The U.S. military in Iraq is holding what it believes to be the first American captured fighting for the Iraqi insurgency. Pentagon officials describe the man, who holds U.S. and Jordanian citizenship, as a senior associate of terrorist leader Abu Musab Zarqawi.
He was captured in a raid at his home in Iraq in late 2004, Matthew Waxman, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, said in an interview Tuesday.
Officials declined to provide his name or hometown or identify him other than to say he functioned as Zarqawi’s emissary to insurgent groups in several cities in Iraq.
Zarqawi, who has declared his allegiance to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network, is the most wanted man in Iraq, and is tied to numerous bombings and kidnappings since the U.S.-led invasion removed Saddam Hussein from power two years ago.
Defense officials also believe the captured American helped coordinate the movement of insurgents and money into Iraq, and provided support to kidnappings carried out by Zarqawi’s operatives, Waxman said.
“Weapons and bomb-making materials were in his residence at the time he was captured,” Waxman said. Several other insurgents were captured in the raid, conducted by U.S.-led coalition forces.
The man was born in Jordan and moved to the United States and became a naturalized citizen, according to a U.S. official who discussed the case only on the condition of anonymity. The man lived in several places in the country over roughly 20 years, but officials declined to say precisely when he left or when he arrived in Iraq.
After his capture, a panel of three U.S. officers determined he was an enemy combatant and not entitled to prisoner-of-war status under the Geneva Convention, Waxman said. Human rights groups argue the enemy combatant classification is vague and affords fewer legal protections than prisoner-of-war status.
The man is still being held as a security threat but has been visited by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Waxman said officials are considering how to proceed with his case.
His capture represents a complicated legal issue for the military, and it is uncertain whether he will be turned over to the Justice Department for investigation or to Iraq’s new legal system, which has handled the prosecution of other foreign fighters who came to Iraq to fight the U.S.-led occupation and new Iraqi government.
Perhaps the most closely related cases are those of two American citizens who were captured fighting against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Two Taliban foot soldiers, John Walker Lindh and Yaser Esam Hamdi, held U.S. citizenship when they were captured in late 2001.
Lindh, a California native now in his early 20s, pleaded guilty in civilian court to supplying services to the Taliban government and carrying explosives for them. He received a 20-year prison sentence in 2002 and has since sought to have it reduced.
Hamdi was born in Louisiana and grew up in Saudi Arabia. He was held by the U.S. government for three years before being released to his family in Saudi Arabia in October 2004. He gave up his American citizenship as a condition of his release.
Other Zarqawi aides reportedly have been captured over the past few months, and the Pentagon announced this latest capture on the same day a presidential commission slammed U.S. intelligence agencies for its poor performance in the run-up to the Iraq invasion.