WASHINGTON — More than two months ago, the U.S. military detained a U.S. citizen in Iraq who was suspected of fighting with the self-described Islamic State in Syria. Since then, the military has kept the man’s identity a secret. The man has not yet been charged with doing anything wrong, and the government has blocked him from meeting with U.S. lawyers who want to offer him counsel.
On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation will argue in a federal district court that the Trump administration is illegally detaining a U.S. citizen without charge and without access to a lawyer. The group, which filed a habeas corpus petition on behalf of the prisoner on Oct. 5, will urge Judge Tanya S. Chutkan to require the government to allow ACLU lawyers to offer legal assistance to the unidentified man.
“It is indisputable that a U.S. citizen has the right to access the courts, but the government has made that right basically impossible to exercise,” Jonathan Hafetz, the ACLU lawyer who will be arguing the case on Thursday, told HuffPost. Without access to the courts, he continued, “all the rights in the Constitution are basically null and void.”
The ACLU requested Thursday’s hearing as part of an effort to force the government to make a decision about the prisoner’s fate. Every passing day “is an assault on his rights and on the Constitution,” Hafetz said.
The Trump administration has stopped short of claiming the unnamed citizen does not have the right to a lawyer. Instead, it has argued in court filings that the prisoner is being held under “law of war” detention policies, and that ACLU lawyers cannot act on his behalf since they have never met him and have no pre-existing relationship with him. However, the ACLU also has no way of reaching or establishing a relationship with the man or his family since the government will not release his name.
“It’d be stupid to deny he has a right to a lawyer — if only because it’s so obvious he has habeas rights,” Robert Chesney, a former Justice Department official who worked on detention policy, told HuffPost. “But they’re definitely saying the ACLU doesn’t have standing to be that lawyer, and then they’re being very, very cute about the point that this is sort of a chicken and egg problem the government is creating here.”
The man in custody has refused to talk to interrogators and asked multiple times to see a lawyer, The Washington Post reported last month. The…