A federal judge has ordered the Trump administration to give the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) access to an American suspected of fighting for Islamic State and held in secret U.S. military detention in Iraq for more than three months.
In a ruling issued late on Saturday, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan denied a government request to dismiss an ACLU challenge to the unidentified man's detention, rejecting the claim that the organization has no standing in the matter.
Chutkan ruled that the Defense Department should provide the ACLU with "temporary, immediate and unmonitored access" to the man to determine if he wants the organization to pursue a habeas corpus petition on his behalf and provide him with legal advice.
Using such a petition, a person can ask a court to review the legality of their detention.
The man surrendered in mid-September to U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters pursuing an offensive against Islamic State’s former stronghold of Raqqa, in northeaster Syria. He was turned over to the U.S. military, which classified him as an "enemy combatant," and transferred him to a secret location in Iraq, according to Chutkan's ruling.
Aside from two visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the detainee has had contact only with U.S. government officials, according to the ruling.
The judge pointed out that in a Nov. 30 brief, the Defense Department disclosed that in an interview with FBI agents, the detainee said that he felt that he wanted an attorney present.
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A billboard (L) with Koranic verses is seen in the historic city of Palmyra, in Homs Governorate, Syria April 1, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "PALMYRA SANADIKI" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
An Islamic State flag hangs on the wall of an abandoned building in Tel Hamis in Hasaka countryside after the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) took control of the area March 1, 2015. Kurdish forces dealt a blow to Islamic State by capturing Tel Hamis, an important town, on Friday in the latest stage of a powerful offensive in northeast Syria, a Kurdish militia spokesman said. The capture of Tel Hamis was announced by the Kurdish YPG militia and confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the country's civil war. REUTERS/Rodi Said (SYRIA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT)
Tripods and a projector are pictured inside an ancient Hammam that was used by Islamic State militants as a media centre in Manbij, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, August 16, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said
A view shows part of a media centre that belonged to Islamic State militants inside an ancient Hammam in Manbij, Aleppo Governorate, Syria, August 16, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said
A tunnel used by Islamic State militants is seen in the town of Sinjar, Iraq December 1, 2015. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
A view shows car parts, which according to Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters were used by Islamic State militants to prepare car bombs, at a workshop in Manbij, Aleppo Governorate, Syria, August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said
Iraqi soldiers inspect a vehicle used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, in Mosul, Iraq, January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
A captured Islamic State tank and shells are seen at the Iraqi army base in Qaraqosh, east of Mosul, Iraq November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Rocket-propelled grenades left behind by Islamic State militants are seen at a school, following clashes in Falluja, Iraq, June 25, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Explosives left behind by Islamic State militants are seen at a school, following clashes in Falluja, Iraq, June 25, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
A member of Iraqi security forces takes a selfie at a building that was used by Islamic State militants in Hammam al-Ali, south of Mosul, Iraq November 7, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
A book belonging to Islamic State militants is seen in Falluja after government forces recaptured the city from Islamic State militants, Iraq, June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
An Iraqi officer displays Russian passports, which he says belong to Islamic State fighters, in Mosul, Iraq, January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
A man who fled the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul shows his marriage certificate issued by the Islamic State militants at temporary court at Khazer camp in Iraq, January 18, 2017. Picture taken January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad
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A Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter inspects a room, which according to the SDF was used by Islamic State militants to prepare explosives, in Manbij, Aleppo Governorate, Syria, August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said
U.S. Special Operations Forces members inspect a drone used by Islamic State militants to drop explosives on Iraqi forces, in Mosul, Iraq, January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
A member of Iraqi security forces inspects a building that was used as a prison by Islamic State militants in Hammam al-Ali, south of Mosul, during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq November 7, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
A mass grave for Islamic State militants are seen in Falluja, Iraq, September 4, 2016. REUTERS/Khalid al Mousily
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Chutkan dismissed as "disingenuous at best" a Pentagon argument that the ACLU has no standing in the case because it has been unable to confer or meet with the detainee, and cannot prove that detainee wants the group to pursue a habeas corpus petition on his behalf.
The Defense Department is "the sole impediment" to the ACLU's access to the detainee, the judge said.
She also called "remarkable and troubling" the Pentagon’s contention that the detainee's request for a lawyer should be ignored until it decides what to do with him and when he should be given access to an attorney.
Chutkan barred the Defense Department from transferring the detainee to another location before the ACLU can interview him and then inform the court of his wishes.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)