The Trump administration has released the anonymous U.S.-Saudi dual national and alleged ISIS fighter at the heart of the Doe v. Mattis case to a third country, reported to be Bahrain, U.S. officials announced on Monday, October 29. The man’s release comes thirteen months after he was captured by Kurdish military forces in Syria, and turned over to the American military. It also brings an end to a bitter and lengthy court battle that has raised novel substantive and procedural questions about the scope of the executive’s powers in wartime.
The suspect, a “John Doe,” resided in the custody of the U.S. military in Iraq for over a year. U.S. forces initially detained him as an enemy combatant, based on his own declaration that he was an ISIL member, coupled with corroborating evidence. While Doe’s real name and identity have been kept confidential throughout the case, the New York Times identified him on October 29 as Abdulrahman Ahmad Alsheikh, after reviewing an unredacted version of an Islamic State intake form and other public records.
Initially, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on Alsheikh’s behalf in district court. The petition asked that the district court order the government to either charge Doe with a federal crime in a federal court, or to release him, sparking a lengthy court battle and appeals process that seemed headed to the Supreme Court.
At the heart of Doe v. Mattis was a key merits-based question as well as a procedural one. The merits-based question, litigated at the district level, concerned whether the president’s Article II authority and/or the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMFs) apply to the Islamic State. The procedural question, which made its way to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, concerned the U.S. government’s authority to forcibly transfer Doe to another country (presumed to be Saudi Arabia) while hos habeas petition remains pending.
The release of Alsheikh is the result of a confidential settlement agreement between Alheikh’s counsel from the ACLU and the Trump administration. In a blog post published on the ACLU Blog, Senior Staff Attorney Jonathan Hafetz outlined the agreement as a win for due process rights. “This case demonstrates that the president cannot take away an American’s liberty without due process, showing the continuing importance of judicial review,” Hafetz wrote. “[T]he government cannot render citizens to another country against their will — especially to places where they face further detention or risk to personal safety.”
According to the New York Times, the State Department has canceled Alsheikh’s American passport, but has not revoked his American citizenship.
See the IELR’s prior coverage on the Doe v. Mattis case here.