A lawyer for a Tampa man acquitted in the terrorism-related trial of Sami Al-Arian has asked top government officials and local immigration supervisors to explain themselves.
Why, Stephen Bernstein wants to know, is Sameeh Hammoudeh still in jail?
In a "petition for writ of habeas corpus" filed in federal court Wednesday, Bernstein told the U.S. attorney general and the chiefs of the Homeland Security Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement that the time has come - 90 days after Hammoudeh's acquittal - to explain why he remains incarcerated in the immigration wing of the Manatee County Jail.
In the filing, Bernstein made four main points: Holding Hammoudeh appears to "violate the Fifth Amendment right to due process of law." A federal judge ruled on Feb. 23 that Hammoudeh should be "released upon his own recognizance." Hammoudeh received a plea agreement of deportation with "no jail time" in a separate tax case and should not be held. And "Hammoudeh's detention is not based on any government assertion that he poses a danger to national security."
Bernstein concluded: "Continued detention is therefore arbitrary and lacks justification."
On Dec. 6, the Palestinian-born Hammoudeh was found not guilty of charges that he contributed to the violent acts of Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Israel and the Occupied Territories. He expected to be immediately deported along with his wife and six children to Jordan or the occupied territories, both places where he has a valid passport.
The deportation was part of an agreement in exchange for pleading guilty to separate tax and immigration violations.
But, two months later, Hammoudeh's family returned to Jordan and entered the occupied territories without him, while he remained in jail.
Federal prosecutors said ICE could not release Hammoudeh because Israel had not approved his entry into the occupied territories. But Israeli officials told the St. Petersburg Times that they had "no objection" to Hammoudeh's return and that the refusal to let him go to the occupied territories was "not an Israeli issue but an internal American issue."
During a Wednesday telephone call from the Manatee County Jail, Hammoudeh said: "The United States has a long tradition of fighting human rights abuses around the world, but now the opposite is happening. This country is becoming an abuser."
In response to the Wednesday petition, U.S. District Court Judge James S. Moody Jr. will schedule a hearing for ICE officials to explain Hammoudeh's continued incarceration.