September 23, 2004 in Nation/World

Alleged combatant headed home soon

Bruce Alpert Newhouse News Service
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

Hamdi
(Full-size photo)

WASHINGTON – Yaser Esam Hamdi is expected to board a U.S. plane within the next several days for Saudi Arabia, ending a nearly three-year confinement for the Louisiana-born college student that began with his apprehension in Afghanistan fighting with Taliban forces.

Under terms of the agreement announced Wednesday, Hamdi, 23, must renounce his American citizenship and abide by strict travel restrictions that bar trips to the United States, Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Pakistan, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“I’m very glad my son is coming back,” said his father, Esam Hamdi, from Jubail, Saudi Arabia. “There will be parties all over the place.”

After Hamdi was apprehended in 2001 carrying an AK-47, he was held in Afghanistan and then Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, before being moved to a Navy brig in South Carolina after officials confirmed his claims that he was a U.S. citizen. Hamdi was born in Baton Rouge, where his father was a petroleum engineer, but moved to Saudi Arabia, the home country of his mother and father, when he was 3.

His birth in the United States qualified him as a U.S. citizen.

At first, Hamdi was denied any access to outside lawyers. Later he was allowed to meet with federal public defender Frank Dunham of Virginia. Dunham took Hamdi’s case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In June, the high court ruled that Hamdi and others like him could not be held indefinitely and must be given a chance to challenge their incarceration in court. That led to negotiations between the Justice Department and Dunham, which ended with Wednesday’s announcement .

Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo said the military has gotten as much intelligence as it could from Hamdi and therefore saw no need to keep him in custody.

“As we have repeatedly stated, the United States has no interest in detaining enemy combatants beyond the point that they pose a threat to the U.S. and our allies,” Corallo said.

The Justice Department has said that Hamdi clearly fit the definition of an enemy combatant because he was apprehended with Taliban forces in late 2001 carrying a weapon. U.S. and allied troops were in Afghanistan at the time trying to root out the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists believed responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Esam Hamdi has consistently argued that his son traveled to Afghanistan without either his or his mother’s permission because he wanted to provide humanitarian help to the Afghan people and prove he was a good Muslim. He insisted that his son had no interest in fighting for the Taliban or hurting Americans.

Esam Hamdi said he hopes to get the “long ordeal” behind him and his family, which includes four younger children.

“Some doctors have suggested to me that he may need some time to readjust since he was isolated from people for so long,” Esam Hamdi said. “But I hope that he’ll be back to normal very quickly.”

The father said he has communicated with his son through letters and is hopeful Hamdi will be able to resume his studies at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. At the time of his departure to Afghanistan over the summer of 2001, he was a second-year marketing student.

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