U.S. Resident Held in Iraq Is Freed
More than two months after authorities cleared him of suspicion in a mortar attack on a United States base in Baghdad, an Iraqi man was released Tuesday from military custody, just days before government lawyers were due in court to answer questions about his captivity.
Tuesday’s release of Numan Adnan Al-Kaby, a longtime lawful U.S. resident, from a military prison outside Baghdad marked the second time in two months that authorities freed a captive in Iraq within a week of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filing a federal lawsuit in Washington.
Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the ACLU’s Southern California chapter, said he was pleased that Al-Kaby had been released but disturbed that the prisoner had been held two months after a military review board first declared him an “innocent civilian.”
“The U.S. government does not want to appear in front of a federal judge and answer questions about their indefensible detention policies in Iraq. This is a military and executive scandal,” said Rosenbaum, who believes that more people are being held illegally by the U.S. military in Iraq.
A Pentagon spokesman, speaking on condition he not be identified, said, “I certainly understand the frustration people would feel by what they perceive is a delay, but it’s a delay out of necessity, making sure that we are not releasing someone who is a threat to the security of Iraq or the Iraqi people.”
Al-Kaby, 38, was originally taken into custody in April after calling in sick the day of a mortar attack on the base where he was doing construction work. He strenuously denied any advance knowledge of the attack, and was cleared by a military review board on July 4, but not released.
On Aug. 31, the ACLU filed suit after learning of Al-Kaby’s situation from Los Angeles filmmaker Cyrus Kar, who also was freed from a Baghdad prison with the ACLU’s intervention. The Times ran a story on Al-Kaby’s detention the same day.
The suit was due to be heard Thursday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. But late Friday afternoon, Justice Department attorneys in Washington, led by Assistant Atty. Gen. Peter D. Keisler, filed papers seeking a 23-day delay to respond to the ACLU’s suit.
The Justice Department did not mention that Al-Kaby had been cleared July 4, but said the ACLU suit raised “novel factual and legal questions.”
In a motion filed Sunday, the ACLU issued a sharp retort: “The only truly novel question here is chilling ... whether a determination of innocence of a lawful permanent resident by a military tribunal may be arbitrarily voided or ignored such that liberty becomes illusory.”
On Tuesday, Col. James Coyne, staff judge advocate for the multinational force in Iraq, filed a declaration saying the military had held Al-Kaby past July 4 based on “new factual information.” He did not provide details.
However, Coyne said that on Friday -- just two days after the ACLU filed suit -- the military had conducted another review and again recommended that the captive be freed.
The ACLU suit asserted that Al-Kaby was being held in violation of the U.S. Constitution, the Geneva Convention and international law.
As part of the suit, friends and relatives filed declarations stating that Al-Kaby was a Shiite whose family had long been opposed to the Sunni regime of Saddam Hussein. He fled Iraq in 1991 following the first Gulf War, and spent three years in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia before coming to the U.S. and gaining political asylum.
He settled in Kalamazoo, Mich., where he opened a small restaurant with his cousin Haider Al-Saedy.
In 2003, both men applied for U.S. citizenship. Al-Kaby provided assistance to the FBI “to assist the government in the U.S. invasion of Iraq and even took a polygraph test to prove that the information he gave was truthful,” the ACLU suit said.
After U.S. forces toppled Hussein, Al-Kaby decided to return to his native land to rejoin family members.
The day of the mortar attack, Al-Kaby had taken the day off so he could take his brother to buy a car in Baghdad, the ACLU contended.
Kar met Al-Kaby while both were incarcerated at Camp Cropper in Baghdad -- where Saddam Hussein also is being held. Kar was released July 10 after being held captive in Iraq for 55 days.
In a court declaration last week, Kar said both he and Al-Kaby had received identical letters from the U.S. military declaring that each man was an “innocent civilian.”
ACLU attorney Ranjana Natarajan said that if the government “had new information on Al-Kaby, it did not bother to tell the court what it was,” in papers filed last week.
Her colleague Rosenbaum added, “The so-called new evidence is a transparent fabrication, intended to provide a fig leaf to cover five months of solitary confinement of an innocent man. This is an administration whose trademark is incompetence and indifference to human suffering.”