US plan to release alleged American ISIS fighter in Syria draws ACLU legal challenge

The Trump administration’s plan to release a suspected American ISIS fighter caught in Syria back to Syria is facing a legal challenge from a civil rights group that decried the move as the “death sentence.”

An unidentified man, who holds a dual Saudi-U.S. citizenship, has been held in Iraq by the U.S. military for about nine months. The U.S. government’s attempt to transfer the American into Iraq or Saudi Arabia failed in April after a U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan blocked the release. Last month, a federal appeals court panel upheld the ruling.

The Pentagon is now seeking to release the detained American near where he was captured by Syrian Democratic Forces and turned over to the U.S. military, according to a declaration filed in U.S. District Court in Washington.

In this Feb. 7, 2018, photo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House, in Washington. Mattis says he confirmed that the nearly 850 immigrants currently serving in the military or waiting to start training won’t face deportation despite the ongoing federal wrangling over the fate of people who came to America illegally as children. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Secretary of Defense James Mattis was named in the ACLU's lawsuit against the Pentagon's plan to release the American citizen in Syria.  (AP)

“Upon his release, the Petitioner will be given $4,210 in cash, the same amount he had in his possession when was captured,” the Pentagon official, Mark Mitchell, said in the documents, Politico reported.

“He will also be provided a new cellular phone (in its original sealed packaging), which he can activate and use if he desires to do so. He will be provided sufficient food and water to last for several days,” he added.

The official said the planned release is considered to be “safe” and that it complied with “traditional military practice.”

But the plan is facing a legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which represents the unnamed man. The group opposes his release into Syria and sued Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the Department of Defense.

“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,” Jonathan Hafetz, an ACLU attorney, said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The Trump administration has effectively admitted it has no reason to detain our client and he doesn’t pose a threat. But instead of offering a safe release, they want to dump an American citizen onto the side of a road in a war-torn country without protection or identification,” the group added.

The release of the man into the war-ravaged country should happen this week, but the ACLU lawsuit is expected to delay the action. The alleged ISIS fighter reportedly declined the two release options – either be in a town or near an Internally Displaced Person camp.

The unnamed man denies he went to Syria to fight for ISIS and says he wanted to document the violence there.

Lukas Mikelionis is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @LukasMikelionis.