A federal court on Thursday ordered the Pentagon to set free from Guantánamo a former Russian Army ballet dancer turned devout Muslim whose plight captured the imagination of a Massachusetts college town.
Judge Henry Kennedy Jr. ordered the Obama administration to take "all necessary and appropriate diplomatic steps ...forthwith'' to release Ravil Mingazov, 42, an ethnic Tartar who was captured in Pakistan in 2002 and turned over to U.S. forces.
Thursday's midday ruling raised to 35 the number of Guantánamo detention cases the U.S. government has lost since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled two years ago that the war-on-terror captives can sue for their freedom in federal courts.
he Justice Department has so far successfully defended the indefinite detention of 13 Guantánamo captives.
Never miss a local story.
With the Pentagon still holding 181 foreign men at Guantánamo, dozens more habeas corpus petitions are yet to be heard.
Justice Department spokesman Dean Body said Thursday afternoon that government lawyers were "reviewing the ruling," which was still being declassified. Kennedy gave the government until June 15 to report back.
The Guantánamo captive's Washington D.C. attorney, Douglas K. Spaulding, said his client had yet to hear of the ruling but the lawyer had reached the captive's mother in central Russia, where she was "very gratified to hear that Judge Kennedy had entered this order.''
The son was a one-time ballet and folkloric dancer as a civilian in the Russian Army who became devout after the fall of the Soviet Union and fled his homeland in 2000, for religious freedom.
The mother, he said, is a "former Soviet-era agro-economist now in her 70s who prays to live long enough to see her son.''
The Pentagon claimed that Mingazov was captured in a March 2002 security forces raid on a suspected terrorist safehouse belonging to an al Qaeda rival named Zayn Abdeen al Hussein, known as Abu Zubaydah. It also said he had earlier undergone training at a terror training camp, which he had denied.
For his part, the Russian told a U.S. military panel in 2006 that he was captured in a guest house for refugees, not Abu Zubaydah's, who he subsequently learned that security forces captured him elsewhere. He added that he didn't know Abu Zubaydah and nor had he seen Osama bin Laden.
Spaulding was seeking talks with the Obama administration to arrange for his client's release to a country other than his homeland because of the stigma of nearly a decade in U.S. detention. Seven other Russians, who were released from Guantánamo in 2004, were tortured, beaten, harassed and sent into hiding, according a Human Rights Watch study.
Liberal activists in Massachusetts showcased the tale of Mingazov and an Algerian man named Ahmed Belbacha in a campaign last year that condemned the detention policies of the Bush administration. On Nov. 4, Amherst's 240-member Town Meeting voted to offer asylum to two GuantÍnamo captives cleared of wrongdoing who cannot go home.
Congress has since blocked any resettlement of cleared Guantánamo captives onto U.S. soil. The Obama administration has turned to Europe mostly to take in released captives.
In western Massachusetts, activist Nancy Talanian of a grass-roots group, "No More Guantánamos,'' said Pioneer Valley residents were still eager to take in Mingazov for resettlement.
"Guantánamo detainees who cannot safely return home are really no different than other refugees whom western Massachusetts communities have welcomed in the past,'' she said. If the Obama administration can tell Europe that former detainees "would not pose any danger,'' she said, "that should be sufficient assurance that we can be safe with some of them living here.''
Mingazov, he said, speaks some English and some Arabic aside from his Russian.
Said Spaulding: "He's very healthy. He's got a good sense of humor. He's a healthy, I would say, balanced individual. Folks in Amherst are ready to go but I don't think that's going to happen.''