American 'Islamic State fighter' case challenges Trump

2018-02-01 13:06
US President Donald Trump. (Evan Vucci, AP, File)

US President Donald Trump. (Evan Vucci, AP, File)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Washington – The first and only US citizen caught on the battlefield allegedly fighting for the Islamic State is in a legal limbo, held in Iraq without rights as Washington grapples with his fate.

Identified in court papers as "John Doe", the man has been held for nearly five months, the military allowing him access to legal advice only after being forced to do so by a federal judge in Washington DC.

He was born in the United States but also has Saudi nationality, and the government has maintained the right to transfer him to another country, presumably Saudi Arabia.

It would be one way – highly illegal according to rights lawyers – to handle a fundamental dilemma for US President Donald Trump, a test case challenging his pledge to be tough on any captured Islamic State supporters and his commitment to US law.

Between 100 to 200 US nationals travelled to Syria and Iraq after 2010 to work and fight in their ranks, according to various estimates.

A handful are known killed, but the number isn't clear: The US has not provided any data.

'Enemy fighter'

John Doe is the only one known captured alive. On September 14 the Pentagon confirmed that they were holding a US citizen who had been fighting for the Islamic State group and surrendered to the allied Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria days earlier.

He was moved to Iraq where he has been interrogated by military and FBI investigators.

US forces allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross to meet him, but since then have fought to prevent him from gaining legal representation and a hearing in US courts.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit to get access to the prisoner. The government refused to provide any information about him – his name, age, or origins.

They termed him an enemy fighter and claimed he showed no desire for legal representation.

Hearings on his status between September and January were surreal: Government lawyers argued he had never expressed the desire for legal representation, though they would not say if he had been asked; that the ACLU had no standing to represent him because they had not been requested; and that the ACLU could not represent the man because they did not know his identity.

In January the judge, Tanya Chutkan, rejected government arguments and ordered them to grant the ACLU access.

ACLU attorney Jonathan Hafetz said that since then they have had several video conferences, and are waiting for a full ruling on a habeas petition.

But meanwhile the government maintains it has an option to transfer him to another country, though never explaining why.

Fundamental rights

"He deserves the basic right of American citizens not to be rendered by their government to a foreign country in the dead of night without judicial review of the basis for their transfer," Hafetz told AFP in an interview.

"They cannot lawlessly transfer an American citizen to another government potentially as a way of defeating the habeas petition."

Hafetz said they now know his identity, but do not want to reveal it, since he has not been formally charged and the government has yet to provide any evidence that he had enlisted in the Islamic State cause.

"The label of enemy combatant is a terrible label, a stigmatizing label, and the government hasn't made any case that he's an enemy combatant."

It's not clear why the government refuses to hand him over to the US justice system, as other Americans accused of terror have been.

But analysts think the Trump administration wants to avoid the fundamental question of whether an American caught fighting for Islamic State has any rights.

They speculate Trump might want to send him to the Guantanamo prison for foreign "war on terror" detainees. On Tuesday Trump reversed an order by his predecessor Barack Obama to shut down Guantanamo, which still has 41 inmates.

Asked what their stance is, the Justice Department declined to answer.

"Our view is that if they want to detain an American citizen, there's only one option: they can charge him with a crime or they can release him," Hafetz said.

KEEP UPDATED on the latest news by subscribing to our FREE newsletter.

- FOLLOW News24 on Twitter

Read more on:    isis  |  donald trump  |  us

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Inside News24

 
/News
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.