Judge Orders Gitmo Detainees' Release

Guard tower at Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base, Cuba, Prisoner, Hand Cuffs, Generic CBS/AP

A federal judge ordered the release of five Algerians held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the continued detention of a sixth on Thursday in a major blow to the Bush administration's strategy to capture and hold terror suspects without charges.

In the first case of its kind, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said the government's evidence linking the five Algerians to al Qaeda was not credible as it came from a single, unidentified source. Therefore, he said the five could not be held indefinitely as enemy combatants and should be released immediately.

"To allow enemy combatancy to rest on so thin a reed would be inconsistent with the court's obligation," Leon told the crowded courtroom.

As a result, "the court must and will grant the petitioners and order their release," he said.

CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen says the suspects in question are not the dangerous terrorists the Bush administration has been warning Americans about since 9/11. He added that the ruling would also not set a legal precedent for releasing suspected terrorists who are a true threat.

"These men were far from the worst-of-the-worst, or the sorts of 'killers' that the White House has called the detainees at Guantanamo Bay," Cohen said. "So in many ways this is not a true test of the power of the civilian courts to release terror suspects. In other words, the ruling doesn't mean anything to or for Khalid Sheik Mohammed or Ramzi Binalshibh, true terror kingpins."

As for the sixth Algerian, Belkacem Bensayah, Leon said there was enough reason to believe he was close to an al Qaeda operative and had sought to help others travel to Afghanistan to join the terrorists' fight against the United States and its allies.

One of the men to be released is Lakhdar Boumediene, whose landmark Supreme Court case last summer gave the Guantanamo detainees the right to challenge their imprisonment.

The Algerians' attorneys said they would appeal Bensayah's detention but hugged each other and colleagues in congratulations after Leon's ruling.

"It's a relief," said attorney Robert C. Kirsch.

Although it took more than seven years, reports CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews, defense lawyers still called it a victory for American justice.

"It shouldn't have taken this long," said Stephen Olesky. "People locked into the government system based on mistakes that absolutely is what I believe happened.

The Justice Department complained it had to withhold its most secret evidence because of a court order to share it with the defense, Andrews reports. But after a weeks-worth of other secret testimony against the men, a federal judge appointed by President Bush has said there wasn't a case.
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