RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Yaser Esam Hamdi, a Saudi-American citizen who was captured on the Afghanistan battlefield and held without charges for nearly three years, has been freed and returned Monday to Saudi Arabia.
Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Mansour al-Turki confirmed Hamdi arrived in Riyadh about noon Monday.
The deal with the U.S. government freeing Hamdi required that he give up his American citizenship and go to Saudi Arabia.
“His parents were there to receive him. The minute he arrived, he said he had given up his U.S. nationality,” al-Turki said.
It wasn’t immediately clear where Hamdi was taken after arriving, but al-Turki stressed he was with his family. Relatives were not immediately answering their mobile telephones.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher issued a statement confirming the transfer.
“The United States appreciates the cooperation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in facilitating this transfer,” he said.
Frank Dunham Jr., Hamdi’s lawyer in Virginia, said his client returned home on a military plane. Dunham said he talked with Hamdi by telephone just after the plane landed Monday, and said Hamdi told him he felt “awesome.”
Hamdi’s case led to a Supreme Court decision limiting the president’s powers to indefinitely hold enemy combatants. He will be not be charged with any crime under an agreement negotiated by his lawyer and the Justice Department.
Besides surrendering his American citizenship, Hamdi was required to renounce terrorism, agree to live in Saudi Arabia for five years and not sue the U.S. government over his captivity. He is not allowed to ever travel to Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Pakistan or Syria.
The U.S. Justice Department agreed not to ask the Saudi government to detain Hamdi, who U.S. officials have said no longer poses a threat to the United States or has intelligence value.
The release agreement requires Hamdi to notify Saudi officials if he becomes aware of “any planned or executed acts of terrorism.”
Dunham said he would sign papers Monday to dismiss the case and turn them over to government lawyers.
Born in Louisiana
Hamdi was born in Louisiana in 1980 to Saudi parents and raised in Saudi Arabia. He was captured on a battlefield in Afghanistan in late 2001 during the U.S.-led fight against the Taliban regime. He contends that he never fought against the United States and that he had been trying to get out of Afghanistan when he was captured.
After his capture, Hamdi was taken to the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, then transferred to a Navy brig in Norfolk, Va., when officials realized he was a U.S. citizen. He then was moved to a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. He spent his captivity in solitary confinement.
The Supreme Court ruled in June that Hamdi and others like him could not be held indefinitely without seeing a lawyer and getting a chance to contest their incarceration in court. That led to the negotiations for Hamdi’s release.
Hamdi originally was set to be flown to Saudi Arabia on Sept.
26. The flight from Charleston was delayed because of bad weather and the need to work out unanticipated details with the Saudi government, said Dunham, a federal public defender based in Virginia.
The only other U.S. citizen being held in the South Carolina military prison is “dirty bomb” suspect Jose Padilla, a former Chicago gang member. His case is still pending in lower courts.
Dunham said he was frustrated that the fight over Hamdi’s case took 2 1/2 years, but pleased with the final outcome: “It feels wonderful because we had fought to get the victory in the Supreme Court, but it really didn’t mean anything until we got Mr. Hamdi released.”