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Judge questions Hamdi's detention

Hamdi, center, after his surrender in Afghanistan.
Hamdi, center, after his surrender in Afghanistan.  

From Shirley Hung
CNN Washington Bureau

NORFOLK, Virginia (CNN) -- A federal judge said Tuesday he had serious questions about whether the government was justified in holding Yaser Esam Hamdi, an American citizen who fought with the Taliban, in solitary confinement and denying him access to an attorney.

Hamdi, who was raised in Saudi Arabia, was declared an enemy combatant by the government after he surrendered last year to Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan.

He originally was held with other detainees at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. When officials learned he was born in Louisiana and was a U.S. citizen, he was transferred to the U.S. Navy brig here.

His case could affect the issue of what rights military prisoners have as the U.S. government fights the war on terrorism.

The Justice Department has maintained that because Hamdi was an enemy combatant he has no rights -- either as a prisoner of war or as an indicted criminal suspect.

Tuesday's hearing was held to determine whether a document known as the Mobbs' Declaration provides the judge with enough information to decide Hamdi's legal status and thus whether Hamdi is entitled to meet with an attorney

Read key documents in the case (FindLaw) (PDF) 
Hamdi's Louisiana birth certificate 
Opinion: Hamdi v. Rumsfeld 
Gov't brief to 4th Circuit: Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, et al. 

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Federal officials contend the document justifies their claim that Hamdi is an enemy combatant, which means he can be held indefinitely without being charged or allowed to see an attorney.

The declaration is named after its author, Michael Mobbs, a special adviser to the Defense Department.

Mobbs wrote that Hamdi traveled to Afghanistan in July or August 2001, that he "affiliated with a Taliban military unit," and that he surrendered to Northern Alliance forces in late 2001 along with the Taliban unit.

Mobbs said Hamdi had with him a Kalashnikov assault rifle.

Judge Robert Doumar had sought additional documents from the government, including Hamdi's statements, but the government refused to hand them over.

Earlier this month, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Doumar had to determine whether the Mobbs' Declaration provided sufficient information for him to rule in the case.

Doumar said he would issue an order in a "couple days."

Hamdi's status is unique. He is the only U.S. citizen captured in Afghanistan and brought to the United States who has not been charged.

John Walker Lindh, an American who joined the Taliban in Afghanistan, was captured at a camp where prisoners staged a revolt in which a CIA agent was killed.

He was returned to the United States and criminally charged in a civilian court. He reached a plea agreement with prosecutors in July.




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