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Context of 'Late October-Early November, 2007: Appeals Court Reconsiders Al-Marri Case'

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Attorneys for accused al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see December 12, 2001) challenge his detention as an enemy combatant (see June 23, 2003). The attorneys, appearing before a three-judge panel in Richmond’s Fourth US Court of Appeals, say that al-Marri is being held unconstitutionally and should be allowed to challenge his imprisonment in court under his right to habeas corpus. Al-Marri, a Qatari national, is the only person being held as an enemy combatant on US soil. His lawyers argue that he has inalienable rights as a legal resident of the US, including the right to due process and to challenge his accusers in court. One of al-Marri’s lawyers, Jonathan Hafetz, tells the court: “The basic question is whether criminal or military law governs this case. [The president] cannot militarize the case of a man in Peoria with the stroke of a pen.” The government says that the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) gives the government the right to hold al-Marri and any other designated enemy combatant indefinitely, without recourse to the courts. Hafetz contends that the MCA doesn’t repeal defendants’ right to challenge their detention. He also says al-Marri was improperly classified as an enemy combatant. Justice Department lawyers argue that the court has no jurisdiction to hear such cases, and that the government has classified evidence proving that al-Marri is indeed an al-Qaeda agent. Judge Diana Gribbon Motz asks Justice Department lawyer David Salmons what would stop Bush from declaring anyone he chose an enemy combatant, even if that person was a citizen of a nation not at war with the US. “What I don’t understand is how you make one an enemy combatant,” she says. “What did the president look to, to call someone an enemy combatant?” Salmons says that Congress and the Supreme Court have granted Bush the authority to fight terrorism, (see September 14-18, 2001) and that authorization grants Bush the right to designate people with suspected al-Qaeda links as enemy combatants. Motz disagrees: “If the US can do this, it’s contrary to the Constitution. It would give other nations the ability to do that by declaring a US citizen an enemy combatant.” Salmons says the 9/11 attacks make the situation different. Al-Marri is supported in the court by, among others, former Attorney General Janet Reno, seven former Justice Department officials, and 29 US law school professors, who all contend that the government’s treatment of al-Marri is unconstitutional and sets a dangerous precedent in depriving US residents of basic legal rights. The case is al-Marri v. Wright, 06-7427. [Associated Press, 2/1/2007]

Entity Tags: Diana Gribbon Motz, Al-Qaeda, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Janet Reno, David Salmons, Military Commissions Act, Jonathan Hafetz, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

A federal appeals court rules that “enemy combatant” Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see December 12, 2001 and February 1, 2007) must be released from military custody. “To sanction such presidential authority to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain civilians,” writes Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, “even if the President calls them ‘enemy combatants,’ would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution—and the country.” She adds, “We refuse to recognize a claim to power that would so alter the constitutional foundations of our Republic.” [New York Times, 6/11/2007] Motz continues, “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.”
Military Commissons Act Does Not Apply - The Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) does not apply to al-Marri, the court rules. [Bloomberg, 6/11/2007] Motz writes that the MCA does not apply to al-Marri and the court also rules that the government failed to prove its argument that the Authorization for Use of Military Force, enacted by Congress immediately after the 9/11 attacks (see September 14-18, 2001), gives President Bush the power to detain al-Marri as an enemy combatant. [Associated Press, 6/11/2007] Motz also notes that even though the government says the MCA applies to al-Marri’s case, it did not follow its own guidelines under that law. The MCA requires all such detainees to be granted a Combat Status Review Tribunal (CRST) determination; all Guantanamo-based detainees have been given such a procedure. Al-Marri has not. The government did not suggest the procedure for al-Marri until the day it filed its motion to dismiss al-Marri’s case. [Christian Science Monitor, 6/13/2007] The case, al-Marri v. Wright, was filed against Navy Commander S.L. Wright, who oversees the Charleston military prison that houses al-Marri. [Bloomberg, 6/11/2007]
Government Arguments Repudiated - The 2-1 decision of the US Court of Appeals in Richmond was written for the majority by Motz. Al-Marri is the only person held on the US mainland as an enemy combatant, and has been held in isolation for four years (see August 8, 2005). The government has alleged since 2002 that al-Marri was an al-Qaeda sleeper agent sent to the US to commit mass murder and disrupt the US banking system (see June 23, 2003). Motz writes that while al-Marri may well be guilty of serious crimes, the government cannot sidestep the US criminal justice system through military detention. The al-Marri ruling apparently does not apply to enemy combatants and other detainees held without charges or legal access at the facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The dissenting judge, Henry Hudson, writes that President Bush “had the authority to detain al-Marri as an enemy combatant or belligerent” because “he is the type of stealth warrior used by al-Qaeda to perpetrate terrorist acts against the United States.” Hudson is a Bush appointee. Motz and Judge Roger Gregory, the concurring judge, were appointed by former president Bill Clinton. Motz orders the Pentagon to issue a writ of habeas corpus for al-Marri “within a reasonable period of time.” The Pentagon may release him, hold him as a material witness, or charge him in the civilian court system. Al-Marri “can be returned to civilian prosecutors, tried on criminal charges, and, if convicted, punished severely,” she writes, “But military detention of al-Marri must cease.” [New York Times, 6/11/2007; Bloomberg, 6/11/2007]
Democracy Vs. 'Police State' - Hafetz says: “We’re pleased the court saw through the government’s stunning position in this case. Had it not, the executive could effectively disappear people by picking up any immigrant in this country, locking them in a military jail, and holding the keys to the courthouse.… This is exactly what separates a country that is democratic and committed to the rule of law from a country that is a police state.” [Christian Science Monitor, 6/13/2007]
Justice Department to Challenge Decision - The Justice Department intends to challenge the decision (see June 11, 2007 and Late October-Early November, 2007). The case is expected to reach the Supreme Court, and may help define what authority the government has to indefinitely detain terror suspects and to strip detainees of their right to challenge the legality and conditions of their detention. [Associated Press, 6/11/2007] For the time being, al-Marri will remain in military custody in the Charleston naval brig. [Cincinnati Post, 6/12/2007]

