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Saudi professes his innocence

Detained 3 years, he tastes freedom

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- A Saudi-American released after being held by the US military for three years in solitary confinement without charge said in an interview broadcast yesterday that he cooperated with his jailers, calling himself ''an innocent man."

Yaser Esam Hamdi, 24, captured in Afghanistan in late 2001 during the US battle against the Taliban and classified as an ''enemy combatant," returned to Saudi Arabia on Monday after negotiating a deal: his freedom in exchange for renouncing his US citizenship and agreeing to live in Saudi Arabia for at least five years.

''I believe that I'm not an enemy combatant, and I am an innocent person, and I was proving that all the time for them," Hamdi told CNN. ''I answered all the questions that they asked me very seriously . . . and I was cooperative, and I give them all the details."

''To be locked down, then be given your freedom, you really know what the meaning of freedom [is]," he added. ''They take it away from you, and they give it to you back, you feel it, and it's something real different."

Hamdi's case led to a US Supreme Court decision limiting the president's powers to hold enemy combatants indefinitely.

The 550 prisoners held at the US military base at Guantanamo, Cuba, are classified as enemy combatants, a status that affords fewer legal protections than prisoners of war. About 60 prisoners are contesting their detentions in federal courts, but most have never seen a lawyer. Only four have been charged.

The Supreme Court ruled in June that Hamdi and other detainees classified as enemy combatants could not be held indefinitely without charge. That led to negotiations for Hamdi's release.

''The Supreme Court, the United States, the highest justice level in the United States, they ruled [in] my favor, which give us the proof that I am an innocent man," Hamdi said.

The deal Hamdi struck also requires that he not sue the US government over his detention, that he renounce terrorism, and that he never travel to Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Pakistan, or Syria.

Since arriving in Saudi Arabia, Hamdi has been visiting with his family in the eastern industrial town of Al Jubail.

Hamdi was born in Louisiana to Saudi parents and was raised in Saudi Arabia. He was captured on a battlefield in Afghanistan, but says he was trying to leave Afghanistan when he was captured.

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