The Trump Administration Is Keeping a U.S. Citizen Secretly Locked Up Without Charges

For nearly two months, the U.S. military has been detaining an American citizen at a secret jail in Iraq, denying him access to a lawyer and even refusing to release his name. The Trump administration is calling the citizen an “enemy combatant,” claiming he was fighting for ISIS in Syria, but it has not presented any evidence to back up its allegations.

We went to court asking a judge to protect the citizen’s constitutional rights, including the right not to be imprisoned without charge and the right to challenge his detention in court. The Trump administration has told the court that it doesn’t have to respect these essential due process rights.

The Pentagon and Justice Department ignored our initial request for access to the U.S. citizen so we could advise him of his rights and offer him the opportunity of legal representation. We then filed a habeas corpus petition on the citizen’s behalf in federal court in Washington, demanding that the government justify its detention of the unnamed American. All U.S. citizens have the right to habeas corpus no matter where the government holds them or what it accuses them of. And, as we know from the government’s practices in places like Guantánamo, when it tries to undercut this right it opens the door to abuses, including the arbitrary detention of innocent people.

We also asked the court to order the government to connect the citizen with ACLU attorneys because he is facing grave threats to his liberty and possibly his life. The government could continue imprisoning him without charge, force him to confess to crimes he may not have committed, or, as a Human Rights Watch expert warns, hand him over to Iraqi custody, in which he would likely be subjected him to torture, an unfair trial, and possible execution.

The government’s response is straight out of “Catch-22.” It is arguing that the ACLU cannot seek relief on the citizen’s behalf because we have never met him and don’t know his wishes. But that is a conundrum of the government’s own creation because it has provided no other way for this citizen to legally defend himself.

Instead, the government is piling one speculation on top of another. Maybe, the government suggests, the American could have conveyed his needs to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) when it visited him in custody, and maybe that organization could have contacted his family, and maybe his family could have found a lawyer to file a case on his behalf.  

 In fact, the American citizen has made his wishes clear. U.S. officials told The Washington Post that the citizen has repeatedly demanded a lawyer. The government has effectively denied that request. And, as a former ICRC official explains in our latest court filing, there are multiple reasons why the U.S. citizen is unlikely to obtain counsel by going through the ICRC. To begin with, the ICRC’s main purpose is to monitor conditions of detention, not to find lawyers for prisoners. The citizen may not have family he can contact, or he might be afraid of contacting family for fear they will suffer retaliation. It is also possible the citizen’s family might not welcome contact from him, or, even if it did, the family may not know how to navigate the U.S. court system.

The bottom line is that the imprisoned American citizen clearly wants a lawyer and doesn’t have one, thanks to the roadblocks the government itself has put in place.

Learn More About The Case

The government also complains that allowing counsel to have access to the citizen wouldn’t be “easy.” But constitutional rights do not depend on the government’s convenience. Federal courts have ruled that citizens have a right to an attorney even when detained as enemy combatants at secure military facilities, whether in the U.S. or abroad. And for more than 13 years, courts have ensured attorney access to non-citizens imprisoned at Guantanamo, rejecting government attempts to restrict it. Even George W. Bush’s attorney general and former federal district court judge, Michael Mukasey, ruled that the government’s national security interests cannot override an American citizen’s right to a lawyer.

By opposing the ACLU’s efforts in this case, the Trump administration is taking a very dangerous step: It is blocking an Americans citizen’s access to his own country’s courts. It is also undermining the bedrock guarantees of habeas corpus, which for centuries has served as the greatest check on unlawful government detentions. Now, we’re fighting to stop the government’s unconstitutional attempt to create a new rights-free zone.

Add a comment (58)
Read the Terms of Use

Anonymous

(In other words when the U.S. Supreme Court refuses to interpret the letter & spirit of individual amendments and articles - that affects every courthouse in America.)

Right, but that only happens when you file a brief with them and when they decide to take the case is when they decide to interpret the letter & spirit of individual amendments and articles. They don't visit www.aclu.org or www.hr.org and look through the list of issues they can potentially decide on. Posting on here doesn't help your case or those affected ...

Also, it isn't because they "refuse", it is because they can't agree on a common interpretation of the meaning and spirit of the Constitution. You forgot these the judges on the U.S. Supreme Court are basically unelected political appointees.

Anonymous

The one recourse is uprising from the people. Soon Trump will start seeing that. I’m still amazed someone hasn’t tried to take him out yet.
Courts will also be reminded, none of them are immortal.

And they wonder why some crazies cant handle it and go wild. THE CRAP THEY DO IS WHY.

Anonymous

The vast majority of court cases are won using past legal "precedent" - what did an equal or higher court rule last year or last month? That is generally the rule of winning court cases dealing with most unconstitutional issues. Attorneys try to find legal and recent "precedents" in other cases to win.

