A judge ruled Wednesday that the military can continue to hold prisoner at Guantánamo Bay a captive of seven years who claims he merely cooked meals for Taliban forces and never fired a shot in battle.
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said that Ghaleb Nassar al Bihani's work as an assistant cook with Taliban fighters made him an enemy combatant of the United States, nevertheless, and is reason enough for the U.S. military to continue holding him.
'After all, as Napoleon himself was fond of pointing out, `An army marches on its stomach,' '' Leon wrote in his ruling.
Bihani, about 37, is a citizen of Yemen who lived in Saudi Arabia and went to Afghanistan in spring 2001 after a sheik issued a fatwa to fight with the Taliban against the Afghan Northern Alliance. He retreated with other Taliban forces after the U.S. began its bombing campaign in October 2001, and eventually surrendered along with other members of his unit and ended up at Guantánamo Bay in 2002.
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The case, originally filed as Al Bihani v. Bush, has now automatically been renamed Al Bihani v. Obama since the prisoner claims the president and other military leaders are holding him unlawfully. One of Obama's first acts after taking office last week was to order the Guantánamo Bay prison closed within a year, but it's still undetermined how Bihani and the rest of the 244 detainees there will be prosecuted.
Leon said it isn't necessary to fire a weapon against the United States or its coalition partners to be considered an enemy combatant and that Bihani's service in feeding the forces is more than enough to fit the definition.
Leon read his ruling in a Washington courtroom with an Arabic translator, while Bihani listened on a teleconference from Guantánamo Bay. The line cut off before Leon could finish reading the last few sentences of his decision, including the line about Napoleon, but lasted long enough for Bihani to hear that he would not be released.
Bihani's public defenders said they would ask for an expedited appeal and would take a rush transcript of the entire ruling down to their client. They said he would be disappointed to hear it.
''He's been locked up for seven-plus years on allegations of being a cook,'' said attorney Reuben Camper Cahn.