A courtroom battle over the fate of an American citizen being held in Iraq as an enemy combatant took a new turn on Friday as the USA military put on hold plans to forcibly return him to Syria in the coming days.
In a hearing in the Washington federal court, Judge Tanya Chutkan asked Justice Department lawyers why there was a "rush" to release the man into a country so unsafe that the US State Department has warned against any travel and even advised potential visitors to "draft a will" first.
The Defense Department "has taken all necessary and feasible precautions to ensure the safe release of petitioner", according to a court filing.
He's been held without charge in a US military detention facility in Iraq since he surrendered on the Syrian battlefield in September.
These latest developments come after the government notified the court last night of its plans, which it said it would not carry out for at least 72 hours, to release the American citizen to Syria without any assurances of protection and without identification.
The man's lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union say the government isn't offering a safe release.
Justice Department lawyers said in a two-page court filing that releasing the man in Syria was "consistent with the traditional military practice" by U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, and "with the Department's obligation under the law of war".
Burnham said the locations the government proposed for releasing the man are safer than where he was picked up.
The Pentagon offered the prisoner the choice of being in an unspecified Syrian town in or outside a refugee camp there. This is a disgraceful way to treat an American citizen.
The US military has held "John Doe" since September.
In court documents, the United States military says the suspected fighter was picked up by the SDF at a "screening point" where the militia inspects those fleeing to check that no IS fighters are attempting escape by blending in with civilians. "Our fight for our client's right to due process has also become a fight for his right to life", Hafetz added.
Prosecutors have alleged that "by his own admission", the man joined Islamic State in 2014, attended a training camp "and worked for and provided support to" the group until the USA -led military offensive in Iraq and Syria forced him to flee.
He claimed that he was a freelance journalist who was arrested and agreed to work for ISIS to try to gain release, according to court records. At the moment we can say that it was defeated.
Federal Bureau of Investigation agents were unable to gather enough evidence to bring charges against him, so US officials first considered sending him to Saudi Arabia, where he also holds citizenship, according to a December New York Times report. The judge sided with the ACLU, and an appeals court upheld the decision. The detainee said he had press credentials to do freelance writing about the conflict in Syria, though the Federal Bureau of Investigation hasn't found any published articles or blogs he wrote.
Iraq has launched an airstrike on an Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) target inside neighboring Syria on Thursday, the military said.