updated 9/16/2004 7:30:57 PM ET 2004-09-16T23:30:57

A lawyer for an American-born terror suspect said Thursday that a deal had been tentatively reached with the U.S. government that will send the man to Saudi Arabia and spare him prosecution after being held more than two years without charge.

Yaser Esam Hamdi, who grew up in Saudi Arabia, could become the first American classified as an enemy combatant to renounce his citizenship to avoid prosecution.

“There is an agreement in principle for his release and it’s now in the hands of the government,” Hamdi’s lawyer, Frank Dunham Jr., told The Associated Press.

John Novatsky, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, said negotiations were still under way.

Price of freedom
Dunham said Hamdi had agreed to the deal’s terms and was excited about returning to his family in Saudi Arabia, where he plans to continue his university studies.

The 23-year-old was captured fighting with Afghanistan’s Taliban in late 2001 and held at the U.S. military outpost in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for three months before authorities realized he was a U.S. citizen. He was then transferred to a brig in South Carolina and later to the Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia.

Saying he was forced to fight for the Taliban, Hamdi had challenged his status as an enemy combatant, a classification given to the 585 detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay that affords detainees fewer legal protections than prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

One restriction was not being allowed to see an attorney for months while in solitary confinement. But the Supreme Court ruled in June that enemy combatants may not be indefinitely detained without legal rights, allowing Hamdi to have a lawyer and contest his detention in federal court.

Hamdi weighed how much longer he would have to remain in jail away from his family and decided it was best for him to return to Saudi Arabia even if that meant renouncing his U.S. citizenship, Dunham said.

Although he mentioned Hamdi’s citizenship, Dunham would not confirm that was a condition and declined to discuss specific conditions of the deal.

But another lawyer involved in the case said the conditions included Hamdi’s giving up his U.S. citizenship and not being allowed to return to the country of his birth. The second lawyer, who spoke to AP on condition of anonymity, said Hamdi could be sent to Saudi Arabia as soon as this week.

Changed world
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which also reported the deal, said it could set a precedent for others being held without charge in the United States and at Guantanamo.

“The fact that they are letting Hamdi go without charges proves the importance of courts and attorneys. People ought to be screaming about this not just for what was done to Hamdi, but for what it says about what America has become,” said Michael Ratner, president of the New York Center for Constitutional Rights.

Hamdi was born in Baton Rouge, La., where his father reportedly worked for an oil company. The family returned to Saudi Arabia when he was a toddler.

Hamdi entered King Fahd University in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, three years ago and was studying the petroleum business. During a summer break, he traveled to a camp near Peshawar in Pakistan to study Islam, said Najeeb al-Nauimi, a Qatari lawyer representing the families of many detainees at Guantanamo.

Days before the Sept. 11 terror attack on the United States, Hamdi called his parents and told them he would be home soon, al-Nauimi said. That was the last they heard until his father saw a news report of his son’s capture, the lawyer said.

Hamdi is not facing any charges in Saudi Arabia, said Nail Al-Jubeir, a spokesman for the Saudi Arabia Embassy in Washington.

There was no indication of compensation for Hamdi, or an unidentified detainee at Guantanamo whose release was ordered last week by a review tribunal that ruled he had been improperly held for more than two years.

Ratner and other lawyers are filing challenges on behalf of dozens of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, many for nearly three years.

Only four have been charged so far, and their attorneys say the men should have been allowed to challenge whether they were properly classified as enemy combatants before their cases are heard by U.S. military commissions.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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