On October 5, 2017, the ACLU Foundation filed a habeas corpus petition on behalf of a U.S. citizen unlawfully detained by the U.S. military in Iraq as an “enemy combatant” for allegedly being an ISIS fighter in Syria. He has been detained since approximately September 14.

The habeas case, filed in federal district court in Washington, D.C., asks the court to find the citizen’s military detention unlawful and to rule that the only lawful basis to detain him is under properly filed federal criminal charges. It also asks the court to prohibit the government from transferring the citizen until it decides his case.

The military initially detained the citizen, John Doe, in secret, and fought for months to deny him access to counsel or a court. During the case, the government admitted that the American had asked for an attorney. On December 23, 2017, the judge rejected the government’s efforts to dismiss the case and ordered the government to provide the ACLU with unmonitored access to the citizen. In early January 2018, ACLU attorneys spoke with the American citizen via a court-ordered videoconference, and the citizen told the ACLU he wanted to proceed with the habeas action with the ACLU as his counsel.

In late January, the district court ordered the government to provide 72 hours’ notice before transferring him. The government appealed that decision.  It also sought to forcibly transfer John Doe to a specific third country, which the district court also prohibited.  Again, the government appealed. On May 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed both of the lower court’s decisions—requiring 72 hours’ notice before transfer, and blocking the government’s attempt to forcibly transfer John Doe to a specific third country.

On June 6, two weeks before a court hearing on the legality of John Doe’s detention, the government announced its intention to release him into Syria, the dangerous and war-torn country from which he fled.

The government’s plan to “release” an unlawfully-detained American citizen to a conflict zone violates the Defense Department’s legal obligations and policies and the Constitution’s guarantee of due process. If the Trump administration will not respect this citizen’s rights, the courts must step in to protect them.

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