RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – A Saudi-American released after being held by the U.S. military for three years in solitary confinement without charge said in an interview broadcast Thursday that he cooperated with his jailers, calling himself "an innocent man."
Yaser Esam Hamdi (search), captured in Afghanistan in late 2001 during the U.S. battle against the Taliban (search) and classified as an "enemy combatant," returned to Saudi Arabia on Monday after negotiating a deal: his freedom in exchange for renouncing his U.S. citizenship and agreeing to live in Saudi Arabia for five years.
"I believe that I'm not an enemy combatant, and I am an innocent person, and I was proving that all the time for them," Hamdi told CNN. "I answered all the questions that they asked me very seriously ... and I was cooperative, and I give them all the details."
"To be locked down, then be given your freedom, you really know what the meaning of freedom (is)," he added. "They take it away from you, and they give it to you back, you feel it, and it's something real different."
Hamdi's case led to a U.S. Supreme Court (search) decision limiting the president's powers to hold enemy combatants indefinitely.
The 550 prisoners held at the U.S military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are classified as enemy combatants, a status that affords fewer legal protections than prisoners of war. About 60 prisoners are contesting their detentions in federal courts, but most have never seen a lawyer. Only four have been charged.
The Supreme Court ruled in June that Hamdi and other detainees classified as enemy combatants could not be held indefinitely without charge. That led to negotiations for Hamdi's release.
"The Supreme Court, the United States, the highest justice level in the United States, they ruled my favor, which give us the proof that I am an innocent man," Hamdi said.
The deal Hamdi struck also requires that he not sue the U.S. government over his detention, that he renounce terrorism and never travel to Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Pakistan or Syria.
Since arriving in Saudi Arabia, Hamdi has been visiting with his family in the eastern industrial town of al-Jubail.
"It feels great. It feels outstanding. And I can't really describe my feelings, especially after meeting with my parents," he said.
Hamdi was born in Louisiana in 1980 to Saudi parents and raised in Saudi Arabia. He was captured on a battlefield in Afghanistan, but contends he never fought against the United States. He says he was trying to leave Afghanistan when he was captured.
Hamdi was taken to the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay (search), and then to a Navy brig in Norfolk, Va., when officials realized he was a U.S. citizen. He was later moved to a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. He spent his captivity in solitary confinement.