A federal appeals court for the first time has rejected the military's designation of a Guantanamo detainee as an enemy combatant.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned as “invalid” a military tribunal's conclusion that prisoner Huzaifa Parhat is an enemy combatant.
The court directed the Pentagon either to release or transfer Parhat or to hold a new tribunal hearing “consistent with the court's opinion.”
This is the first time that a circuit court has overruled a finding by a so-called status review tribunal, the Pentagon panel of military officers that determines whether a captive at Guantanamo meets the definition of “enemy combatant.”
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The ruling could force the government to release Parhat and reassess enemy-combatant designations in other cases. Administration officials have vowed to close Guantanamo someday, but they say they're “stuck” with the 65 or so detainees who've been identified for release but can't be let go because their countries refuse to take them back.
Some 270 people remain behind bars at Guantanamo.
Parhat, 37, has been held more than six years. He's one of a group of ethnic Uighurs from western China who were shipped to Guantanamo from Afghanistan.
The U.S. has faced numerous problems finding countries that are willing to accept foreign prisoners who can't return to their own countries because of concerns that they might be tortured there.
Five other Uighurs who weren't declared enemy combatants waited nine months after their release was approved before U.S. officials persuaded Albania to accept them.