A US government legal team made the disclosure during a court hearing into Falin Gharabi’s detention. Gharabi is a Libyan national who may be in US custody in Cuba.
"They won't let him out and they also won't tell us if he's there," said Stephen Yagman, a lawyer for Falin Gharabi's brother, Bilaid Gharabi, a San Diego resident, who has sued to get his brother legal representation. "This is crazy. This is just nuts."
Yagman complained that the government is meeting all requests for the most basic information with a stony silence, maintaining ignorance as to who it is holding in custody.
Legal appeal chaos
In May, a US District Court said it did not have the authority to consider whether Gharabi was being held lawfully and remanded the matter to an appeals court.
But at the appeals court hearing on Monday, the planned debate over the government's right to hold Gharabi dissolved into a more basic discussion over whether the US government even had the Libyan in custody at all.
The panel of appeals court judges hearing the case expressed shock about the apparent lack of record-keeping on a group of hundreds of people, including three children, who have been in custody for 577 days.
"It strikes me as astonishing that the government says they have no idea whether this gentleman is or is not being held," one said. "Don't you even keep records?"
Government lawyers responded that while they had attempted to keep records, they were incomplete because some of those who were arrested had not cooperated with authorities.
They also said that transliterating the names from Arabic to English had created further problems with spelling.
After scanning a list for names similar to that of Falin Gharabi, the lawyers said: "We think we have him but we're not sure. We can't confirm it 100 percent."
The US government, which maintains the people being held are all dangerous individuals with connections to terrorists, has argued that the court does not have jurisdiction to rule on the legal rights of those detained since they are being held on foreign soil on land that is only leased to the United States.