May 15, 2009 / 5:49 PM / in 9 years

U.S. releases Guantanamo detainee to France

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. authorities on Friday released a Guantanamo Bay detainee who was part of a landmark Supreme Court case that granted inmates at the U.S. military prison the legal right to challenge their confinement, officials said.

The detainee, Algerian national Lakhdar Boumediene, was released from custody and flown from the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to waiting relatives in France, said officials who spoke only on condition of anonymity.

The release came the same day the Obama administration announced reforms to the military commission system set up by the Bush administration to try detainees at Guantanamo. The proposed changes are intended to better safeguard the rights of detainees.

The U.S. Justice Department was expected to make a formal announcement about Boumediene’s release later on Friday, officials said.

France said earlier it would accept Boumediene to honor a pledge by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to U.S. President Barack Obama, who has ordered the closure of Guantanamo Bay prison in southeastern Cuba, where there are currently about 240 detainees.

Former President George W. Bush said in 2002 that six Algerians including Boumediene had planned a bomb attack on the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo.

But a federal judge ruled last November that Boumediene and four of the other five Algerians should be released from Guantanamo, where the men had spent nearly seven years.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon found that the allegation against them was based on only one unnamed source whose credibility could not be determined.

Leon’s ruling was a direct consequence of a Supreme Court ruling last June that gave Guantanamo prisoners the long-standing habeas corpus right to challenge their imprisonment.

The case had been brought before the high court by 35 inmates including Boumediene and his fellow Algerians.

Federal judges have ordered 25 prisoners released, including Boumediene and 17 Uighurs, an ethnic group of Chinese Muslims. Five habeas requests have been denied.

Additional reporting by James Vicini in Washington and Jane Sutton in Miami, editing by Vicki Allen

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