A Father Waits as the U.S. and the Saudis Discuss His Son's Release

By JOEL BRINKLEY

New York Times

October 11, 2004

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Oct. 8 - Yaser E. Hamdi's family had grand plans to welcome him back home after three years in American prisons, where he was held as an "enemy combatant." But now, more than a week after he was to be released, family members are growing frustrated, even a bit angry.

As negotiations between the Saudi and United States governments drag on, Mr. Hamdi's father said, "I don't know why they can't just release him now, send him home, and then work out the details later."

Mr. Hamdi, 24, was captured in Afghanistan in November 2001, and the United States has held him since. Although an American citizen, he was kept in solitary confinement and given no access to the legal system until the Supreme Court ruled in June that he had to have his day in court.

Instead, the Bush administration began negotiating with Mr. Hamdi's lawyer for his release. That culminated in a complex agreement that would require Mr. Hamdi to renounce his American citizenship, return to Saudi Arabia and not leave the kingdom for five years, among other restrictions.

Under that agreement, which Mr. Hamdi signed last month, he would be released and flown here no later than Sept. 30.

"We had lots of plans," his father, Esam, said in a telephone interview from his home in Al Jubayl.

But when Saudi government officials saw the release agreement, they balked, saying that Mr. Hamdi had not been charged with any crime, so it was improper to place restrictions on him after he was freed. Now his release has been delayed.

At a news briefing on Friday in Washington, Richard A. Boucher, the State Department spokesman, said, "At this point, we're still working on it and are in touch with the Saudis and the court, and we still believe it can be worked out." He said Mr. Hamdi "made commitments in this agreement, and those are commitments we expect him to carry out."

Mr. Hamdi's father said he met with a Saudi Foreign Ministry official a few days ago and that he was told that the Saudi government "is unhappy with the restrictions, and they had to iron out some details."

Mr. Hamdi's father spells the family's surname Himdy, which, he insisted, is the correct English spelling. Improper transliteration from Arabic to English on his Saudi passport, then onto Mr. Hamdi's American birth certificate, made his son known as Yaser Hamdi in the United States. He was born in Baton Rouge, La., where his father, a chemical engineer, was stationed for several years, working for a Saudi company.

"I tried for a long time to get that straightened out and never could," Mr. Himdy said. The family moved back to Saudi Arabia when Yaser was 3.

Throughout Mr. Hamdi's ordeal, his father has been working hard to bring him home. He says he believes none of the American allegations about his son.

Mr. Hamdi, the eldest of five children, was a university student in Saudi Arabia in 2001, studying marketing. But in July of that year, he left without telling anyone, sending word later that he was in Pakistan doing aid work, his father said.

Mr. Himdy sent two relatives to find his son and bring him home, but they could not locate him. His son called later in the summer, Mr. Himdy added, and said he wanted to come home. But the next thing Mr. Himdy heard about his son was that he had been captured in Afghanistan. The United States said he had been with a Taliban military unit.

Mr. Hamdi was first sent to the American prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and then to a Navy brig in Virginia, once it was established that he was an American citizen.