World and Nation

Judge Orders U.S. to Yield Papers on Detainee

A federal district judge, saying he questioned the government’s claim that a Guantanamo Bay detainee had planned a radioactive-bomb attack in the United States, ordered the Justice Department on Thursday to give the detainee’s lawyers documents on his treatment.

The documents are central to the claim of the prisoner, Binyam Mohamed, that he falsely confessed to the dirty-bomb plot and other offenses only after being tortured in Morocco at the direction of the United States.

“My concern is getting to the truth,” the judge, Emmet G. Sullivan, said at a hearing.

The case of Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born former British resident, has drawn international attention and been at the center of diplomatic tensions between the United States and Britain. This week, British officials said they had referred questions about his treatment for possible criminal investigation by their law enforcement authorities.

The tension between the governments has intensified in recent weeks after the Pentagon dropped war crimes charges against Mohamed and the Justice Department said it would no longer rely on its dirty-bomb claims as a justification for holding him.

At the Thursday hearing, Sullivan asked why, after more than six years, the government had stepped away from its claims about a dirty-bomb plot. “That raises a question as to whether or not the allegations were ever true,” the judge said.

In 2002, John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, announced that a plot to detonate a radioactive bomb in the United States had been foiled and an American citizen, Jose Padilla, detained. The Pentagon has claimed that Mohamed assisted Padilla.

After Padilla was held for three and a half years in a naval brig, the Justice Department abandoned its dirty-bomb claims against him. He was convicted of other charges in 2007.