Government, ACLU Dispute Release of American to Syria

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Trump administration on Wednesday told a federal court in Washington it plans to release into Syria a detained American citizen accused of fighting for the so-called Islamic State, but his lawyers say that’s a “death warrant” and they will ask the court to intervene.

In a two-page filing with U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan on Wednesday evening, the government said it plans to release the unidentified man in a Syrian town within 72 hours. The government says it initially offered the man the choice of being released either outside of an internally displaced persons camp in Syria or in the unspecified town, but he declined to choose.

“Ultimately, petitioner did not identify a preference between the two locations and would not agree to the release as respondent described it,” the notice states. “Accordingly, out of an abundance of caution, the department is filing this notice of its intent to release petitioner in the town specified in the declaration no sooner than 72 hours hence.”

The government’s two-page filing is accompanied by a sealed declaration. Though the declaration is not publicly available, the government’s filing shows that it details its plans for releasing the man.

The government has held the man, a dual citizen of the United States and Saudi Arabia, since September, when allied forces captured him in Syria. The government has held him in Iraq without charge as an “enemy combatant,” claiming he is a fighter for ISIS.

Jonathan Hafetz, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who represents the man, called the government’s proposal to release his client in Syria a “death warrant,” noting the government has warned American citizens not to travel to the country.

“The government has effectively admitted that it has no reason to continue detaining our client and that he does not pose a threat,” Hafetz said in a statement. “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.”

Hafetz plans to oppose the government’s plan on behalf of his client, and Chutkan on Thursday ordered him to respond by midnight. Chutkan said in the order that if Hafetz opposes the release the parties will convene on Friday morning for a hearing.

The ACLU filed a habeas petition for the man on October 5, claiming his detention is unlawful without formal federal charges. The D.C. Circuit last month blocked the government from transferring the man to an unidentified country.

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