Ahmed Belbacha deserves to have his case returned to a federal judge for review, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said in a 2-1 decision.
Though it is a small step for a single detainee, the ruling marks the second time in eight months the appeals court has gone against the Bush administration on an important Guantanamo Bay issue — a development the government and congressional Republicans had not planned on.
The appeals judges were supposed to be a bulwark against the detainees' efforts to gain full access to civilian courts. The administration and its supporters on Capitol Hill rewrote federal law in a way that funnels detainees to the appeals court, where they were to receive quick, cursory reviews of military panel findings declaring them enemy combatants. That status enables the government to hold them indefinitely.