NORFOLK, Va. -- An American citizen captured on an Afghanistan battlefield nearly three years ago says in court papers that he never took up arms against the United States and that he had been trying to get out of the country at the time.
The papers filed yesterday shed new light on the case of Yaser Esam Hamdi, who is at the center of a fight with the Bush administration over whether the government can hold possible terrorists for as long as necessary without charges or trial.
Earlier this month, lawyers for the government and for Hamdi informed a federal judge that they have been negotiating his release since the US Supreme Court said such enemy combatants could not be indefinitely detained without legal rights.
The papers bolster Hamdi's case for release and set up a hearing in federal court Monday. US District Judge Robert G. Doumar has ordered the government to bring Hamdi to his courtroom then, unless an agreement to release him has been reached. Hamdi, who has never been charged, is in solitary confinement in a military jail in South Carolina.
Born in Louisiana in 1980 to Saudi parents, Hamdi grew up in Saudi Arabia. The papers said Hamdi traveled to Afghanistan from Saudi Arabia in July 2001, about three months before the United States went to war with the Taliban for harboring members of the terrorist organization responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.
Hamdi "was never engaged in, nor did he intend to engage in, an armed conflict against the United States in Afghanistan or anywhere else," according to the papers.
The papers did not say why Hamdi went to Afghanistan. Family members have said he was on a humanitarian mission, according to news accounts.
Within days after the attacks, Hamdi tried to return to Saudi Arabia, according to the court filing.
But he could not get out of Afghanistan because the Northern Alliance, which opposed the Taliban, had parts of the country under siege and prevented people not affiliated with the alliance from traveling freely, the papers said.
Hamdi was detained around Dec. 1, 2001, by the Northern Alliance, which handed him over to US military forces, the papers said.