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ACLU Secures Release of U.S. Resident Unlawfully Detained Under Patriot Act

WASHINGTON - Adham Hassoun, a long-time U.S. resident unlawfully detained by the Trump administration under a never-before-used provision of the USA Patriot Act, is now a free man. Under a confidential court agreement, the U.S. government has released him to an undisclosed country.

A federal court last month ordered Hassoun’s release in response to a habeas challenge filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School, and the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center. Hassoun was held illegally by the government for more than 17 months without charge or trial.

“Mr. Hassoun was the first person to be unlawfully detained under the Patriot Act. This court victory makes clear he should be the last,” said Jonathan Hafetz, ACLU senior staff attorney. “Our client's freedom is a victory for the rule of law, and reaffirms that the government does not have unreviewable powers to lock someone up without due process. But this entire case has been a travesty, as well as an abuse of a power that the government never should have had in the first place. That the government was able to hold Mr. Hassoun for over 17 months without charge or trial, on the basis of false allegations that the government itself refused to defend in court, is chilling.”

Hassoun completed a 15-year criminal sentence, reduced by two years for good behavior, and was then transferred to immigration custody, in 2017. The government claimed it had to keep Hassoun locked up because he was a threat to national security, but it never filed criminal charges against him or produced any credible evidence to support its allegations.

“Mr. Hassoun’s case shows precisely why the government should not have the authority to indefinitely detain anyone without robust judicial review,” said Nicole Hallett, one of Hassoun’s attorneys and director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School.

Invoking a rarely used immigration regulation and a never-before-used provision of the USA Patriot Act, the government argued that it could detain Hassoun forever simply because an executive-branch official had deemed him a “danger to national security.” Hassoun’s legal team argued that the government could not use either the regulation or the Patriot Act to circumvent the constitutional right to due process.

The court struck down the immigration regulation as a legal nullity. It then ordered the government to prove that Hassoun’s detention under the Patriot Act was justified.

“Mr. Hassoun has finally regained his freedom years after completing his criminal sentence, but every day of his detention under the PATRIOT Act has been an injustice,” said Jonathan Manes of the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. “Mr. Hassoun was detained for 17 months based on lies from jailhouse informants desperate to avoid deportation. The government’s claim that it could imprison Mr. Hassoun indefinitely without any court looking into the facts is both deeply authoritarian and fundamentally unconstitutional. This case shows exactly why the government cannot have the power to lock people up unilaterally, without a fair trial, in the name of national security.”

In late June, the government admitted that it could not prove its case, and the court ordered Hassoun released from custody. Despite the government’s rare admission and the court’s order, the government asked two appellate courts to keep Hassoun locked up without charge or trial while it took legal appeals in the case. Those requests are now moot due to Hassoun’s release to a foreign country.  However, Hassoun’s motion for sanctions against the government for hiding and destroying evidence of his innocence remains pending before the district court.

More information about the case is here: https://www.aclu.org/cases/hassoun-v-searls-challenge-unlawful-indefinite-detention.

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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