By Jeremy Pelofsky
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A judge on Tuesday refused to release a detainee held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, just as the facility enters its ninth year of operations despite a pledge by President Barack Obama to close it.
Abdul Razak Ali, originally from Algeria, was captured in March 2002 at a house in Pakistan where the operations director for al Qaeda, Abu Zubaydah, was arrested after a shootout. Ali was moved to Guantanamo in June 2002.
Ali had petitioned the U.S. court seeking release from the controversial prison which holds dozens of terrorism suspects, arguing that it was a case of mistaken identity and that he had never been to Afghanistan with Zubaydahâ€™s group.
U.S. Judge Richard Leon denied Aliâ€™s request, finding that the government had enough evidence showing that he was part of Zubaydahâ€™s group and pointing to where he was captured and a diary by a close friend of Zubaydah which listed him as being at a location in Afghanistan.
â€œIn sum, the government proffered more than enough credible evidence for this court to conclude that it is more likely than not that petitioner was, indeed, a member of Abu Zubaydahâ€™s force,â€ said Leon in a 15-page ruling.
The judge also said in his ruling that Ali, who now says his name is Saeed Bakhouche, had admitted when he was first interrogated that he â€œhad gone to Afghanistan to fight in the jihad against the U.S. and its Allied forces.â€
There are still 173 detainees at the Guantanamo prison, which Obama has had trouble closing because of political opposition to putting the terrorism suspects held there on trial in the United States.
Republicans and some of Obamaâ€™s fellow Democrats have demanded that such suspects be prosecuted in military trials. Obama had pledged to close the facility by early 2010 but now it is unclear whether he will be able to close it by the end of his term in office.
A group of protesters, some dressed in orange jumpsuits with dark hoods over their heads, marched in front of the White House and Justice Department on Tuesday calling for Obama to follow through on his pledge to close the prison.
Obama has described the facility as a top recruiting tool for anti-American militant groups because of ill-treatment of detainees, some of whom have said they were tortured.
Republicans counter that it is the safest place to imprison and prosecute the suspects.
(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky)