Federal Court Orders Release of U.S. Resident Unlawfully Detained by the Government Under Patriot Act

ACLU Client Was Held Indefinitely Without Charge for Over 17 Months

June 29, 2020 4:00 pm

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NEW YORK — A federal court today ordered the release of Adham Hassoun, a long-time U.S. resident unlawfully detained by the Trump administration under a never-before-used provision of the USA Patriot Act.

In the decision ordering release, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Wolford writes: “Distilled to its core, Respondent’s position is that he should be able to detain Petitioner indefinitely based on the executive branch’s say-so, and that decision is insulated from any meaningful review by the judiciary. The record in this case demonstrates firsthand the danger of adopting Respondent’s position. Respondent’s position cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny.”

Hassoun was held illegally by the government for more than seventeen months without charge or trial.

“All I’ve wanted, like everyone else, is to be free and with my family again,” said Hassoun. “But the government at every turn tried to deny me the opportunity to prove my innocence. I’m grateful to the court for upholding the freedoms and constitutional guarantees that made me fall in love with this country 30 years ago.”

Today’s order comes in response to a habeas challenge filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School, and the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center.

“Mr. Hassoun’s illegal detention made a mockery of the most basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution,” said Jonathan Hafetz, ACLU senior staff attorney. “He should have never been imprisoned under the Patriot Act, let alone under the false allegations that the government abandoned on the eve of trial and refused to defend in court. This case shows that the government should never have the power to hold people without charge or a fair hearing, because if given that power, it is sure to abuse it.”

Hassoun completed a 15-year criminal sentence, reduced by two years for good behavior, and was then transferred to immigration custody, in 2017. The government claimed it had to keep Hassoun locked up because he was a threat to national security, but it never filed criminal charges against him or produced any credible evidence to support its claims.

Instead, the government relied on a rarely used immigration regulation and a never-before-used section of the USA Patriot Act to claim the government could indefinitely detain an individual without charge or trial and based solely on a government claim of “danger to national security.” Hassoun’s legal team argued that the government could not use either the regulation or the Patriot Act to circumvent the constitutional right to due process.

The court struck down the immigration regulation as a legal nullity. It then ordered the government to prove that Hassoun’s detention under the Patriot Act was justified.

The government admitted that it could not prove its case. Despite this rare admission, the government asked the court to keep Hassoun locked up without charge or trial. The court denied the government’s unconstitutional request, and ordered Hassoun’s long-overdue release.

Below are additional comments from:

Nicole Hallett, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School: “Mr. Hassoun has served his time and wants to go home to be with his family. He is not a danger to anyone, and so it is not surprising that the government has been unable to prove otherwise. Today, the court allowed justice to prevail in ordering his release.”

Jonathan Manes, attorney at the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center: “The government in this case has shown that it will ignore facts, conceal contradictory evidence, repeat obvious lies, and mislead the courts in order to avoid judicial checks on its asserted detention powers under the PATRIOT Act. Nobody is above the law, not least government officials who seek to jail a man for life without charge or trial and, it turns out, without any evidence.”

The order is here: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/hassoun-v-searls-decision-and-order-release.

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