NORFOLK, Va. – After three years in custody, Yaser Esam Hamdi (search) finally got to call his parents and watch some television. But he's still waiting to go home.
Hamdi, a U.S. citizen captured on an Afghanistan battlefield, wants to return to Saudi Arabia, where he grew up, and Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) says he expects U.S. and Saudi authorities will be able to resolve differences to make that happen.
U.S. officials said there was a minor snag in discussions with Saudi authorities over the release of Hamdi, who has been detained since late 2001 as an enemy combatant.
Powell told reporters in Washington that U.S. immigration and other officials were conferring with the Saudis.
"I'm not in a position to explain the Saudi position to you right now," Powell said. "But we're working and I think we'll eventually work our way through it."
Under an agreement negotiated with federal officials, the United States was to have transported Hamdi to Saudi Arabia by Thursday. Hamdi, 24, was born in Louisiana to Saudi parents.
If Hamdi could not be transported by Thursday "for reasons beyond the control of the government," the United States would not be considered in breach of the agreement, according to the document filed in federal court in Norfolk. But the government must send Hamdi to Saudi Arabia "as soon thereafter as it is within the power of the United States to do so," the agreement said.
In a telephone interview, federal public defender Frank Dunham Jr.said he was not told why there was a delay. He said he believes the earliest Hamdi now could travel is Sunday.
While Hamdi waits for his flight, "all kinds of things have been done to make life more pleasant for him," Dunham said.
Hamdi was permitted to call his mother and father in Saudi Arabia for the first time Thursday while still being held at a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., Dunham said. He was held in the Navy brig in Norfolk before being transferred to South Carolina.
"He's doing a lot better now that he can talk to his folks for the first time in three years. How would you feel if you couldn't talk to your parents for three years?" Dunham said. "His spirits were excellent, greatly improved with the way he's been treated."
Hamdi also was allowed to call Dunham for the first time, although the attorney declined to say what they discussed.
And Hamdi now is wearing civilian clothes and may watch television, "which before was a no-no," Dunham said.
Hamdi's case led to a Supreme Court decision this summer limiting President Bush's powers to indefinitely hold wartime combatants (search) without trial or charges.
Under terms of the agreement, made public Monday, Hamdi would not be charged with any crime. Hamdi also would not be allowed to leave Saudi Arabia for five years and could not return to the United States for a decade, and even then would need special permission.
He also was required to give up his U.S. citizenship and renounce terrorism.
The Saudi government has called the deal "unenforceable" because it was not a party to it and said Hamdi should be set free without conditions because he never broke a law.
The Defense Department said in a statement Thursday that for security reasons it would not comment on the movement of any detainee, including Hamdi, until after the transfer was completed.