Between Iraq and Tacoma

A long-detained prisoner asks the government to deport him or free him.

Kurdish Iraqi immigrant Sam Malkandi has been held in federal detention facilities in Tacoma 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 hardworking family man who loved his new country.Nevertheless, an immigration judge ordered him deported to Iraq, where the U.S. has repatriated 43 people in the past year and a half. That decision was affirmed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last August. Yet Malkandi 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 the government is violating the Constitution's protections against indefinite imprisonment.In a response this week, the U.S. Attorney's office blamed the delay on the difficulty of obtaining travel documents for Malkandi—partly because Iraq initially declined to take him back without certain paperwork and partly because Malkandi refused to cooperate. It also cites "logistical issues" that it doesn't go into.Malkandi's attorney, Shaakirrah Sanders, suspects that Iraq is refusing to take Malkandi back, period, and it wouldn't be the first time: Last October, Iraq turned back a planeload of deportees from Britain. Like Malkandi, those denied entry were Kurdish. Malkandi, formerly a Christian, converted to Mormonism in the U.S., another reason Sanders suspects he's not wanted.Sanders is hoping that Federal Judge Ricardo Martinez will 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."

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