We don't need reason to hold you, Hammoudeh told

Immigration and Customs Enforcement lawyers argue they
can hold someone six months without justifying it.

Published March 22, 2006


TAMPA - Government attorneys finally told Sameeh
Hammoudeh, Tuesday, the main reason they're keeping
him imprisoned: because they can.

This explanation was their response to a lawsuit filed
by Hammoudeh's lawyer, Stephen Bernstein, against U.S.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, Homeland Security
Secretary Michael Chertoff and others.

The suit claims that Hammoudeh's continued
incarceration in an Immigration and Customs
Enforcement wing of the Manatee County Jail is
unconstitutional because he has been acquitted in the
Sami Al-Arian case and received no jail time in a
separate tax fraud case, in which he agreed to be

But government attorneys argued in their written
response Tuesday that the overriding reason Hammoudeh
remains in jail is because ICE can legally keep him
for six months, according to a U.S. Supreme Court

In the Zadvydas case, the Supreme Court said it was
illegal to keep a deportee in jail for more than six
months without justification.

The government, relying on an 11th Circuit appellate
reading of Zadvydas, says the opposite also is true:
Hammoudeh "cannot state a claim for unreasonable
detention" until the six months is up. Hammoudeh's
argument that his continued imprisonment is
unconstitutional is "premature," says the government.

Nevertheless, government attorneys wrote that ICE
officials are moving forward to release and deport
Hammoudeh soon. They are "currently working . . . with
the Department of State to . . . return Mr. Hammoudeh
to the Palestinian territories and negotiations with
foreign governments are under way."

Government attorneys also offered an escape clause to
this statement, which said even when an alien has his
travel documents in order, he may "not be released
unless immediate removal . . . is in the public

There is a hearing on the question today, at which
there could be any of four likely outcomes for
Hammoudeh, says Miami immigration lawyer Ira Kurzban.

U.S. District Court Judge James Whittemore "could say,
based on the 11th Circuit reading of Zadvydas, that
Hammoudeh cannot ask to be released until June, when
the six-month period is up," says Kurzban.

"Or Whittemore could say that Hammoudeh should be
released immediately because he is being kept unfairly
as punishment for his acquittal in the terrorism

Or, he said, Whittemore could require bond, typically
$5,000 to $10,000, to release him. Or he could turn
the case over to an immigration judge to set bond.

In early December, a 12-person jury acquitted
Hammoudeh of all charges that he raised or transferred
money to Palestinian Islamic Jihad for violent
activities in Israel and the occupied territories. The
federal judge ordered his immediate release from jail.

But ICE officials took him into custody, saying
initially that its standard of innocence was different
from the jury's. A spokeswoman for the agency said
they believed that "Hammoudeh had ties to terrorists"
despite his acquittal.

Tuesday, on the eve of his habeas corpus hearing,
Hammoudeh, who has been incarcerated for more than
three years, issued this statement in a phone call to
the St. Petersburg Times: "The Department of Justice
and Homeland Security are working without a code of
ethics and with total disregard for the truth, public
opinion and human rights.

"I do not see a difference between their conduct and
that of any third world oppressive regime. I hope the
judge will stop this inhumane treatment."

Government attorneys declined to comment.

Meg Laughlin can be reached at 813 226-3365 or


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