Government, ACLU dispute release of American in Syria


The unnamed prisoner, identified as "John Doe" in legal documents, has been held in Iraq as an enemy combatant since September while a legal battle unfolded over whether the US military had the right to hold him or send him to Saudi Arabia.

Since then, the Trump administration has moved to pre-empt a fight over whether it has a legal basis for holding the man by trying to release him, which would render the debate moot. "He will be provided sufficient food and water to last for several days", he added. The man's attorneys have called the government's plan a "death warrant" and asked a judge to block it. A court hearing is set for Friday in Washington. The administration seems eager to avoid litigating this issue, especially concerning this detainee, who has protections as a US citizen and does not appear to be a high-level fighter. In the Wednesday filing, the US said it told the ACLU it could release him in a Syrian town or outside a refugee camp but that his lawyers refused to state a preference. "They want to dump an American citizen onto the side of the road in a war-torn country without any assurances of protection and no identification". Burnham noted that the man had been captured in Syria and that the undisclosed location is "much better" than where he was originally captured. Hafetz said releasing his client in Syria would be akin to "releasing him into a burning building".

When an analyst listening to portions of the conversations realized they were privileged, officials purged the recordings from a database and transferred them to a compact disc, which it plans to destroy, the Pentagon said.

The Pentagon offered the prisoner the choice of being in an unspecified Syrian town in or outside a refugee camp there.

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The planned release would take place in 72 hours and would be done over the objections of the man, who has not been named publicly, the government said.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is representing the man who is referred to as "John Doe".

In April, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan barred the government from ending the man's U.S. custody by transferring him, also against his will, to the custody of a third country that had agreed to accept him and formally confirmed he would not face torture.

The U.S. has claimed for years that it is legally allowed to fight ISIS because of a 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against the groups that planned and carried out the September 11 attacks.

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The unnamed individual has been detained as an enemy combatant in Iraq since September.

In a statement Wednesday, the ACLU's Hafetz noted that the State Department has issued "do not travel" warnings for Syria, advising USA citizens who ignore them to leave DNA samples and draft a will. Court documents filed by the government say that when he surrendered he was carrying thumb drives containing thousands of files, including files on how to make improvised explosive devices and bombs. The warplanes "bombed this morning on Thursday a so-called command and control center containing leaders and fighters belonging to [IS] terrorist gang in the Hajin inside Syrian territory", the military said.

Despite such claims, prosecutors have not charged the detainee with a crime.

The man was questioned for USA intelligence purposes, but American officials have said they lack admissible evidence to charge him with a crime. But detaining a US citizen there would present a steep legal challenge for the administration. This is a disgraceful way to treat an American citizen.

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University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck said that while there is a plain legal distinction between transfer and release, courts have found that detainees have a right not to be released to a mob. He grew up in Saudi Arabia and also has Saudi citizenship.