The Justice Department said yesterday that “enemy combatant” Yaser Esam
Hamdi’s release is imminent and asked a federal judge for an additional
week to work out final details of a settlement with Hamdi’s attorneys.

Hamdi, who has been held incommunicado in Navy brigs for two years after
being captured with Taliban soldiers in Afghanistan in 2001, probably will
be sent to Saudi Arabia, prosecutors said in a filing in U.S. District
Court in Norfolk. Hamdi is a U.S. citizen, but he spent most of his life in
Saudi Arabia, where his family lives.

U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar has yet to rule on the request for a
seven-day stay of the proceedings against Hamdi, which would put off a
federal court hearing scheduled for Monday. Doumar last week granted a
separate request for a delay but ordered the government to produce Hamdi at
Monday’s hearing.

Neither Hamdi nor a second U.S. citizen held as an enemy combatant — Jose
Padilla, who is accused of plotting to set off a radiological bomb in the
United States — has been seen publicly since being detained. The Hamdi
case has been a major test in the war on terrorism, with the Bush
administration refusing to allow Hamdi to challenge his detention and
holding him for much of the past two years without access to a lawyer. But
the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that, as a U.S. citizen, Hamdi must
have access to the U.S. legal system.

Prosecutors and Hamdi’s attorneys revealed this month that they were
nearing a deal to release Hamdi. People familiar with the negotiations have
said that the terms of release are likely to include Hamdi renouncing his
U.S. citizenship and accepting travel restrictions and some monitoring by
Saudi officials. In addition, he may have to agree not to sue the U.S.
government over his detention.

In yesterday’s filing, the government said those negotiations “have
continued steadily, and considerable progress has been made.” The filing
said that a draft agreement is being circulated and that “only the details”
remain to be negotiated.

“In short, [the government] believes that an agreement in principle that
will result in Hamdi’s release is imminent, and can be reached within the
seven-day period for which a stay is sought,” said the document, which was
signed by Justice Department officials including Paul J. McNulty, the U.S.
attorney in Alexandria.

The filing cited the “extraordinary nature” of Hamdi’s case, which is
“fraught with complex and thorny issues” that would require the court to
balance national security needs with Hamdi’s constitutional rights.
Bringing Hamdi to a court hearing “would serve no useful purpose given the
likelihood of his imminent release and repatriation to Saudi Arabia,” the
papers said..


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