WASHINGTON -- In one federal courtroom last month, a defense lawyer argued that the U.S. military had coerced a false confession out of a 50-year-old Kuwaiti who has been at Guantánamo for seven years.
In another, a Maryland attorney proposed that his Pakistani client, being held as an alleged al Qaeda facilitator, be allowed to post bail and stay with family -- in Brooklyn.
Congress returns Tuesday from its summer recess but there was no break for the judges at the U.S. District Court midway between The Capitol and The White House who have been busy plowing through more than 200 lawsuits brought by Guantánamo detainees.
And, if the first 36 cases suggest a trend, the court is hardly persuaded that the Pentagon has the ``worst of the worst'' penned up at the base in southeast Cuba.
Fifteen months after the U.S. Supreme Court rebuked the Bush administration by ruling that Guantánamo captives can sue for their freedom, civilian judges have ordered the release of 29 detainees and sided with the Defense Department only seven times.
Those ordered freed include four Muslim men from China, ethnic Uighurs now working as groundskeepers at a golf course in Bermuda; a young Afghan who went home last month after growing into adulthood behind the razor wire at Camp Delta; and an Algerian now living in an apartment with his wife and daughters in the south of France.
The seven men whose habeas-corpus petitions for release were denied include a one-legged Yemeni fighter captured in 2001, a Taliban cook, and an Algerian who allegedly helped jihadists reach Afghanistan.
``I think the number of difficult questions presented by the Guantánamo cases is unprecedented in our court,'' Chief Judge Royce Lamberth told The Miami Herald. ``In our court, mostly settled law applies. It makes it interesting. But it really is time-consuming because of the need to proceed carefully'' and decide ``precedents for future wars as well as this war.''
Lamberth said he and his 13 fellow judges are engaged in a balancing act: Developing definitions and procedures to judge which detentions are lawful while trying to quickly hear the cases of detainees who were denied civilian-court review for seven years until the Supreme Court ruling.
Pro bono defense lawyer David Remes, once a corporate attorney who worked on tobacco, oil and IBM cases, calls Guantánamo case work routine ``nuts-and-bolts litigation'' that requires interviewing clients, combing through paperwork and filing and arguing motions -- a characterization government attorneys dispute.
Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said its Civil Division has assigned 50 lawyers to defend the Defense Department detentions.
``The Justice Department's habeas team has been producing and continues to produce an extraordinary volume of information to attorneys for Guantánamo Bay detainees in complying with discovery requests,'' Boyd said. ``As part of this process, the Defense Department and the intelligence community have processed thousands of individual documents containing tens of thousands of pages for declassification in connection with the cases.''
Before they ever hear cases, the judges are ordering the government to turn over intelligence, deciding how much hearsay to allow then sorting out the truth between the Pentagon's argument for continued detention and the detainee's case for release.