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French court clears former Guantanamo five

Published on 25/02/2009

Paris — A French appeals court on Tuesday overturned terrorist convictions against five former inmates of the US Guantanamo Bay prison camp who were re-arrested on their return to France.

Brahim Yadel, 37, Mourad Benchellali, 26, Nizar Sassi, 27, Khaled Ben Mustapha, 35, and Redouane Khalid, 39, had served their sentences and were not in court to hear judges uphold their appeal and clear them on all charges.

Judges ruled that testimony obtained by French intelligence officers who interrogated the suspects in the US camp had been inadmissible as evidence and that there was no other proof of wrongdoing in the case.

The five French suspects were captured by US-led forces in Afghanistan in 2001 and taken to the US base in Cuba where they were held for three years as so-called "enemy combatants".

They were never charged by US authorities, but on their return to France in 2004 and 2005 they were arrested by French authorities and charged with "criminal conspiracy in relation to a terrorist enterprise".

They were convicted in December 2007 and given five-year jail sentences, with four years suspended. The judge said that time already served on remand could be taken into account, and the men have been free ever since.

During their initial 10-day trial in 2006, some of the men admitted to staying in Afghan and Pakistani camps linked to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, but all denied fighting US forces or planning attacks in Europe.

US President Barack Obama has ordered that the Guantanamo detention camp, which became a symbol of the controversial extra-judicial tactics authorised by his predecessor George W Bush in the "war on terror", be shut within the year.