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U.S. citizen held in Iraq for a year without trial

Reuters | April 1 2005

BAGHDAD/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military said on Friday it has held since last year an American citizen without chargesin Iraq as a suspected top aide to militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, drawing condemnation from civil rights activists.

The man, who U.S. officials at the Pentagon and in Iraq refused to identify by name, possessed dual U.S.-Jordanian citizenship, themilitary said.

The man was not born in the United States, but became a naturalized U.S. citizen and lived in "a couple of different cities" duringabout 20 years in America, one official said.

Thought to be the first U.S. citizen caught as a suspected participant in Iraq's two-year-old insurgency, he was seized in a raid "latelast year" on a Baghdad home where weapons and bomb-making material was found, the military said.

Air Force Lt. Col. John Skinner, a Pentagon spokesman, said the man, deemed an enemy combatant, had personal ties to Zarqawiand was believed to have served as his personal emissary in several Iraqi cities. The man has not been allowed to have a lawyer,Skinner said.

"I think it's extremely high on the outrageous scale. This is a direct violation of a Supreme Court decision," said lawyer RachelMeeropol of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights.

The justices ruled last June that the government cannot hold an American citizen indefinitely in a U.S. military jail without providing achance to contest the case against him.

"The Supreme Court decided that an alleged enemy combatant who is an American citizen has the right to challenge the factual basisfor his detention, and has the right to do that through counsel. This man has clearly been denied both opportunities," Meeropol said.

'RULE OF LAW'

"If they're going to hold him, he should be charged," Meeropol added. "This is an administration that simply does not seem concernedwith following the rule of law."

Skinner said the man attended a three-officer military tribunal's hearing to review the facts surrounding his capture and interviewwitnesses, and had the opportunity to hear the basis on which he was detained and make a statement.

Skinner said the panel determined he did not merit for prisoner of war status and that he was an enemy combatant.

The man is being held at one of the three permanent U.S. prisons in Iraq, believed to be the Camp Cropper facility for "high-value"detainees at Baghdad International Airport.

Skinner said International Committee of the Red Cross representatives have had access to him.

A U.S. official said the Bush administration was weighing three main options: turning him over to the Iraqi government for trial; turninghim over to the Justice Department for trial in the United States; or simply continuing his detention.

Skinner said information suggested the man provided aid to Zarqawi's network including: facilitating links to other terrorist groups;aiding in the movement of foreign fighters into Iraq; aiding in the transfer of funds to support Iraq-based terrorist operations; and aiding inthe planning and execution of kidnappings in Iraq.

Zarqawi, al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, is the most-wanted man in the country. His group has claimed responsibility for many of the worstsuicide attacks, as well as the beheading of several foreigners.

The Bush administration has declared a small number of U.S. citizens enemy combatants eligible for indefinite detention withoutcharges. For example, Yaser Esam Hamdi, whose case led to last year's ruling, was captured in 2001 in Afghanistan and accused ofbeing a Taliban soldier. After the ruling, the government released Hamdi to Saudi Arabia on condition that he give up U.S. citizenship.