American-born prisoner could be sent to Saudi Arabia, Rumsfeld says

Monday, April 8th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ American-born prisoner Yasser Esam Hamdi could be held in military custody, tried in federal court or sent back to Saudi Arabia, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Monday.

Hamdi, 22, is being held at the Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia. Authorities transferred him there on Friday from the detention center at the Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for foreign prisoners from the anti-terrorism war.

Rumsfeld said Hamdi _ who was born in Baton Rouge, La., to Saudi Arabian parents in 1979 _ probably has dual U.S. and Saudi citizenship. Hamdi's parents returned to Saudi Arabia with him when Hamdi was a small child.

Rumsfeld said government lawyers recommended that Hamdi be transferred from the base in Cuba to the United States. He said Hamdi's stop at Dulles International Airport outside Washington also was at lawyers' recommendation _ presumably to give the government the option of trying Hamdi in an Alexandria, Va., federal court.

``It wasn't to save money on gas,'' Rumsfeld said of the Dulles stop.

At a Pentagon news conference, Rumsfeld gave the first official explanation of the government's options for handling Hamdi.

``I think he'll be held here, and at some point the lawyers will decide what they want to do with him,'' Rumsfeld said.

``And they'll either keep him and try to get information from him, or they'll send him back home because he's not interesting, or they'll try him under one of the alternative opportunities we have: The Uniform Code of Military Justice, the criminal justice system or a military commission.''

Military commissions are the special tribunals that President Bush has allowed to be set up to try terrorism suspects. Bush's order says that American citizens cannot be tried by the commissions, however.

Hamdi was one of dozens of suspected Taliban and al-Qaida fighters captured after a November prison uprising at the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Pentagon officials have said the Justice Department only recently found a birth certificate backing up Hamdi's claim to have been born in Louisiana.

Another American captured from that prison, John Walker Lindh, is in federal custody in northern Virginia not far from the Pentagon. Lindh is charged with conspiring to kill Americans and other counts related to his membership in the Taliban.

No civilian criminal charges have been brought against Hamdi.