Political News

Judge orders US not to transfer American accused of fighting for ISIS

Posted January 18, 2018 5:36 p.m. EST

— A federal judge ruled Thursday that the US Defense Department must refrain from transferring a US citizen accused of fighting for ISIS and detained as an "enemy combatant" in Iraq to the custody of a third country until Tuesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the unnamed individual, filed a motion with the court earlier this month asking that the man not be transferred from US government custody until the court has ruled on his petition for habeas corpus, which challenges the legality of his detention by the US government. The government must respond to the claim of unlawful detention by Monday.

The Justice Department argued they have the authority to transfer the individual to the custody of an interested third country but that the government did not have the burden of disclosing the identity of that country.

In her order, Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the US District Court for the District of Columbia said that based on the government's assertion that there was "no basis to believe" a transfer of the man would take place in the next 48 hours but that the government retains the authority to transfer the individual "as soon as another country is ready," Chutkan ordered no transfer could take place until Tuesday.

The unnamed man, described as a citizen of both the United States and Saudi Arabia by the US government, was turned over to US forces in Syria in September by the Syrian Democratic Forces and taken to Iraq. He has since been held in Iraq under US custody.

The US government accuses him of fighting on behalf of ISIS in Syria.

Chutkan had ruled last month that the government had to give the individual access to the ACLU to determine if he wanted access as counsel and wanted to challenge his detention, something the man affirmed he did earlier this month during an initial video conference with the ACLU.

The ACLU has since communicated with the individual a second time. The group says it petitioned for his identity to remain anonymous based on the man's fear for his safety and that of his family.

The civil rights group had initially sued the government requesting he be given access to counsel and demanding that the Trump administration justify his continued detention without charges. The Justice Department had argued the ACLU had no standing to sue because it had not shown the individual wanted to challenge his detention.

Chutkan disagreed in the ruling last month, saying the ACLU had "demonstrated that it is dedicated to the detainee's best interests," and she ordered the Pentagon to allow the ACLU to communicate with him.

The Defense Department has not said how long it expects to hold the individual, according to previous court documents.