The Trump administration's plan to release a suspected American ISIS fighter caught in Syria back to Syria is facing a legal challenge from a civil rights group that decried the move as the "death sentence".
The Defense Department "has taken all necessary and feasible precautions to ensure the safe release of petitioner", according to a court filing.
The man has been detained without charge by US forces in Iraq since he was captured by Kurdish troops in 2017. The release is to happen "no sooner than 72 hours" after the filing.
The American Civil Liberties Union lawyer for "John Doe", Jonathan Hafetz, disputed this, saying the USA still contends the man was a fighter for Islamic State before he was detained, and so the SDF would consider him an enemy.
"The Trump administration has effectively admitted it has no reason to detain our client and he doesn't pose a threat".
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Justice Department lawyers said in a two-page court filing that releasing the man in Syria was "consistent with the traditional military practice" by U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, and "with the Department's obligation under the law of war". Wyer claimed the government gave the man a choice of being dropped either outside a town or a refugee camp, but he apparently "would not agree" to the offer.
He called it "a disgraceful way to treat an American citizen".
The Iraqi air force has carried out several air strikes against ISIS in Syria since a year ago, with the approval of the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad and the USA -led coalition fighting ISIS.
"It's like they are releasing him into a burning building", he said, calling it a "death warrant".
"Now, our fight for our client's right to due process has also become a fight for his right to life".
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The United States previously said it had evidence that the man had signed up as an Islamic State foreign fighter in 2014 and entered Syria in January 2015, according to court papers.
Government lawyer James Burnham defended the plan, saying the SDF is "a trusted local partner" of the U.S. forces and the area is "much better, much safer" than where he was taken prisoner by the SDF last September. He is said to have submitted work to United States media outfits in 2014.
Yet "John Doe" was never charged, and he said he was not involved with IS when he was detained in Syria.
The man has been detained as an enemy combatant for nine months, and his detention has become a test case for how the government should treat us citizens picked up on the battlefield and accused of having ties to IS extremists battling America and its allies. The judge sided with the ACLU, and an appeals court upheld the decision. We do not think it at all likely that this new issue will be resolved before then, and so the question surely will arise: Should there be yet another delay in the district court's resolution of the merits of Doe's detention, in order to see how this latest twist plays out?
He was reportedly assigned to be a fighter in the Zarqawi Brigade, a military unit that "guard [ed] the front lines" in Syria, where he procured fuel for ISIS vehicles, handled expenses and "performed other administrative tasks".
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