LOS ANGELES, Calif. - The ACLU of Southern California has filed a lawsuit to force the release of an American citizen who has been imprisoned for 80 days without charge in the United Arab Emirates at the behest of the U.S. government.
The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Washington, D.C., alleges that Naji Hamdan was arrested August 29 by security agents for the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) who were acting at the behest of U.S. government officials. Because Hamdan is effectively in U.S. custody, and because U.S. officials have not charged him with any crime, they must abide by the Constitution and request his release, the lawsuit states.
"U.S. government officials cannot contract away their obligations under the Constitution by asking a foreign government to detain an American whom they couldn't detain themselves," said Ahilan Arulanantham, Director of Immigrants' Rights and National Security for the ACLU of Southern California.
Hamdan, who was born in Lebanon, lived for two decades in the Los Angeles area, where he ran an auto-parts business and helped manage the Islamic Center of Hawthorne, a mosque and community center. In 2006 he decided to relocate his family and business to the U.A.E., but when the Hamdans tried to board a flight at Los Angeles International Airport, FBI agents separated him from his wife and children, detained him, and questioned him for hours. He was eventually released and allowed to travel, but when he returned to Los Angeles in early 2007 to check on his business, he was kept under close, constant surveillance by the FBI.
This summer FBI agents traveled from Los Angeles to the U.A.E. to question Hamdan further. Three weeks later he was detained by U.A.E. security agents. Since then, both U.S. and U.A.E. officials have refused to deny that the U.S. is responsible for his detention.
"I am so scared for my husband. We are Americans, but the U.S. government won't tell us why he is arrested and when he will be released," said Hamdan's wife, Mona Mallouk, who has taken the family to Lebanon to stay with their relatives. "My husband is a good man, he would never hurt anyone. But I don't know what to tell my children about why their father is gone and when he will come back," she added.
"I don"t know what more the U.S. government needs to know about Naji, after they spoke to him so many times already," said Hamdan's brother, Hossam Hemdan,(CQ) who is also a U.S. citizen. "If you knew what a good person Naji is, you'd want every American to be like Naji. There's no way in the world he would be involved with terrorism. He's a very peaceful person."
Ahmed Azam, a friend of Hamdan's from the Islamic Center of Hawthorne, also spoke on his behalf. "I have known Naji for many years. He was a well-respected member of our community, and a good and caring family man. He would never promote violence or do anything to harm America. This is a terrible mistake," Azam said.
Arulanantham said the case is disturbing not only because Hamdan's civil rights have been violated, but because the U.S. government has a pattern of disregarding the Constitution by orchestrating the arrests of people overseas by other governments.
"Sadly, this is not the first time that the U.S. government has asked another country to arrest someone whom our government had no legal authority to detain. That the government has done this to a U.S. citizen using a country that has a record of torturing prisoners, as the U.A.E. does, is particularly frightening," Arulanantham said.