With notable exceptions, the D.C. Circuit has generally decided Guantanamo habeas appeals unanimously and with brevity. On Tuesday the court partially unsealed an eight-page opinion by Judge Griffith in Suleiman v. Obama that follows the general pattern. [PDF]
Suleiman admitted that he followed the Taliban’s usual route from Yemen to Pakistan; that he stopped at a Taliban guesthouse on the way; that he spent two weeks at another guesthouse with a cache of weapons watched over by Afghan guards; that he shared yet another guesthouse with Taliban fighters for seven months free of charge; and that he twice visited a Taliban staging area where he carried and fired a machine gun.
But Suleiman said he did not know his recruiter worked for the Taliban. He thought he was going to Afghanistan to buy a house and find a wife–not to fight.
Maybe Suleiman really did believe that a stranger would give him a plane ticket, a passport, and cash, just so he could start a family in a foreign land. Maybe. That aside, the only problem with Suleiman’s alibi is that during his seven months in Kabul he “made no attempt to find a wife or job, and did no work.” Instead, he claimed to have spent all his time in a house full of soldiers, eating, sleeping, reading, and praying–not the most direct route to marriage.
The district court didn’t buy Suleiman’s story, and the appellate panel, in a characteristic understatement, found “no clear error” in the district court’s credibility determination.
One detail in the opinion may be of use to future Guantanamo petitioners: the Court granted Suleiman’s (ultimately futile) motion to supplement the record on appeal with a new translation of his CSRT testimony, even though Suleiman’s request to the Government for an audio recording of the testimony came just a week before the oral argument. Normally the court “do[es] not allow parties to supplement the record unless they can demonstrate unusual circumstances justifying a departure from this general rule.” City of Dania Beach v. F.A.A., 628 F.3d 581, 590 (D.C. Cir. 2010). The court’s decision here may indicate a relaxation of that standard in the Guantanamo context where evidence helpful to the petitioner is so often hard to come by.
- Benjamin Wittes, One Note on Suleiman, Lawfare (Feb. 8, 2012) (“[W]hat’s striking about Suleiman is the degree of consensus it reflects. Here are three judges, none of whom can reasonably be described as part of any right-wing cabal (indeed, one of whom was the dissenter inLatif), and this case is easy for them.”).
- Wells C. Bennett, Letter from the Petitioner in Suleiman, Lawfare (Sept. 29, 2011)
- Steven D. Schwinn, D.C. Circuit Rejects Detainee Habeas Claim, (“The court applied its familiar ‘part of’ standard and concluded that Suleiman was part of the Taliban.”) (Feb. 9, 2012).