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The Trump Administration Wants to Dump a Detained American Into One of the Most Dangerous Places on Earth

This isn’t a safe release, it’s a death sentence, and we will soon be challenging it in court.

"The Trump administration has held this American as an “enemy combatant,” claiming that he fought for ISIS, which he denies." (Photo: 1st Lt. Sarah Cleveland / Department of Defense)

"The Trump administration has held this American as an “enemy combatant,” claiming that he fought for ISIS, which he denies." (Photo: 1st Lt. Sarah Cleveland / Department of Defense)

For almost nine months, a U.S. citizen illegally detained by the U.S. military in Iraq without charges has been fighting in court for his freedom. Wednesday night, the Trump administration told the judge that it was going to let him go — but with a deadly catch.

The government said that it plans to drop off our client in Syria, either in a town or outside a refugee camp. He would have no identification or assurances of protection. This isn’t a safe release, it’s a death sentence, and we will soon be challenging it in court. As the U.S. government itself says in State Department travel advisories, no place in Syria is safe for U.S. citizens.

Our client was detained in September by Kurdish forces in Syria and transferred to U.S. military custody in Iraq. The Trump administration has held this American as an “enemy combatant,” claiming that he fought for ISIS, which he denies. Now, with a court hearing scheduled in less than two weeks on whether the government can legally hold him, it wants to suddenly abandon him in the country he was trying to flee after being shot at, beaten, and threatened with death.

The government’s notification of its plans, which it said it won’t carry out for at least 72 hours, is a crucial development in the case for another reason: The government is admitting that it has no reason to keep our client locked up and that he poses no threat.

But instead of offering a safe release — as it is obligated to do under the Constitution, international law, and Department of Defense policies — the Trump administration wants to dump this American on the side of the road in a war-torn country without any assurances of protection. Treating anyone in such a disgraceful way is outrageous, and it’s frankly astonishing that the government proposes to do this to one of its own citizens.

The State Department gives Syria its highest level of warning for U.S. citizens: “Do not travel,” adding that “No part of Syria is safe from violence.” The State Department even goes so far as to advise Americans intent on going there that they should first draft a will, make funeral arrangements, and leave DNA samples with their doctor — presumably to identify remains. The Trump administration won’t even deport Syrians from the U.S. to Syria because it said that doing so “would pose a serious threat to their personal safety.”

In April, the government tried to transfer the American to the custody of another government against his will. We successfully argued in both the district court and appeals court that such a forcible transfer would violate his constitutional rights.

Now our fight for our client’s right to due process has also become a fight for his right to life. A court hearing is scheduled for Friday morning in Washington. This American deserves to be set free — but not like this.

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Jonathan Hafetz

Jonathan Hafetz, a professor at Seton Hall Law School, is the author of Habeas Corpus after 9/11: Confronting America's New Global Detention System.

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