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The Trump Administration is Unlawfully Detaining a U.S. Resident Without Charge

Police officer viewing multiple monitors
We’re fighting in court to secure his freedom.
Police officer viewing multiple monitors
Charlie Hogle,
Staff Attorney,
ACLU National Security Project
Courteney Leinonen,
Legal Assistant, National Security Project,
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November 25, 2019

Adham Hassoun completed his criminal sentence and was set to be released from prison almost three years ago. But the government — now claiming unprecedented and unconstitutional powers under the USA Patriot Act — continues to hold Adham in detention, indefinitely and without charge.

We’re in court to secure his freedom.

Adham has called the United States home for 30 years. Born in Lebanon to Palestinian refugees, Adham and his family — like many other refugees — suffered violence at the hands of various armed factions. In search of peace, Adham moved to the United States in 1989, joining many other members of his family. He earned a degree in computer science, married, and had three children.

In 2007, the government charged Adham with crimes related to his support for Muslims suffering and defending themselves in military conflicts abroad in the 1990s. These “material support” charges were filed under a federal statute that has been used aggressively by the U.S. government — often improperly — to criminalize First Amendment protected speech and other non-violent acts the government deems connected to terrorism.

Upon conviction, the government asked the court to put Adham in prison for life, but the judge presiding over the trial said “no.” She pointed out that Adham posed no threat to anyone in the United States or elsewhere, and that the crimes for which Adham was convicted involved “no violent acts, had no identifiable victims, and were never directed against the United States or Americans.” Instead, she determined, they were motivated by Adham’s interest in “the plight of Muslims throughout the world,” and his “firsthand” knowledge of “what happened to a country when internal politics turned violent.”

Adham completed his 15-year sentence, reduced by two years for good behavior, in October 2017. By law, he should be a free man. But the government refuses to release him. Instead, it has cited one flawed executive power after the other in order to deny our client his constitutional rights.

The government first claimed it could keep Adham locked up under an immigration statute that allows the government to detain immigrants for no more than six months pending their removal from the United States. But, as the child of Palestinian refugees, Adham is not a citizen of any country, and had no country to which he could immediately go to. 

Then, after the six months ran out and a federal judge again ordered Adham’s release, the government declared Adham a national security threat and invoked a federal immigration regulation — one that has been used just once before — to keep Adham locked up without any charges.

Now, after the ACLU, the Clinical Legal Education program of the University at Buffalo School of Law, and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a habeas challenge on Adham’s behalf, the government doubled down on untested detention authorities, asserting a never-before-used provision under the USA Patriot Act to keep him in detention.

Let’s be clear: The government’s repeated and now unprecedented efforts to keep our client in prison indefinitely and without charge are unconstitutional.

The Constitution forbids the government from imposing life sentences by fiat, much less by invoking a vague, easily manipulated, and fear-inducing term like “national security.” If the government believes Adham has committed a crime, it should charge him and allow him to mount a defense in court. It cannot, however, assert unlawful and flawed powers to make an end run around his constitutional rights.

The Patriot Act has been used repeatedly by the government in an attempt to justify rights-violating surveillance and other abuses, but never before has the government invoked it to hold someone in direct violation of the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of a due process.

As the ACLU and University of Buffalo Law Clinic made clear in court last week, the fundamental flaws in these detention authorities mean that the court should order Adham’s immediate release. At the very least, the court should order the government to prove its case and hold a hearing in which Adham can put the government’s allegations to the test. The Constitution does not permit any less.

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