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Making History: U.S. Federal Judge Amit Mehta Rules in Favor of Guantánamo Detainee Captured by Afghan Forces

Making History: U.S. Federal Judge Amit Mehta Rules in Favor of Guantánamo Detainee Captured by Afghan Forces

  • The historic ruling “is the first time in 10 years that a detainee has won such a case against the U.S. government,” according to The Washington Post.

An Indian American federal judge ruled that a former Afghan militant has been held unlawfully at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp. U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta for the District of Columbia entered a final order and two classified opinions in the case of Asadullah Haroon Gul, who was captured in 2007 by Afghan forces. He was later turned over to the U.S. and remains one of the last 39 detainees at the prison in Cuba.

“This is the first time in 10 years that a detainee has won such a case against the U.S. government,” The Washington Post reported, citing Gul’s lawyers. “One opinion granted Gul’s petition questioning the legality of his confinement after finding he was not part of al-Qaeda,” the Post report said. “Another ruled against his second claim, finding that the end of hostilities in Afghanistan did not merit his release,” the report added. 


Mehta was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by then-President Barack Obama in 2014, becoming the first Asian Pacific American appointment there. Before that he worked mainly for Zuckerman Spaeder LLP., a boutique law firm in D.C., where he focused on criminal prosecutions and investigations, representing a slew of high-profile clients. 

Last October, the Gujarat-born Mehta was assigned the Justice Department’s antitrust lawsuit against Google. The Justice Department on Oct. 23, 2020, sued Google over allegations that its search and advertising empire violated federal antitrust laws. 

According to a report in The Washington Post at the time, the federal government’s landmark lawsuit caps off a roughly year-long investigation that concluded Google wielded its digital dominance to the detriment of corporate rivals and consumers. The complaint contends that Google relied on a mix of special agreements and other problematic business practices to secure an insurmountable lead in online search, capturing the market for nearly 90 percent of all queries in the United States.

Early in his tenure on the federal bench, Mehta made waves with a case in which the Federal Trade Commission was seeking to block the proposed merger of the nation’s two largest food distributors, Sysco Corp. and US Foods. He issued an injunction blocking the deal, saying in a 128-page ruling that the tie-up was the type of large combination that spurred Congress, decades earlier, to give the government the power to halt mergers. Sysco abandoned the transaction days later. 

Mehta was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by then-President Barack Obama in 2014, becoming the first Asian Pacific American appointment there.

In 2019, he issued a 41-page opinion calling for a long-standing accounting firm for Trump to turn over records demanded by the House Oversight Committee. Mehta’s ruling saying Congress was within its authority to demand the records as it investigates the President comes as Trump bucks demand from Congress for documents and testimony. The decision brought the ire of Trump on Mehta, as he slammed it as a “crazy decision by an Obama appointed judge.”

Mehta’s love for hip-hop came to light during a copyright case in 2015. CNN reported that Mehta “heard musician Robert Prunty’s case alleging that several music and entertainment companies had infringed his copyright, including that rapper Common’s song ‘Kingdom,’ stole from Prunty’s song ‘Keys to the Kingdom.’” In his opinion, Mehta asserted that he was “capable of concluding as a matter of law, without the assistance of expert testimony, that the songs ‘Keys to the Kingdom’ and ‘Kingdom’ are not substantially similar.” In a corresponding footnote, he wrote: “This court also does not consider itself an ordinary ‘lay person’ when it comes to hip-hop music and lyrics. The court has listened to hip hop for decades and considers among his favorite musical artists, perhaps a sign of his age, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Drake, and Eminem.” 

He also cited lyrics from the Beyoncé song “Sorry” from her classic album “Lemonade,” in a 2018 opinion on another copyright case.

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Mehta began his career in a San Francisco law firm before clerking in the Ninth Circuit Court. From there, he went on to work at the Washington DC-based law firm, Zuckerman Spaeder LLP where he focused on white-collar criminal cases, complex business disputes and appellate advocacy. 

At Zuckerman Spaeder, former head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Dominique Strauss-Kahn in a civil suit brought by Nafissatou Diallo, the housekeeper, who accused him of raping her. They settled after the criminal case was dropped. He also represented a lawyer involved in the Deepwater Horizon oil spills claims litigation. He served as a public defender in Washington, D.C. for five years. Mehta was part of the National Law Journal’s ’40 Under 40’ list, in 2011, and was named a ‘Future Star’ by Benchmark Litigation for 200 and 2012.

He also previously worked for the law firm Latham & Watkins LLP and clerked for Judge Susan Graber of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, according to his DC District Court biography. He graduated from Georgetown University and the University of Virginia School of Law.

(Top photo, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta receives the oath of office from Judge Sri Srinivasan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on June 19, 2015. Photo, courtesy, Diego M. Radzinschi/The National Law Journal)

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