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US deports Palestinian detained indefinitely under Patriot Act

Adham Hassoun was held for more than 17 months without charge or trial by Trump administration under obscure provision of Patriot Act
A man in handcuffs in France
American Civil Liberties Union, which had taken on case, hails court ruling as victory (AFP/File photo)
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Washington

The United States has released an American resident to an undisclosed country after he was held for more than a year without charge under a never-before-used provision within the 2001 Patriot Act.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported on Wednesday that Adham Hassoun, a Palestinian national and Florida resident, was released under a "confidential court agreement... to an undisclosed country" after spending more than 17 months without charge or trial following the completion of his jail term.

A federal court ordered Hassoun's release last month in response to a habeas challenge filed by the ACLU, the Immigrants' Rights Clinic and the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center.

"Mr Hassoun was the first person to be unlawfully detained under the Patriot Act. This court victory makes clear he should be the last," Jonathan Hafetz, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU, said in a news release.

The Florida resident completed a 15-year sentence on terrorism-related charges in October 2017. Unable to deport him, the Trump administration sent him to a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) facility outside Buffalo, New York, making him the first terrorism convict it detained after his time was served. 

The administration argued it needed to detain Hassoun as he was a threat to national security. Citing a provision within the Patriot Act that allows the US to detain aliens indefinitely, it never filed criminal charges against him, nor, analysts say, produced any credible evidence to support its allegations.

'Our client's freedom is a victory for the rule of law, and reaffirms that the government does not have unreviewable powers to lock someone up without due process'

- Jonathan Hafetz, senior staff attorney at ACLU

"That the government was able to hold Mr Hassoun for over 17 months without charge or trial, on the basis of false allegations that the government itself refused to defend in court, is chilling," Hafetz said.

"Our client's freedom is a victory for the rule of law, and reaffirms that the government does not have unreviewable powers to lock someone up without due process."

Hassoun was indicted in 2004 and charged in 2007 of writing cheques to several Muslim charities that, prosecutors said, had intended to finance terror groups.

After serving 15 years with good behaviour, the Palestine Liberation Organisation told ICE in 2018 that they would accept Hassoun into the West Bank if Israel approved a border crossing authorisation, but the Israelis refused.

"These government officials have gamed the courts to drag out my detention," Hassoun told a court last month.

"Now they apparently want to drag it out for many more months in appeals while I stay in detention. All I want is for someone to recognise the truth and to set me free."

The ACLU had previously described the charges against Hassoun as a "deeply problematic" statute for material support for terrorism because the material aid he had given was a charitable donation.