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The Nation

U.S. Won't Charge Citizen Caught in Battle

April 09, 2002|From the Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Justice Department officials have decided not to charge the American-born prisoner who was transferred from a U.S. military prison in Cuba to Norfolk, Va., last week, concluding that U.S. prosecutors lack enough incriminating information, officials said.

That leaves the detainee, Yaser Esam Hamdi, 22, in legal limbo as government lawyers try to determine whether there is a way to charge him under U.S. military law. Another option is to turn him over to authorities in Saudi Arabia, where he has lived most of his life, government officials said.

Hamdi was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan five months ago while fighting for either Al Qaeda or the Taliban, and since then he has told interrogators he was born in Louisiana. Federal agents recently located his birth certificate in Baton Rouge, and last week authorities flew him to the Norfolk Naval Base.

International lawyers said the fact that Hamdi is a U.S. citizen grants him a number of rights not available to the 299 detainees still held at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base--and limits the U.S. government's ability to hold him. Government officials did not describe the legal basis they would cite for detaining a U.S. citizen who has not been charged.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news conference Monday that military officials are deliberating how to handle Hamdi's case.

Hamdi cannot be tried before a military commission or tribunal because those panels are restricted to noncitizens.

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