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Detainee Who May Be American Flown to U.S.


WASHINGTON — Yasser Esam Hamdi, who officials believe may be a second American Taliban fighter, was flown Friday to the United States as the military continued to review whether he was born here and should be handed over to federal law enforcement for prosecution.

The 22-year-old was taken under heavy guard from the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to a naval base at Norfolk, Va. Authorities have found a birth certificate that appears to verify his claim that he was born in Baton Rouge, La.

Military officials have not determined conclusively that Hamdi is an American citizen. He may carry Saudi Arabian citizenship, since he was virtually raised there after his parents returned to their home country upon his birth.

The possibility also exists that he has dual citizenship, and it is unclear how that would affect his fate, since President Bush has mandated that no war detainees who are Americans will stand trial before a military tribunal.

Hamdi was captured in Afghanistan after a late November prison riot there and soon began protesting to the U.S. military that he is an American native. He was then brought to Cuba.

Officials said Hamdi will remain in isolation at the base in Virginia because it may take some time to sort out his background.

"Given the likelihood that Hamdi is an American citizen, it was deemed appropriate to move him to the United States as a captured enemy combatant," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. "He remains in the control of the Department of Defense."

But Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who is running the Afghan war, said "we don't know for sure" about Hamdi's nationality.

"When we historically, going back several months, have detained people, in many cases they lie to us--oh, perish the thought," he said. "In some cases they're simply not willing . . . to tell us much at all.

"And so if you were to ask me, 'Are there any who speak English?' I would probably say there are some who speak English. Are there any that I believe are Americans? I will tell you, not that I know of right now."

Regarding Hamdi, the general said that his status "will unfold in the days ahead as judgments are made in Washington about what the correct handling of this detainee is.

"I've read the reports, but I am not on the inside of the thinking about what the next step should be with this man," Franks said. He noted that, though Hamdi speaks English, many unanswered questions remain about his claim.

Hamdi's situation is different, though, from that of John Walker Lindh of Northern California, who was captured with Hamdi after the prison uprising at Mazar-i-Sharif. Lindh's U.S. citizenship is not in question, and he has been indicted on murder conspiracy charges and will go to trial in federal court this summer.

Hamdi was one of 300 detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Franks said an additional 236 detainees are at several U.S. military locations in Afghanistan.

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