WASHINGTON - A U.S. judge on Thursday ordered that one of the youngest detainees held at the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison be released for what is expected to be a trip home to Afghanistan.
U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle said she hoped Mohammed Jawad -- accused of throwing a grenade that injured two U.S. soldiers and their interpreter in Kabul in late 2002 -- would be en route home by August 24.
Despite Huvelle's ruling, U.S. attorneys said they might pursue a new case against Jawad.
Jawad's release would be the first under new stricter rules set by the U.S. Congress for dealing with the remaining 229 detainees held at the prison at a U.S. naval base in Cuba. President Barack Obama wants the prison closed by early 2010, potentially setting a path for future transfers or releases.
"Enough has been imposed on this young man," Huvelle told a packed courtroom.
Much of the previous evidence against Jawad has been thrown out because it was obtained through torture, she said. The government of Afghanistan repeatedly has asked that Jawad be returned and his lawyers expect that if he is sent back, he will be set free.
Huvelle gave the government until August 6 to file the paperwork with Congress. Then the administration would have to wait 15 days to transfer him under rules set by Congress.
Deputy Assistant Attorney General Ian Gershengorn told the judge government lawyers still were investigating a possible criminal case in U.S. federal court against Jawad, which could be an obstacle to his repatriation. They have told the court they have new evidence against him, which his lawyers dispute.
If the government tries to pursue charges, they would have to notify Congress and wait 45 days before they could bring Jawad to U.S. soil for detention and trial.
Huvelle said she saw substantial hurdles for the government if it tries to pursue such a case, including his mental capacity and whether they could conduct a speedy trial.
Still, Gershengorn said that the Obama administration was negotiating with the Afghan government terms of Jawad's transfer.
Jawad has been held at the prison for more than six years and is one of the youngest detainees. His lawyers argue that he was about 12 when he was arrested in 2002 but the Pentagon disputes that and has said bone scans indicated he had turned 18 when he was sent to Guantanamo in early 2003.
(Editing by Bill Trott)