Government, ACLU Dispute Release Of American To Syria


WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration has told a federal court that it plans to release an American citizen accused of fighting with Islamic State militants and return him to Syria, but his lawyers say that's a "death warrant" and they will ask the court to intervene.

The Trump administration submitted a notice Wednesday to a federal court in Washington saying it had determined it would release the man, who has been held without charge in a U.S. military detention facility in Iraq since he surrendered on the Syrian battlefield in September. The administration said the man, who was detained as an enemy combatant, would be released in one of two possible locations, "either in a town or outside an internally displaced person camp." The notice said the release would happen in "no sooner than 72 hours" and that the man was asked to choose his preferred location but did not agree to the release.

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The man, who is not named in court filings, has been represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, which says the government's plan is unacceptable.

"The government has effectively admitted that it has no reason to continue detaining our client and that he does not pose a threat. But, instead of offering a safe release, 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," ACLU attorney Jonathan Hafetz said in a statement. The statement continued: "What the government is offering our client is no release — it's a death warrant. This is a disgraceful way to treat an American citizen. Now, our fight for our client's right to due process has also become a fight for his right to life."

The circumstances of the man's detention have become a test case for how the government should treat U.S. citizens picked up on the battlefield and accused of having ties to IS extremists battling America and its allies.

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Court documents filed by the government say that when he surrendered to U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, he was carrying thumb drives containing thousands of files. There were 10,000 or more photos — some depicting pages of military-style manuals. There also were files on how to make specific types of improvised explosive devices and bombs.

The ACLU says the man, who once lived in Louisiana, was in Syria to chronicle the conflict and was trying to flee the violence when he gave himself up. The ACLU claims the government has not provided any evidence that he took up arms against the United States and notes that he was imprisoned by the IS group. The detainee said he had press credentials to do freelance writing about the conflict in Syria, though the FBI hasn't found any published articles or blogs he wrote.

– by Jessica Gresko, AP reporter

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