Entity Tags: Diana Gribbon Motz, Combat Status Review Tribunal, Al-Qaeda, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, US Department of Justice, Henry Hudson, US Supreme Court, Jonathan Hafetz, US Department of Defense, Military Commissions Act, George W. Bush, S.L. Wright

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

A federal appeals court hears the case of alleged al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who was the victor in a recent court decision that ruled he could no longer be held in military detention with no access to the US court system (see June 11, 2007). Al-Marri’s lawyer, Jonathan Hafetz, asks the Fourth US Court of Appeals to uphold the recent verdict, which was rendered by a three-judge panel from the same court. Now the entire court is reconsidering the case at the government’s request. Hafetz says the court must uphold the decision. “To rule otherwise is to sanction a power the president has never had and was never meant to have.”
Authorization for the Use of Military Force - Judge Paul Neimeyer, a George H. W. Bush appointee, challenges Hafetz’s assertion that al-Marri cannot be held in military custody because he was not captured on a battlefield; to make such a claim would mean “25 or 30 terrorists could sneak into the US” and the military could not stop them. Justice Department lawyer Gregory Garre makes the same argument that the appeals court panel rejected—that Congress gave the president the authority to seize and detain anyone affiliated with al-Qaeda, regardless of where they were captured, when it passed its Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) after the 9/11 attacks (see September 14-18, 2001). Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, appointed to the bench by former president Ronald Reagan, says that Congress could appeal or revise the AUMF whenever it likes. [Associated Press, 10/31/2007] Wilkinson acknowledges that many have concerns that the AUMF “may have authorized some sweeping detention problem… [, b]ut people are not being swept off the streets of Omaha.” Judge Diana Gribbon Motz interjects, “No, it was Peoria.”
Question of Constitutionality - Wilkinson wonders why the “carefully targeted response by the government” has created “all this hoopla?” Comparing the detention of al-Marri and another enemy combatants, Jose Padilla, to the round-ups of German-Americans during World War I and of Japanese-Americans during World War II, Wilkinson asks if “we’ve lost our sense of perspective.” Judge Roger Gregory says: “The calculus for determining constitutionality is not whether we have a good king or a bad king. It’s not whether he stays his hand in generosity.” Motz and Gregory were the majority judges in the June decision. When Garre argues that al-Marri had ample opportunity to challenge his detention, and “squandered” those opportunities, Judge William Traxler asks, “How does a person who’s held incommunicado challenge” his detention? [Baltimore Daily Record, 11/1/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Roger Gregory, William Traxler, Ronald Reagan, Paul Neimeyer, Jonathan Hafetz, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Al-Qaeda, Jose Padilla, Diana Gribbon Motz, Gregory Garre, J. Harvie Wilkinson, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

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