

      Here we have in cases as dissimilar as the prosecution of a Senator and the detention of an alleged terrorist, a jurist willing to hold the goverment accountable without fear of retribution.

      I do wonder though if any Republicans applauding the Stevens case went off on the Guantanamo case before they realized it was the same judge,

    I'd love to see them (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by Maggie Mae on Tue Apr 07, 2009 at 04:12:34 PM EST
    trying to figure out how to label Sullivan.  He can't be an "activist" and a "Constitutional/Federalist" judge, at the same time, can he?  

    I think he's just one pissed off judge.  ;-)


    Judge Sullivan (none / 0) (#1)
    by jbindc on Tue Apr 07, 2009 at 12:56:59 PM EST
    is on a tear today.  I guess the new rule is:  keep your nose clean in Judge Sullivan's court.

    Always been true (none / 0) (#9)
    by jsj20002 on Wed Apr 08, 2009 at 08:06:14 AM EST
    I've appeared before Judge Sullivan a few times.  He has always been very well prepared and demands just as much from the lawyers who appear before him, especially if the lawyers work for the government.  Indeed, it is the government lawyers' misconduct in these two cases that is troubling him most; just as it should be to everyone.  

    A Breath of Fresh Air (none / 0) (#2)
    by squeaky on Tue Apr 07, 2009 at 01:02:17 PM EST
    And it's about time. More of that please.

    Amen to that (none / 0) (#3)
    by lilburro on Tue Apr 07, 2009 at 01:13:13 PM EST
    (the last part).

    Cool... (none / 0) (#4)
    by kdog on Tue Apr 07, 2009 at 01:24:26 PM EST
    The name Sully is synonymous with good work lately....give the DOJ hell Sully!

    Starting at the top? (none / 0) (#7)
    by jussumbody on Tue Apr 07, 2009 at 04:14:54 PM EST
    I'm getting that tingling feeling Sister Mary Holywater warned me about.  Don't tease me, your honer.  Let 'er rip!

    stigma again (none / 0) (#8)
    by diogenes on Tue Apr 07, 2009 at 10:18:05 PM EST
    Nice to see that being treated for a psychiatric condition is pertinent to testimony and that witnesses' confidential medical records are subject to discovery.  Next thing we'll say that rape victims' psychiatric histories should be subject to discovery if they choose to testify in a case.  And next thing all my women patients in domestic violence cases will be ignored by juries yet again because they see a psychiatrist, for heaven's sake.
    This criminal defense site is being blinded by Bush hatred.