The first U.S. government-declared “enemy combatant” in the war on terror
will soon be released from a military prison in South Carolina under an
agreement that will allow him to fly home to Saudi Arabia as a free man,
administration officials tell NEWSWEEK.
The agreement to free Yaser Esam Hamdi represents a stunning reversal for
the Bush administration, which argued for more than two years that the
former Taliban fighter was potentially so dangerous that he had to be
detained indefinitely in solitary confinement with no access to counsel and
no right to trial.
But in a landmark ruling last June, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that
Hamdi, an American citizen, be allowed to consult with his lawyer and
challenge the basis for his imprisonment. This pushed the case back into
federal court and forced the Justice Department to mount a hasty retreat.
The result, officials say, is a highly detailed agreement that is expected
to be made public later this week. It will result in Hamdi being flown back
to Saudi Arabia on a U.S. military aircraft without ever being charged
with any terror-related activity-a symbolic victory for critics who have
long pointed to the case as a prime example of what they see as the Bush
administration’s overreaching in combating the terrorist threat.
Still, Justice Department officials said today the agreement contains
important provisions to protect U.S. interests, including requirements that
Hamdi renounce his U.S. citizenship, agree not to return to the United
States and consent not to travel to an extensive list of countries,
including Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq or Syria, where he could be presumably be
recruited for terrorist activity. Hamdi is also supposed to keep Saudi
authorities notified of his whereabouts-a requirement that even government
officials say will do little, if anything, to restrict his movements in the