A suspected Al Qaeda organizer once called "the highest value detainee" at Guantanamo Bay was ordered released by a federal judge in an order issued Monday.
Mohamedou Ould Slahi was accused in the 9/11 Commission report of helping recruit Mohammed Atta and other members of the Al Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, that took part in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Military prosecutors suspected Slahi of links to other Al Qaeda operations, and considered seeking the death penalty against him while preparing possible charges in 2003 and 2004.
U.S. District Judge James Robertson granted Slahi's petition for habeas corpus, effectively finding the government lacked legal grounds to hold him. The order was classified, although the court said it planned to release a redacted public version in the coming weeks.
Robertson held four days of closed hearings in the Slahi case last year.
"They were considering giving him the death penalty. Now they don't even have enough evidence to pass the test for habeas," said Nancy Hollander, an Albuquerque, N.M., attorney representing Slahi.
She said she could not comment further because the proceedings were classified. Slahi remains in detention at the U.S. facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The government may appeal, and on Monday Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said the Justice Department was "reviewing the ruling."
Brig. Gen. John Furlow, who helped lead a Pentagon-ordered investigation into detainee abuse at Guantanamo Bay, has testified that Slahi was "the highest value detainee" at the offshore prison and "the key orchestrator of the Al Qaeda cell in Europe."
Plans to try him by military commission were derailed after prosecutors learned that Slahi had been subjected to a "special interrogation plan" involving weeks of physical and mental torment, including a death threat and a threat to bring Slahi's mother to Guantanamo Bay where she could be gang-raped, officials said.
Although the treatment apparently induced Slahi's compliance, the military prosecutor, Marine Lt. Col. V. Stuart Couch, determined that it constituted torture and evidence it produced could not lawfully be used against Mr. Slahi.