Talks under way for Hamdi’s release

Yaser Esam Hamdi is seen in this file photo taken in June 2001.
Yaser Esam Hamdi is seen in this file photo taken in June 2001.Asharq-al Awsat / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Lawyers for the government and for a U.S. citizen captured on the Afghanistan battlefield informed a federal judge Wednesday they are negotiating the man’s release from federal custody.

In court papers filed jointly, the lawyers said they have been discussing terms of the release since the Supreme Court ruled June 28 that the Bush administration could not indefinitely detain Yaser Esam Hamdi as an enemy combatant with no legal rights.

The motion asks U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar to stay all proceedings in the case for 21 days so the lawyers can try to complete efforts to reach a mutually acceptable resolution.

“The thought is, what does he need any further legal proceedings for if the government agrees to release him?” Hamdi’s attorney, federal public defender Frank Dunham Jr., said in a telephone interview.

“The motion to stay is to ask Judge Doumar to see if we can come to an agreement on that before ringing the fire bells and getting everybody ... back into court to start arguing with each other again,” Dunham said.

‘Never over till it’s over’
Dunham said he thinks an agreement to release Hamdi is close.

“I’m a fan of Yogi Berra,” he added. “It’s never over till it’s over. The fact that we’re talking to them and they’re talking to us doesn’t mean we’ve got an agreement.”

Lawrence R. Leonard, the managing assistant U.S. attorney in Norfolk, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

A Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the case is pending before a court, said any prisoner of war or enemy combatant, including Hamdi, could be released when “they are determined to be of no further value and no longer a threat to the United States.”

Although prosecutors could bring criminal charges against some such prisoners, that decision would depend on the evidence available and whether U.S. national security interests would be best served by having the person go on trial in open court, the official said.

Hamdi remains in the Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. He was transferred there from the brig in Norfolk.

Hamdi was born in Louisiana in 1980, while his Saudi father worked in the oil industry there. He grew up in Saudi Arabia. He was captured on the battlefield during the war with the Taliban in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001.

No ‘blank check’ for the government
First sent to the Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, he was later transferred to a Navy brig in South Carolina, where American authorities verified he was a U.S. citizen.

In its June 28 ruling, the Supreme Court said the war on terrorism does not give the government a “blank check” to hold a U.S. citizen and foreign-born terror suspects in legal limbo, a forceful denunciation of Bush administration tactics since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The ruling gave Hamdi the right to fight his detention in a federal court. The justices sent back to a lower court the case of another U.S. citizen in custody, Jose Padilla, the former Chicago gang member who was held as an enemy combatant amid allegations he sought to detonate a radiological “dirty bomb” in the United States.