Yaser Hamdi to Go Free

Bump and Update: It's official. Yaser Hamdi will be released and deported to Saudi Arabia.

After weeks of negotiations over his release, lawyers for the Justice Department and Mr. Hamdi announced an agreement requiring him to renounce his American citizenship. The agreement also bars him from leaving Saudi Arabia for a time and requires him to report possible terrorist activity, his lawyer said, although legal analysts said the arrangement would be difficult for the United States to enforce.

Although Mr. Hamdi was born in 1980 in Louisiana, where his father worked for an oil company, the family left the United States when he was a toddler and returned to Saudi Arabia. He lived there most of his life, and most of his family remains there.

Original Post: 9/16/04

Detained "enemy combant" Yaser Hamdi, an American citizen captured in Afghanistan and held over three years without charges, will be freed and allowed to return to Saudi Arabia, where he grew up, according to his lawyer and others familiar with the case. One small detail: He has to give up his American citizenship to avail himelf of the deal--even though he has never been charged with a crime.

The 23-year-old was captured fighting with Afghanistan's Taliban in late 2001 and held at the U.S. military outpost in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for three months before authorities realized he was a U.S. citizen. He was then transferred to a brig in South Carolina and later to the Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia. Saying he was forced to fight for the Taliban, Hamdi had challenged his status as an enemy combatant, a classification given to the 585 detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay that affords detainees fewer legal protections than prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

The Center of Constitutional Rights is quoted as saying such a deal would be precedent setting for others held at Guantanamo.

``The fact that they are letting Hamdi go without charges proves the importance of courts and attorneys. People ought to be screaming about this not just for what was done to Hamdi, but for what it says about what America has become,'' said Michael Ratner, president of the New York Center for Constitutional Rights.

TalkLeft's first post about Yasser Hamdi was on June 26, 2002:

We think the military has the right to accuse someone of being an enemy combatant but it should be a judge who makes the decision. In open court. At a hearing where Hamdi is afforded a right to a lawyer, the right to review the evidence against him, and to call and cross-examine witnesses. Until and unless a court determines he is an enemy combatant, he should retain his rights as an American. To say otherwise means the Government can brand someone with a label and then imprison them indefinitely, even forever. We think that's way too much power to give the Government.

Three years later, the Supreme Court ruled. The best line in the Justice O'Connor's opinion:

The court has "made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens."

The rest of the Court's opinion is not so favorable to detainees, and some legal scholars have warned it could be the death knell for our great writ of Habeas Corpus:

Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the unlawful enemy combatant case, is of greater importance to the future of this country than many realize. But the Supreme Court decision is full of contradictions and deceptions. On the one hand, the Court upheld the right to due process. On the other, the Court determined that an "appropriately authorized and properly constituted military tribunal" with truncated procedures might suffice.

Civil liberties expert Elaine Cassell agrees. Yale Law Prof Jack Balkin's analysis is here.

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