Palestinian detainee Abdel Jabbar Hamdan freed at last

Shortly after 9:30pm on July 31, after more than two years of detention, Muslim community leader Abdel Jabbar Hamdan walked out of the Terminal Island federal detention center in San Pedro, California, and returned to his Buena Park home with his wife and six US-born children.

Hamdan’s release came after a day of last-ditch legal efforts by the government to keep him detained. On July 27, and again on July 28 in response to a government challenge, US District Judge Terry J. Hatter, Jr. had ordered Hamdan released “forthwith.” But Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials claimed they could continue holding Hamdan because government lawyers in Washington planned to file an emergency request to block Hatter’s order. That request was filed late on July 31 with the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which quickly rejected it in a three-sentence ruling, upholding Hatter’s order and confirming that Hamdan should be released “forthwith.”

Earlier in the day, Hatter had ordered Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to release Hamdan by 5 PM on July 31 or appear in his Los Angeles courtroom at 11 AM on Aug. 1 “to show cause, if you have any, why you should not be held in contempt.” American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney Ranjana Natarajan said government lawyers assured her they plan no further appeals.

Hamdan is Palestinian; he was born in a refugee camp in the West Bank when it was under Jordanian control. He was arrested by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on July 28, 2004; earlier he had worked as a fundraiser for the Holy Land Foundation, an Islamic charity shut down by US officials in December 2001 for allegedly raising money for Hamas, a Palestinian organization the US has designated as terrorist. Hamdan was not charged with any crimes but was ordered deported for overstaying a student visa and was held by ICE without bond as an alleged national security threat.

In its July 31 brief, the government claimed that Hamdan’s release could have “adverse foreign policy ramifications” because it could create “the perception that the US cannot keep alien fundraisers detained pending removal.” Hamdan’s lawyers had anticipated the government’s move and filed a response before seeing its brief, noting that Holy Land Foundation officials charged with terrorism-related crimes were released on their own recognizance to await trial, and were not deemed dangers to national security.

In a statement, ICE said Hamdan would have to comply with an electronic monitoring program requiring him to be at home from 10 PM to 6 AM daily and stay within a 50-mile radius of his home. DHS and the Department of Justice “will continue the vigorous effort to remove” Hamdan from the US, the statement said. (Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register, Aug. 1) On Aug. 1, Hamdan declined to answer whether he was wearing an electronic monitor and steered clear of making controversial statements on his attorney’s advice. (LAT, Aug. 2)

From Immigration News Briefs, Aug. 5

See our last post on the Hamdan case.

  1. And in a similar case…
    After spending nearly five years detained in the US for overstaying his visa, Algerian citizen Benamar Benatta was freed July 20 following negotiations between his attorneys and the US and Canadian governments. Benatta was allowed to cross the border into Canada, where officials questioned him and released him. Two days earlier, July 18, the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit confirmed that Canada had issued Benatta a temporary resident permit “for the purpose of allowing [him] to enter into Canada to pursue a claim for refugee status in that country.”

    Benatta, an Algerian air force lieutenant, came to the US in 2000 for military training and overstayed his six-month visa. He arrived at the Peace Bridge near Buffalo seeking political asylum in Canada on Sept. 5, 2001. Canadian officials detained him, then after the Sept. 11 terror attacks turned him over to the US government, which held him in solitary confinement while investigating him. In November 2001 the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) formally concluded that Benatta had no connection to terrorism. But Benatta was detained while he sought asylum in the US. His asylum case was rejected, and at one point he was offered release on a $25,000 bond but was unable to pay. Later, when his attorneys sought his release on bond, the government declined. (Washington Post, July 21)

    From Immigration News Briefs, July 30