Federal Judge Slams Trump Administration’s ‘Circular Reasoning’ For Imprisoning U.S. Citizen Without Access To Lawyer

WASHINGTON — A visibly frustrated federal judge ordered the Trump administration to tell her — by 5 p.m. Thursday — whether an American citizen the government has detained incommunicado for months has been advised of his constitutional rights and whether he has asked for legal representation.

The U.S. government accuses the man of fighting for the Islamic State, but so far has refused to release his name or charge him with any crime. Instead, the military has imprisoned him in Iraq, without access to a lawyer, since mid-September. The man has asked for a lawyer at least twice, The Washington Post reported last month.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a habeas corpus petition — a formal way to challenge an individual’s imprisonment — on the man’s behalf on Oct. 5, after he had already been in prison for several weeks. If the group prevails, it could force the government to allow its lawyers to represent the detainee and to meet with him privately.

The Trump administration has argued that because the ACLU’s lawyers do not know the prisoner, they do not have legal standing to represent him in court. But U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan was unimpressed by that argument in a Thursday morning hearing.

Chutkan asked Kathryn Wyer, the Justice Department attorney arguing on behalf of the government, at least four times whether the prisoner had been advised of his constitutional rights and whether he had asked for a lawyer. Wyer initially dodged the question, telling the judge that the Defense Department has not made formal statement on those matters, and attempted to shift the focus to whether the ACLU has standing to represent the detainee.

Chutkan soon grew visibly frustrated with Wyer. She repeatedly criticized the government’s “circular reasoning” in arguing that the ACLU cannot represent the detainee because they do not know him — while simultaneously keeping him imprisoned incommunicado and refusing to release his name.

After a lengthy back and forth, Chutkan warned Wyer that she was “growing impatient.” Eventually, Wyer said she needed to confer with the Defense Department before answering the questions, and the judge set a 5 p.m. deadline for the government to respond.

Near the end of the hearing, Chutkan proposed moving the deadline up to 3 p.m. She said the Justice Department lawyers should have been prepared to answer basic questions about the detainee’s access to legal counsel and it shouldn’t take a long time to…

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