WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union asked a federal court today to protect the rights of a U.S. citizen in military custody for allegedly fighting on behalf of the Islamic State group in Syria.
The U.S. citizen has been held by the military since approximately September 14, reportedly in Iraq. The ACLU filed a habeas corpus petition on his behalf this morning in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The filing asks the court to order the Pentagon to give the U.S. citizen the opportunity to obtain legal assistance by putting him in secure contact with ACLU attorneys. It also asks the court to find that the military detention is unlawful and to rule that the only lawful basis to detain him is under properly filed federal criminal charges.
“Indefinite military detention without due process violates the most basic principles of our Constitution,” said ACLU attorney Jonathan Hafetz. “The U.S. government cannot imprison American citizens without charge or access to a judge. It also cannot keep secret the most basic facts about their detention, including who they are, where they are being held, and on what authority they are being detained. The Trump administration should not resurrect the failed and unlawful policy of ‘enemy combatant’ detentions.”
Last Friday, the ACLU sent a letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Attorney General Jeff Sessions urging them to comply with the Constitution and ensure that the legal rights of the U.S. citizen are respected. There was no reply.
Because the government is denying the citizen both access to counsel and the ability to challenge his detention himself, the ACLU filed today’s habeas corpus petition as a “next friend” of the American to inform him of his rights and to give him the chance to have legal representation.
“Military detention of this U.S. citizen is both unlawful and unnecessary,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project. “Fighting with a group like ISIS is a very serious allegation, and unlike the military, the federal court system unquestionably has jurisdiction to decide his case. Instead of continuing to deny a U.S. citizen his constitutional rights, the Trump administration has an opportunity to do the right thing here.”
On Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Pentagon said that Red Cross representatives had visited the man last Friday to ensure that his treatment is in accord with the Geneva Conventions, but no further information was released. The Red Cross does not itself provide legal representation to detainees.
Today’s filing is here:
More on the rights of American civilians in military custody is here: