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Court rebukes U.S. in combatant case

By WASHINGTON POST
Published June 12, 2007


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WASHINGTON - A federal appeals court ruled Monday that President Bush cannot indefinitely imprison a U.S. resident on suspicion alone, ordering the government either to charge Qatari national Ali al-Marri with his alleged terrorist crimes in a civilian court or release him.

The opinion is a blow to the Bush administration's assertion that the president has exceptionally broad powers to combat terrorism, including the authority to detain without charges foreign citizens living legally in the United States.

It is the first time a court has said that al-Marri cannot be held forever without facing formal charges, but it is a symbolic victory - al-Marri will continue his detention in a naval brig in Charleston, S.C. The government said that it was disappointed by the 2 to 1 decision, handed down by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, and that it will appeal to the full court.

The appeals panel ruled that Bush had overreached his authority and that the Constitution protects U.S. citizens and legal residents such as al-Marri from unchecked military power. It also rejected the administration's contention that it was not relevant that al-Marri was arrested in the United States and was living here legally on a student visa.

"The President cannot eliminate constitutional protections with the stroke of a pen by proclaiming a civilian, even a criminal civilian, an enemy combatant subject to indefinite military detention, " the panel found.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said that al-Marri posed a significant threat, and that imprisoning enemy fighters is necessary to stop future attacks.

"The president has made clear that he intends to use all available tools at his disposal to protect Americans from further al-Qaida attack, including the capture and detention of al-Qaida agents who enter our borders, " Boyd said.

U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson, a Bush appointee, dissented from the opinion. Hudson contended that Bush had the power to detain enemy combatants under Congress's authorization to use military force.

"Although al-Marri was not personally engaged in armed conflict with U.S. forces, he is the type of stealth warrior used by al Qaeda to perpetrate terrorist acts against the United States, " Hudson wrote. "There is little doubt, " the judge maintained, that al-Marri was in the country to aid in hostile attacks on the United States.

Al-Marri's case is one of several involving the rights of suspected enemy combatants that have reached the appellate level of the federal courts and are likely to be decided by the Supreme Court.

Al-Marri was a legal resident of the United States and a university student in Peoria, Ill., when he was arrested in December 2001 as a "material witness." The government said that al-Marri - who was identified as part of an al-Qaida sleeper cell by Khalid Sheik Mohammed, architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks - came to the United States to prepare for a second wave of terrorist strikes.

Al-Marri is the last of three U.S. citizens or residents in the Charleston brig. Yaser Esam Hamdi, a U.S. citizen captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan, was released and sent to his native Saudi Arabia after the Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that U.S. citizens must be afforded court trials.

Jose Padilla, another U.S. citizen, was originally accused of attempting to explode a radiological "dirty bomb" in the United States. He was released before a Supreme Court hearing on the case. The government filed less serious criminal charges against him and transferred him to a civilian prison in Miami, where he is currently on trial.

Fast Facts:

About Ali al-Marri

Ali al-Marri has been held in solitary confinement in the Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., since June 2003. The Qatar native has been detained since his December 2001 arrest at his home in Peoria, Ill., where he moved with his wife and five children a day before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to study for a master's degree at Bradley University.

Ali al-Marri has been held in solitary confinement in the Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., since June 2003. The Qatar native has been detained since his December 2001 arrest at his home in Peoria, Ill., where he moved with his wife and five children a day before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to study for a master's degree at Bradley University.

[Last modified June 12, 2007, 02:11:31]


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