Sam Malkandi, Detained for Years Due to Al-Qaida Connection, Tells Government to Deport Him or Let Him Go

Sam Malkandi, shown here after the fall of Baghdad, says the government can't detain him indefinitely.
Kurdish Iraqi immigrant Sam Malkandi has been held in federal detention facilities for four-and-a-half years, ever since it came to light that the onetime Kirkland resident helped arrange a medical appointment for a prominent al-Qaida operative.

Malkandi, who once worked as a contractor on Army bases preparing soldiers headed for Iraq, claimed he didn't know the true identity of the operative and was only doing a favor for a friend of a friend. Supporters portrayed him as a hard-working family man who loved his new country.

Nevertheless, an immigration judge ordered him deported, and that decision was affirmed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last August. Still, however, he remains at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.

Now, his attorneys have essentially told the government to put up or shut up.

In the U.S. District Court of Western Washington, his attorneys have filed a "writ of habeas corpus," asking that Malkandi be released because of Constitutional protections against indefinite imprisonment.

Federal Judge Ricardo Martinez subsequently ordered the feds to show what's been going on with the deportation proceedings. The government's response is due today.

Malkandi's attorney Shaakirrah Sanders says the government has not revealed why it hasn't yet flown her client back to Iraq. Spokespeople for the U.S. Attorney's Office and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement could not provide an immediate explanation.

Sanders guesses, however, that Iraq is refusing to take Malkandi back. This would not be the first time that the war-torn country has declined to accept deportees. Last October, Iraq turned back a planeload of deportees from Britain. Like Malkandi, those denied entry were of Kurdish ethnicity. Malkandi, formerly a Christian, converted to Mormonism in the U.S., another reason Sanders suspects he's not wanted in primarily Muslim Iraq.

Sanders says she expects the government to say that it nevertheless plans to deport Malkandi in a "reasonable" time frame. She's hoping that the judge will demand specifics or let her client go--at least until a deportation date is certain. That way, she says, Malkandi could "spend whatever time he has left with his family."

UPDATE: The government's response, filed late yesterday, does not say that Iraq is refusing to take Malkandi back. It attributes the delay in deporting him in part to difficulty in obtaining paperwork needed for Malkandi's travel documents. But the filing also cites "logistical issues" that it does not explain.

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