Appeals Court Considers Alleged Combatant Ali al-Marri's Detention

Wednesday, October 31st 2007, 11:50 am
By: News On 6

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ The Bush administration exceeded its authority in holding a legal U.S. resident in military custody as a suspected enemy combatant, his lawyer told a federal appeals court Wednesday.

The full 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reheard the case of Ali al-Marri, whom the government claims had links to al-Qaida terrorists and was a national security threat. Al-Marri has been held in the Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., since June 2003.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled 2-1 in June that the Military Commissions Act, passed in 2006 to establish military trials, doesn't strip Ali al-Marri of his constitutional right to challenge his accusers in court. The government asked for the rehearing, and a ruling is expected in several weeks.

Al-Marri's attorney, Jonathan Hafetz of the Brennan Center for Justice in New York, urged the full court to uphold the panel decision.

``To rule otherwise is to sanction a power the president has never had and was never meant to have,'' Hafetz told the court.

Judge Paul V. Niemeyer, who was appointed to the court by President George H.W. Bush, challenged Hafetz's assertion that Al-Marri could not be held in military custody because he was not captured on a battlefield. The judge said such a holding would mean ``25 or 30 terrorists could sneak into the U.S.'' and the military couldn't stop them.

``That's remarkable,'' Niemeyer said.

Gregory C. Garre, principal deputy solicitor general for the U.S. Department of Justice, argued that Congress gave the administration authority to seize and detain anyone affiliated with al-Qaida, regardless of where they are captured.

Al-Marri, a native of Qatar, was arrested in December 2001 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.

The government says federal agents found evidence that al-Marri, who was charged with credit card fraud, had links to al-Qaida terrorists and was a national security threat. Authorities shifted al-Marri's case from the criminal system and moved him to indefinite military detention.