"Somewhere in Iraq, a United States citizen has been in the custody of the U.S. armed forces for over three months."
That is how a federal Judge on Saturday begins her ruling, describing the situation of a never-charged American classified as an enemy combatant, as she ordered the Pentagon provide the prisoner with "immediate" access to a lawyer.
The still-unnamed man was captured by the Syrian militia in mid-September and handed over to the U.S. military as a suspected member of the Islamic State.
A couple weeks later, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a habeas corpus petition and seeking to represent the man, who, by the government's own account, requested an attorney after being read his Miranda rights.
The Defense Department argued that the circumstances did not warrant the ACLU's having immediate access to the detainee.
But in a case shrouded in secrecy, what exactly those circumstances are remains unclear. And the case is reviving thorny issues around the government's wartime powers weighed against individuals' civil liberties.
In her at-times-blistering ruling, Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the Federal District Court of the District of Columbia denied the Pentagon's motion to dismiss the ACLU's petition and ordered that it give the group "immediate and unmonitored access to the detainee."