The Pentagon plans to release a Saudi American dual citizen whom it accused of being a member of Islamic State at an undisclosed location in Syria, a move that his US lawyers called "a death warrant".
The government spent months fighting in court against giving him legal representation, and has never charged him or offered evidence that he was a fighter for IS.
When asked about the announcement, ACLU attorney Jonathan Hafetz condemned the government's plan, calling it a "death warrant".
In April, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan barred the government from ending the man's U.S. custody by transferring him, also against his will, to the custody of a third country that had agreed to accept him and formally confirmed he would not face torture.
The court agreed with the ACLU's argument that that would violate the U.S. constitutional rights of the man, who was born in the United States to a Saudi family.
The official said the planned release is considered to be "safe" and that it complied with "traditional military practice". We do not think it at all likely that this new issue will be resolved before then, and so the question surely will arise: Should there be yet another delay in the district court's resolution of the merits of Doe's detention, in order to see how this latest twist plays out? We stand ready to talk.
According to the laws of war, Hafetz argued, "you can't release an alleged enemy prisoner into a place that is unsafe".
The U.S. military in Iraq has held the unidentified man as a suspected Islamic State fighter since he was turned over to American forces in September after he was captured at a rebel Syrian Democratic Forces checkpoint in Syria and declared his U.S. citizenship.
Iraqi military forces launched air strikes on Islamic state in Syria. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents were unable to gather enough evidence to bring charges against him, so USA officials first considered sending him to Saudi Arabia, where he also holds citizenship, according to a December New York Times report.
The prisoner "did not identify a preference between the two locations and would not agree to the release" under those conditions, the Justice Department noted, adding that the Pentagon had made a decision to discharge him in the town "no sooner than 72 hours hence".
The Trump administration notified Chutkan on Wednesday that it would release the man, a dual American-Saudi citizen who has not been identified publicly by name, in Syria in "no sooner than 72 hours".
The move comes as a federal judge in DC mulled an ACLU challenge to the man's detention, which had drawn unprecedented judicial scrutiny to the US's legal underpinning for the war on ISIS. "But, instead of offering a safe release, they want to dump an American citizen onto the side of the road in a war-torn country without any assurances of protection and no identification", Hafetz said.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis was named in the ACLU's lawsuit against the Pentagon's plan to release the American citizen in Syria.