American Illegally Detained in Prison for More Than a Year Is Released
FLORIDA — October 30, 2018
Humane courts in the U.S. have released a previously accused dual American-Saudi citizen who spent over a year in a maximum security prison. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which represented the man, confirmed his release on Sunday.
He was accused of being a member of the Islamic State group after fleeing violence in Syria.
The man was arrested by Kurdish forces in Syria in September 2017 and then transferred to a U.S. base in Iraq.
The man denied any involvement in terrorist groups and claimed to be in Syria to report on the country's civil war. Initially, the U.S. government even blocked his access to a lawyer and the courts.
The man got lucky when the ACLU stood up for him and filed a habeas corpus lawsuit on his behalf, demanding that the government justify his indefinite detention.
The government asked a judge to dismiss the case, arguing that the ACLU had no relationship with the man. But the judge criticized the government's position as "disingenuous at best" and ordered that a lawyer from the rights organization be given unmonitored access to him.
The government fought the habeas corpus lawsuit by arguing it had the power to imprison the man without charge because he was an enemy combatant.
It said the evidence it had compiled showed the man joined ISIS during an initial visit to Syria in 2014; returned to the country in 2015 and attended an ISIS training camp, swearing loyalty to the leader of the jihadist group; and then worked for ISIS in various capacities until last year, when air strikes and an offensive by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces alliance forced him to flee.
When the man was captured at an SDF checkpoint on an active battlefield near territory controlled by ISIS, the government added, he was carrying a thumb drive that contained ISIS documents and manuals, more than $4,000 in cash, and a GPS device. He was also allegedly listed by name as a "fighter" in an ISIS document.
The man contested the allegations and maintained that the government had to prove them in a trial if it wanted to continue holding him. He said he only went to Syria to be a journalist, was arrested by ISIS, and then agreed to work for the group to gain release from prison.
In response, the government sought to transfer the man to the custody of another country over his objection. But a federal court in Washington DC blocked the move — a ruling that was upheld at appeal in May.
The next month, the government announced its intention to release the man in Syria, which it said was consistent with its obligations under the laws of war. But it dropped the plan after the ACLU asked a court to block it.
The rights organization said a settlement agreement led to the man being released on Sunday to an unspecified third country.
"This case demonstrates that the president cannot take away an American's liberty without due process, showing the continuing importance of judicial review," ACLU senior staff attorney Jonathan Hafetz said on Monday.
"This case also illustrates the critical role that the press plays as a check against government abuse of authority." he added. "Without the original revelation by journalists about this American's incommunicado and illegal detention, he might never have gotten his day in court at all."