The Trump administration is holding an American citizen in secret in Iraq and denying his requests for a lawyer — and may seek to coerce him to renounce his citizenship in exchange for his freedom.
As the American Civil Liberties Union wrote in a statement on Friday, the government has not even released the name of the man who holds dual citizenship in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, and if a report by The New York Times about the attempted coercion are true, “this would be a blatant effort to evade decades of Supreme Court law.”
In response to an ACLU motion filed on behalf of the unnamed man held in a secret Iraqi prison on suspicion of being “a low-level Islamic State fighter,” the American government admitted that the detainee had asked for a lawyer — and that they’d ignored his request, which violates his rights to representation as an American citizen.
“The government initially wanted to prosecute the man in a civilian court for providing material assistance to terrorism, but the F.B.I. was unable to assemble sufficient courtroom-admissible evidence against him,” the Times noted. When agents read him his Miranda rights and he learned he had the right to a lawyer, he asked for one. In response, those interrogating him “ceased their questioning.”
Following the administration’s pushback on the detainee’s request for representation, the Times noted that there is another potential “solution” from a national security perspective: “repatriation” to Saudi Arabia, where the man’s parents are from, in exchange for the renunciation of his citizenship.
American citizens can only legally renounce their citizenship voluntarily, and the last time one did so under similar circumstances was in 2004, when former Guantánamo detainee Yaser Hamadi, who was also a dual Saudi-American citizen, was repatriated by the Bush administration. Unlike the current detainee, however, Hamadi had the ability to consult with a lawyer before deciding to give up his citizenship.
Earlier in December, after the Justice Department acknowledged that they had denied the detainee’s request for counsel, Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the Washington, D.C. District Court, who heard the ACLU’s habeas corpus motion on behalf of the detainee, said the government’s power play was unsettling.
“The government could snatch any U.S. citizen off the street and hold them as an enemy combatant… for as long as it took to come to some ‘final disposition,'” she said. “That kind of unchecked power is, quite frankly, frightening.”
President Donald Trump himself in March criticized former President Barack Obama for releasing over 100 “vicious prisoners” from Guantánamo back onto the “battlefield.”
122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama Administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield. Just another terrible decision!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 7, 2017
That claim was debunked soon after when fact-checkers like Snopes revealed that of the 122 former Gitmo detainees released by the American government who were later found to be enemy combatants, 113 of them had been released during the second Bush administration.