The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit today in Washington, D.C. against top U.S. officials demanding the release of a legal permanent resident of the United States who is in custody in a U.S.military jail in Iraq after being declared innocent by a military court eight weeks ago.
"Even after Numan was declared innocent by a military court, he still sits in prison," said Mark D. Rosenbaum, ACLU of Southern California legal director. "The government is turning justice on its head by keeping an innocent man in jail. Left uncorrected, our system becomes one where an individual is guilty even after proven innocent."
Numan Adnan Al Kaby, a long-term legal resident of the United States who escaped the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War, returned to Iraq after Hussein’s capture to reunite with his family and found a job aiding an American contractor. Al Kaby, who is an applicant for U.S. citizenship and a Shiite originally from Iraq, was arrested by the U.S. military in April and declared innocent by a military court July 4, but still remains in custody without contact with his family or access to a lawyer. Al Kaby was originally arrested after calling in sick the same day his construction site received mortar fire, but the military court determined he was not involved in the incident.
"I don’t know where my cousin is or why he’s being held. He is innocent, but he’s still in jail and can’t speak with our family," said Haider Al Saedy, Al Kaby’s first cousin with whom he lived in Michigan. "You don’t understand the relief we felt when Saddam was captured. My cousin supported the U.S. effort to get rid of Saddam and when he was gone he went back to see his family. He would never hurt anyone."
The lawsuit was filed in federal district court by Al Saedy, and Cyrus Kar, an American who became friends with Al Kaby while the two were detained in neighboring cells for more than a month at the Camp Cropper detention facility in Iraq. Kar, a U.S. Navy veteran in Iraq working on a documentary film, was released after the ACLU of Southern California filed a lawsuit that made national headlines. The two were allowed to spend time together because, according to detention guards, both had been cleared of all suspicion.
"This reckless arrest policy ultimately aids the insurgencies in Iraq," said Kar, who alerted the ACLU to Al Kaby’s detention upon returning to his home in Los Angeles. "I understand our soldiers need to take all precautions in a war zone, but once a person is found innocent, we need to do what is right."
After separate hearings on July 4, both men received identical letters from the military declaring them "innocent civilians." Kar read Al Kaby’s letter to him. Six days after the court declared them innocent, Kar was released but Al Kaby still remains in U.S. custody.
After growing up in Iraq, Al Kaby was forced to escape the country after refusing to continue to serve in Saddam Hussein’s army in 1991. He fled to a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia where he spent more than three years before receiving political asylum in the United States. In the U.S. Al Kaby worked first in Salt Lake City at an airport shop before reuniting with his cousin, Al Saedy, who had spent seven years in the same Saudi Arabian refugee camp. The two moved to Michigan where they opened restaurants.
"The steps we are taking today are a last resort," ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary Moss said. "It is shocking to know that a lawful permanent resident of the United States can be held indefinitely in solitary confinement although a military tribunal has ruled that person innocent of any wrongdoing."
The lawsuit seeks Al Kaby’s immediate release. More than 10,000 people are being held in military detention facilities in Iraq. Army officials estimate that 25 percent are innocent.
Attorneys in the case are international law specialist and former Chair of Amnesty International USA Paul Hoffman, Duke law professor Erwin Chemerinsky; Rosenbaum, Ranjana Natarajan and Ahilan Arulanantham of the ACLUof Southern California; Legal Director Steven Shapiro and Ben Wizner of the national ACLU; Lucas Guttentag and Lee Gelernt of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project; and Art Spitzer of the ACLU of the National Capital Area; and Moss and Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg of the ACLU of Michigan.