The exception to this general rule of American law is "constitutional" cases. The Framers of the Constitution, especially Alexander Hamilton, believed that "constitutionality should always supersede unconstitutional precedents". In other words past tradition or not, if someone makes a successful constitutional argument, unconstitutional traditions are erased from American law (ex: women's voting rights). If you simply allow unconstitutional precedents to continue it creates a "slippery slope" that leads to totalitarianism.

In the late 1960's and 1970's, well-intentioned Supreme Court justices started allowing unconstitutional precedents to supersede constitutionality - the opposite of American law. The U.S. Supreme Court rewarded well-intentioned police officers and federal agents that performed unconstitutional searches. Instead of throwing out evidence and penalizing officers for obtaining evidence illegally, the U.S. Supreme Court back then incentived violating the U.S. Constitution. That court essentially amended the Fourth Amendment without a constitutional amendment.

That unconstitutional "ends justify the means" mentality was then used ever since to justify torture, kidnapping, warrantless surveillance and locking people up without charge, trial, judge, jury or guilty verdict.

Today's U.S. Supreme Court has clearly said that: if a defenseless person is spied upon by the most powerful agencies on planet Earth, that defenseless person must prove it. Today's high court - which dictates mandatory rules to every other lower court - has also allowed the other two political branches of government to stamp things "secret" for decades to avoid accountability in order to obstruct justice.

There have been hundreds of constitutional cases since 9/11 - some dealing with legitimate national security issues, immigration, prison conditions, etc. The ACLU and other groups have done an excellent job trying to break through some of this bogus secrecy. For example: it was secret whether a detainee had a hamburger or turkey sandwich for lunch.

Today some laws themselves are "secret" - which defeats the entire premise of law & order itself. The point of posted or advertised laws is that citizens can comply with them. You can't comply with a law if it's secret. Imagine driving on a road without a posted speed limit sign but you get ticked for driving to fast or too slow.

Until today's U.S. Supreme Court starts placing constitutionality over unconstitutional precedent, it's nearly impossible for a plaintiff to challenge these things. In 1968, when the slippery slope started for Fourth Amendment searches, the court's dissenting opinion said:

"To give the police greater power than a magistrate [judge] is to take a long step down the totalitarian path...but if it is taken - it should be the deliberate choice of the people through a constitutional amendment".

Never forget that the U.S. Constitution is a wartime charter, created during wartime and designed to be followed during wartime. It was ratified when the then weak American government was fighting the world's top superpower and much of Washington DC was burned by the British. There is no wartime exemption from following the Constitution!

Anonymous

SCOTUS has an ironclad grip on the lower courts and they enjoy abusing that power. I'm glad you see that too.

Anonymous

Why aren't more newspapers and news organizations raising hell about issues like this? Real Press organization survive only with a strong Bill of Rights - why are most, not all, so passive after 15 years of gradually losing press freedoms?

EBathory

My name is not important, what I did is. Chances are you never heard of me. However, over 1,000 young girls I had murdered know exactly who I am.

Once the pope himself came to my castle to drain the blood of a 13 year old virgin girl into my bath tub. Of course he anally raped her first before letting her blood loose all over my skin.

Go ahead look it up.

Tl

You’re absolutely correct. A responsible free press is critical to the working of a democracy. I fault both the media owners (what, all six of them?) and journalism schools which have dropped several balls, from correct grammar to search for truth to responsible analyses of information.

Anonymous

I love the ACLU but we are losing the war. The first blow to the republic was the so-called "War on Drugs" court rulings that destroyed the Fourth Amendment in the late 1960's and 1970's. The Bush Administration gave the final death blow to the republic after 2001. We are losing James Madison's Constitutional Democratic Republic to totalitarianism - we need to punch back way harder!

Anonymous

The ACLU should criminally prosecute and file civil lawsuits to "declassified" violations from decades ago. Why? It creates a strong deterrent against today's war crimes and crimes against humanity.

For example: go after the retired FBI agents that tortured and tormented the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. It will create a deterrent against abuses happening today.

That's the game here: war crimes and other abuses are classified secret for decades to obstruct justice. Since there is never any accountability it gave the green-light to Bush officials to commit torture, war crimes and other cruel treatment. If senior officials in their agency had been held accountable from decades before, they would never have committed those crimes against humanity.

Since 9/11, the Bush torture attorneys haven't been indicted or disbarred, most have been promoted. One is now a federal judge standing in judgement of others.

Anonymous

If people knew that the ACLU would be filing lawsuits from human rights violation from decades ago then they would be either destroy the evidence or not create any records. Without records you couldn't even bring a case against the accused. People willing to commit human rights violations are willing to go to great lengths to make sure they aren't discovered. We have seen this time and time again in Central and South America and Africa where people at the top manage to get away scot free while the patsy's take the fall. There isn't justice when you can find a patsy to pin the human rights violations on while you feign ignorance or blame a rouge operative.

Who needs "classified" information when it's simply easier not to create any documentation in the first place. Got reams of evidence? Easy, burn it or toss it in a paper shredder...out of sight, out of mind.. Potential charges of destruction of evidence or obstruction of justice is worth it for people who don't want their past activities/participation discovered.

Pages

Stay Informed