Terror Suspect Yaser Hamdi is Released
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JEFFREY BROWN: In late 2001, Yaser Hamdi was captured on a battlefield in Afghanistan, where he was fighting with the Taliban. Several months later, while being held as an enemy combatant, officials realized he was an American citizen. Today, the Justice Department announced an agreement to release Mr. Hamdi and fly him to Saudi Arabia.
To tell us more about it, I’m joined by Elaine Shannon, FBI and terrorism reporter for Time Magazine.
Elaine, let’s start with some of the details of the agreement. What did Mr. Hamdi agree to?
ELAINE SHANNON: Well, he is going to get to go back to Saudi Arabia and he’s out of solitary confinement in the Navy brig, which is good for him. But we don’t know what the Saudis are going to do with him; there is no deal between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia about whether he will be held or held at home or what. He agrees… he can never… he has to give up citizenship to the United States. He can’t come to the United States for the next ten years. And after that, he has to seek the permission of the defense secretary before he comes here, which probably means never. He furthermore has to inform the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia or a Saudi official designated by the U.S., essentially a probation officer, if he wants to travel outside the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He is forbidden to go to certain countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, Iraq and a couple other places.
JEFFREY BROWN: He is sent to Saudi Arabia because he is also a Saudi citizen?
ELAINE SHANNON: He is a Saudi citizen. And so this enables the administration to say this is a win to Saudi Arabia; we have confidence in their system of justice and their ability to control this man.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, he was never tried, never charged. So you were able to talk to Justice Department people today. What are they saying about why they made this decision?
ELAINE SHANNON: Well, they’re saying that whatever he said to them while in confinement and I assume he has been interrogated, there seems to be some indication that he has cooperated, his intelligence value is exhausted. They say that they believe that he is dangerous but from what they haven’t said about him, I don’t think he is in the first tier of people who are considered the most committed killers who would go back and do it again and again and again if they were ever given a window of escape. This way they get to send him to a place, Saudi Arabia, where they don’t think that he will be lost, although it could happen. It happens here, too. And they reduce their prison population which is increasingly burdensome.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, should this be read directly following the Supreme Court decision in June which basically said that Mr. Hamdi does, in fact, deserve at least his day in court?
ELAINE SHANNON: Sure, he was given access to process, gone back down to the lower courts. There were indications he was going to get heard back in August when we were all preoccupied by conventions. They basically signaled that they were going to try to work out something so that they could get rid of him and let him go back to Saudi Arabia under strict travel conditions.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, civil libertarians, of course, have argued all along that he has been held inappropriately. So what is their reaction today? Do they see this as a vindication of their position?
ELAINE SHANNON: I haven’t seen their statements yet but I’m sure that they’re going to argue this is an embarrassment for the administration because the administration took this very hard line, saying we have the right to hold people indefinitely. The court rejected this. Sandra Day O’Connor famously said being in a state of war does not give the administration a blank check. The Justice Department has bowed to that.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now you said earlier the Justice Department spokesman said his use for information has been exhausted. Do we know what they were looking for from Mr. Hamdi and what they might have gotten?
ELAINE SHANNON: I don’t know specifically what he told them, and what he was asked. I know in general that even though years have passed since these people were arrested, the value of these detainees is sometimes to identify other people who trained in al-Qaida camps or if the FBI or CIA comes up with information that there’s going to be, let’s say, a train bombing or a building bombing, they’ll go to people who were in training and say how were you trained to do this? What were you supposed to have? How many people were you supposed to have? What would it look like? That helps them figure out how to look for people in this country who might be plotting this act.
JEFFREY BROWN: And briefly there is no one other American being held who is a non-combatant, Jose Padilla. Does today’s decisions have any repercussions in his case that we know of?
ELAINE SHANNON: Well, symbolically because the court also said he has a right to some process. But we don’t have a place to ship him to. He is an American citizen. He is not a dual citizen of Saudi Arabia or another ally, and he is very, very dangerous, they’ve said that.
JEFFREY BROWN: Okay. Elaine Shannon, thank you very much.