Acting on the basis of secret documents and a closed-door hearing, a federal judge on Wednesday ruled that a Yemeni detainee at Guantanamo Bay — identified in news accounts as the government’s “star witness” against other detainees — is legally entitled to be released from captivity.  In a one-page order, found here, U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle granted the habeas plea of Yasin Muhammed Basardh, 33.

Early in February, in the most complete news story so far about Basardh as an informer, the Washington Post quoted him as saying during an earlier military hearing: “I am cooperative to the point where my cooperation with everyone has led many people threatening my life…I have put my life in danger and therefore I cannot go back to my own country…They will not hesitate to kill me or anyone in my family.”

That story and its revelations stirred a storm of controversy among the judges in the D.C. District Court, who are handling some 200 detainees’ cases. The story indicated that some of Basardh’s military handlers had grown uncertain about the reliability of his information.

Judge Huvelle held a closed-door hearing Tuesday in Basardh’s case with lawyers for both sides, and afterward issued her release order. Basardh’s lawyers had filed a motion for a ruling on his plea for release, and the government had responded, but the judge noted that those documents remained classified. She also gave no public reasons for her action, saying only that she had done so during the “sealed” hearing.

Her order directed government officials to “take all necessary and appropriate diplomatilc steps to facilitate the release of petitioner Basardh forthwith.”  This is the first time Judge Huvelle has ordered a Guantanamo prisoner to be released.  Presumably, Basardh will remain at Guantanamo until the U.S. government finds a place to resettle him.

Basardh also had gained some additional notoriety in detainee legal circles, because the D.C. Circuit Court used his challenge to military detention as the vehicle for a ruling last November, signaling that one layer of detainee challenges — before the Circuit Court — would soon be closed down, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision last June giving detainees’ a constitutional right to challenge their captivity in habeas cases in District Court.

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