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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Who Is Yaser Esam Hamdi?

Well, you probably heard the name. The man is an Arab born in the US to Saudi parents, and thus an American citizen. He was captured is Afghanistan, became a POW (or an "enemy combatant", in the modern parlance), but since technically he was a US Citizen he ended up not in Guantanamo but in a naval brig prison in South Carolina. An August 16 Los Angeles Times report states,
The government ... told a federal appeals panel in June 2002 that "Hamdi's background and experience, particularly in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, suggest considerable knowledge of Taliban and Al Qaeda training and operations."
In short, at some point in the not so distant past Mr Hamdi was considered a dangerous person, an Al Qaida operative with the extensive knowledge of his organization, someone who was too dangerous to be tried in the US Court system,- clearly, someone with a potential to do great damage should he ever be released.

However, times change. And sometimes the changes are nothing short of radical.
Now, it seems, the government is negotiating with Hamdi's attorneys for his release from confinement. According to reports, Hamdi would renounce his U.S. citizenship, move to Saudi Arabia and accept some travel restrictions, as well as some monitoring by Saudi officials, in exchange for his freedom. In addition, he may have to agree not to file a civil rights lawsuit against the federal government.

If all Hamdi has to worry about is going forward into his new life of freedom, it would be a remarkable turnaround for a man who for years now the government has sworn is a terrorist. It would be a shocking admission from the government that there is not now, and probably never has been, a viable criminal case against Hamdi. And it would cause a stunning and long-lasting loss of credibility for the representations that government lawyers and military officials make in these sorts of terror law cases.
Wow, he seems like not such a bad guy after all. Maybe, we should even apologize to him for holding him in prison for over two years. Oh, I guess I forgot that apologies are not part of the "War on Terror".
The Justice Department is spinning the talks between Hamdi's attorneys and federal lawyers as a routine exercise in the release of prisoners in wartime. But it is fairly clear that such talks did not take place before the Supreme Court rode to Hamdi's rescue a couple of months ago by requiring his captors to give him some rights.
So, did the government properly investigate the matter and finally realize that there was no case here? Possibly, but somewhat unlikely if what Andrew Cohen reports in The LA Times is true.

Cohen also compares the treatment of Hamdi to that of John Walker Lindh, another American captured in Afghanistan and currently serving a twenty year term in a federal penitentiary. Note that "unlike Hamdi, Lindh was never deemed an enemy combatant". A very apt comparison, I must note.

Says Cohen of the Hamdi affair,
This isn't supposed to happen in a nation ruled by law.

I certainly could not agree more.

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