Judge to rule on test case of US 'enemy combatant'

Washington (AFP) –


A judge in Washington was expected to rule Thursday on whether the US government can hand over a US-Saudi dual citizen who allegedly supported the Islamic State group to Riyadh, rather than try him in US courts.

In a test case on how Donald Trump's administration will deal with American "foreign fighters" for the jihadist group, federal judge Tanya Chutkan has until around 8:00 pm (0000 GMT Friday) to decide whether or not to block the transfer of the unnamed man, now held by US forces in Iraq for seven months.

Dubbed "John Doe" in court documents, the man was detained in Syria last September and has been interrogated by US military and FBI officials, who have labelled him an "enemy combatant." He was transferred to Iraq shortly after his arrest.

But they have not accused him of fighting for the Islamic State, and he has not been charged by the Department of Justice or the US military with any crime.

On Monday, the Justice Department gave a required 72-hour notice saying they planned to hand him over to an unnamed country, which has agreed to accept him.

Though the country has not been officially identified, multiple court document references point to Saudi Arabia, and lawyers for both sides have not disputed media reports naming the country.

Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the man, asked the court Wednesday to block the transfer, and demanded that he be charged under US law or freed.

"Forcibly rendering him to another country would be an unconscionable violation of his constitutional rights," said ACLU attorney Jonathan Hafetz.

- American 'foreign fighter' -

"John Doe" is the only known American alleged "foreign fighter" currently being held in Iraq or Syria, and his case has posed a challenge for the administration of Trump, who has pledged to be tougher on Americans who support designated terror groups like IS or Al-Qaeda.

The government could have a hard time proving in a US court that the citizen had joined the IS group, and could face questions about whether his rights were violated when he was interrogated.

But the decision to hand him over to Riyadh raised tougher questions of his rights in a court hearing Thursday. The government maintains that handing him to Saudi Arabia is important for bilateral relations.

Chutkan compared the planned move to the legally questionable CIA "renditions" of alleged Al-Qaeda detainees in the early 2000s to the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba after the 9/11 attacks.

"John Doe is a US citizen and that cannot be emphasized enough," she said. "They have had seven months to charge him and they have not."

"He is being forcibly taken from US custody and given to the custody of a foreign country" without being charged with anything by either government, she added.