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Hamdi hearing canceled as judge awaits ruling

Hamdi, center, was captured in Afghanistan and declared an
Hamdi, center, was captured in Afghanistan and declared an "enemy combatant."  

From Brad Wright
CNN Producer

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Amid continuing confusion sparked by the government's classification of detainee Yaser Esam Hamdi, a U.S. citizen, as an "enemy combatant," a district judge Wednesday canceled a scheduled hearing in the case.

The hearing was to be Thursday in U.S. District Court in Norfolk, Virginia, but U.S. District Judge Robert Doumar postponed it out of what he called "an abundance of caution" because of confusion over whether an appeals court stay is still in effect.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on June 14 put a hold on all District Court proceedings in Hamdi's case while it dealt with an appeal . On July 12, the appeals court sent the matter back to the District Court.

Doumar believes the stay ended when the case was remanded, he wrote in his order Wednesday.

But prosecutors had argued the stay remained in effect, and Hamdi later filed a motion to dissolve the stay, "suggesting now that each side in this case believes that a stay may remain in effect," Doumar wrote.

Read key documents in the case (FindLaw) (PDF) 
Hamdi's Louisiana birth certificate 
Opinion: Hamdi v. Rumsfeld 
Gov't brief to 4th Circuit: Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, et al. 

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"To proceed under such ambiguity would simply divert attention away from the substance of this case toward further procedural wrangling," Doumar wrote. "Accordingly, out of an abundance of caution, this court will suspend all proceedings in this case until the Court of Appeals has acted" on Hamdi's motion.

Hamdi was captured in Afghanistan last year and held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, until it was learned that he had been born in Louisiana. He was then transferred to Norfolk.

His case could affect the issue of what rights military prisoners have as the U.S. government fights the war on terrorism.

Because of his designation as an enemy combatant, the Justice Department maintains that Hamdi has no rights either as a prisoner of war or as an indicted criminal suspect.

Doumar had ordered the government to allow Hamdi unmonitored meetings with attorneys, but the appeals court sent that ruling back for reconsideration, saying the executive branch of the government should be given huge deference in such matters.

Frank Dunham, the federal public defender for the Eastern District of Virginia, has begun efforts to meet with Hamdi but does not represent him.

Doumar also has ordered the Justice Department to provide Hamdi with documents relating to the government's stand, but the Justice Department has resisted, saying that to allow inspection of such documents would amount to a new review of the military combatant designation, exceeding the issue before the District Court.

Hamdi's status is unique. He is the only U.S. citizen captured in Afghanistan and brought to the United States, but not charged.

John Walker Lindh, an American who joined the Taliban in Afghanistan, was captured, held at a camp where the prisoners staged a revolt that resulted in the death of a CIA agent among others and then returned to the United States, was criminally charged in a civilian court. He has reached a plea agreement with prosecutors.




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