An American Citizen Tried to Join ISIS. Does That Make Him an ‘Enemy Combatant’?

World

A 13-month legal saga ended quietly last week when an American citizen accused of joining ISIS went free. For more than a year, the U.S. military had held him in Iraq without charging him. At one point the government offered to release him somewhere in Syria with a cell phone and a few thousand dollars, an outcome his lawyers said would amount to a death sentence. In the end, he was transferred to a third country and let go.

One case, then, is settled. The larger questions underlying it—the same ones that three successive presidents have failed to resolve—are very much not. Where exactly are the limits on the U.S. government’s authority to detain “enemy combatants,” including U.S. citizens? More fundamentally, where are the limits on America’s wartime powers in a war on terror that never seems to end?

The case of the man court documents identify only as John Doe “was a really really important opportunity for clarification, and it ended after 13 months with none,” said Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas who has followed the case closely.

[Read: How two Mississippi college students fell in love and decided to join a terrorist group]

That case began last fall, when according to a government court filing a dual American-Saudi citizen turned himself in to Kurdish forces in northern Syria. He was carrying around $4,000, two thumb drives, a GPS device, and, oddly, a scuba mask and snorkel. The Kurds handed him over to the Americans. Within days of the man’s detention in September, the Daily Beast reported that an American citizen was being held incommunicado by American forces, and the ACLU promptly mounted a challenge, declaring he was entitled access to a lawyer.

In the months that followed, a federal court ruled against the administration numerous times, finding that John Doe must be given access to an attorney. It also blocked a U.S. government to transfer him to Saudi custody. (The administration dropped its own bid to release him in Syria.)

Jonathan Hafetz, the lead attorney on Doe’s case, considers his client’s release a major victory.

“What the case reinforces is that the United States government cannot detain citizens without judicial review, without due process, and without being subjected to the rule of law,” he told me. “The government tried to set up a mini-black hole where they could have a …read more

Source:: The Atlantic – Global

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