Ashcroft Hypes a Dirty Bomber

The story goes like this: Yasser Esam Hamdi is a U.S. citizen, born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, while his parents were on a brief study-abroad program. He has lived in Saudi Arabia virtually his whole life.

According to Hamdi's parents, their son fell into this mess when, following the example of many of his Saudi peers, he took a summer trip to Pakistan and went from there to Afghanistan. This rite of passage began in the 1980s, when Gulf Arabs allied themselves with the U.S. against the Soviet forces invading Afghanistan.

Hamdi was captured by the Northern Alliance in the battle for Mazar-i-Sharif. His legal adviser claims the U.S.-backed fighters were eager to cash in on rewards for the capture of al-Qaida members, and thus traded him to the Americans for money.

Hamdi has been held incommunicado in solitary confinement at the Norfolk U.S. Navy brig since April 5. Frank W. Dunham Jr., a Virginia public defender appointed to represent Hamdi, asked the Navy to let him interview Hamdi in order to see whether he was too poor to provide for his own defense. The Pentagon ignored Dunham. So he sued Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. A federal magistrate initially approved Dunham's right to visit the prisoner, but before the meeting could take place, the government jumped in and warned the Fourth Circuit that Hamdi might try to send messages to other terrorists through his unsuspecting counsel.

Of more immediate concern, though, according to an attorney from the solicitor general's office, was that a visit might interrupt the government's interrogation of the prisoner. Chief Judge Wilkinson "asked me if I thought that was true," Dunham said, expressing shock. "He said, 'If he's given a lawyer, don't you think he'd stop talking to the federal agents?'"

Additional reporting by Joshua Hersh, Caroline Ragon, Cassandra Lewis and Gabrielle Jackson.
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