The U.S. government, which has held Yaser Esam Hamdi incommunicado in a
Navy brig for two years without charges, much of the time without a lawyer,
indicated yesterday that it is nearing a deal that would free him altogether.

The government is negotiating with Hamdi’s lawyers about “terms and
conditions acceptable to both parties that would allow Mr. Hamdi to be
released from . . . custody,” according to documents filed in federal court
in Norfolk. The legal papers, submitted jointly by federal prosecutors and
Hamdi’s attorneys, asked the court to stay all proceedings for 21 days
while negotiations continue.

Terms of the release are still being hammered out but, according to people
familiar with the situation, are likely to include that Hamdi renounce his
U.S. citizenship, move to Saudi Arabia and accept some travel restrictions,
as well as some monitoring by Saudi officials. In addition, he may have to
agree not to sue the federal government over whether his civil rights were

U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar in Norfolk has yet to rule on the
request for a stay.

Hamdi was captured alongside pro-Taliban forces on the battlefield in
northern Afghanistan in November 2001 and taken to the U.S. military prison
at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. There he told investigators that he was born in
Louisiana to Saudi parents. He subsequently spent most of his life in Saudi
Arabia, but his family said he never renounced his U.S. citizenship.

Hamdi was moved to the Navy jail at Charleston, S.C., in April 2002 and has
been held there since as an enemy combatant. The government has not charged

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that as a U.S. citizen, Hamdi must have
access to the U.S. legal system. All of the justices except Clarence Thomas
rejected the Bush administration’s contention that the federal courts could
exercise no supervision over such a case.

“We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for
the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation’s citizens,”
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in a passage of the ruling that seemed to
summarize the dominant view of the court.

The indication that Hamdi might be released soon is “a huge embarrassment
for the administration,” said Michael Greenberger, a Justice Department
official in the Clinton administration who is now a law professor at the
University of Maryland


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