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Profile: Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri
a.k.a. Ali Sale Kayla al-Marri
Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri was a participant or observer in the following events:
Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, from Qatar but a legal US resident, arrives in the US with his wife and five children, reportedly to pursue a master’s degree in computer science at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. [Peoria Journal Star, 12/19/2001; New York Times, 6/21/2004] Al-Marri appears to have been sent to the US by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). During his interrogation, KSM will identify al-Marri as “the point of contact for al-Qaeda operatives arriving in the US for September 11 follow-on operations.” He will describe al-Marri as “the perfect sleeper agent because he has studied in the United States, had no criminal record, and had a family with whom he could travel.” [Newsweek, 6/15/2003] However, there are doubts about the reliability of KSM’s interrogation, which is believed that have been obtained through the use of torture (see June 16, 2004). Al-Marri also lived in Illinois for part of 2000 under a different name. [New York Daily News, 1/11/2003] He is apparently related to Mohamed al-Khatani, who attempted to enter the US in August 2001 to join the 9/11 plot (see July 2002). [New York Times, 6/21/2004] In December 2001, al-Marri will be detained as a material witness to the 9/11 attacks (see December 12, 2001).
Qatari citizen Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a computer science graduate student at Illinois’s Bradley University, is arrested as a material witness to the 9/11 attacks. [Peoria Journal Star, 12/19/2001; CNN, 12/13/2005] Al-Marri was interviewed twice by the FBI, once on October 2 and again on December 11. Both times, according to the FBI, he lied in response to their questions. Al-Marri claimed to have entered the US on September 10, 2001, his first visit to the country since 1991, when he earned his undergraduate degree at Bradley. [CBS News, 6/23/2003; CNN, 12/13/2005]
Connections to 9/11 Terrorists Alleged - The FBI says al-Marri has been in the US since 2000. Al-Marri denied calling the United Arab Emirates phone number of Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial of suspected “20th hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui. Prosecutors say al-Hawsawi provided financial backing to Moussaoui and the 9/11 hijackers, and allegedly helped some of the hijackers travel from Pakistan to the United Arab Emirates and then to the US in preparation for the attacks. [CBS News, 6/23/2003; Progressive, 3/2007] (Al-Hawsawi will be captured in Pakistan in March 2003, and detained in an undisclosed location somewhere outside the US. See Early-Late June, 2001) [CNN, 12/13/2005] The government also alleges that the phone number was a contact number for Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, another unindicted co-conspirator in the Moussaoui indictment. The government says that two calling cards were used to call the number, which was also listed as a contact number on a package it believes was sent by 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta to the UAE on September 8, 2001. The cards were allegedly used to place phone calls from al-Marri’s residence, from his cellphone, and from the Marriott hotel room he was staying in on September 11. However, none of the three calls to the UAE number were made from phones registered to Al-Marri, though, nor is there proof he placed them. Some of the calls made from the card to the UAE were placed to relatives of al-Marri. [Bradley Scout, 3/29/2002] In March 2002, Justice Department official Alice Fisher will say that an unnamed al-Qaeda detainee “in a position to know… positively identified al-Marri as an al-Qaeda sleeper operative who was tasked to help new al-Qaeda operatives get settled in the United States for follow-on attacks after 9/11.” That unidentified tipster brought al-Marri to the attention of federal law enforcement shortly after the attacks. FBI officials have said that al-Marri is not considered to have played any part in the attacks, but is still considered a danger to the US. [Knight Ridder, 6/23/2003] In 2003, the FBI adds that it found “an almanac with bookmarks in pages that provided information about major US dams, reservoirs, waterways and railroads.” [Knight Ridder, 6/24/2003] He is believed to be a relative of Saudi national and future Guantanamo detainee Mohamed al-Khatani, who is said to be an intended 9/11 hijacker (see July 2002). [New York Times, 6/21/2004]
Bank and Credit Card Fraud - According to the FBI, al-Marri obtained a bank account under a false name, rented a motel room under a false name to create a mailing address, and formed a fake company, AAA Carpet, using the motel’s address. The FBI also says al-Marri used a fake Social Security number to open three other bank accounts. Al-Marri was carrying well over 15 fake credit card numbers on him when he was interviewed yesterday, says the US Attorney’s office in Illinois. [CBS News, 6/23/2003; Progressive, 3/2007] There are also allegedly over 1,000 more in his personal computer files. He has missed so many classes, the FBI says, that he is on the verge of flunking out. The FBI says al-Marri’s computer also contains Arabic lectures by Osama bin Laden, photographs of the 9/11 attacks, and a cartoon of planes crashing into the World Trade Center. The computer has a folder labeled “jihad arena,” and another labeled “chem,” which, government officials say, contains industrial chemical distributor websites used by al-Marri to obtain information about hydrogen cyanide, a poisonous gas used in chemical weapons. [CNN, 12/13/2005] Al-Marri consents to the search and the seizure of his computer and other possessions. [Bradley Scout, 3/29/2002] Al-Marri will be charged with financial crimes in 2002 (see February 8, 2002), charges that later will be dropped (see June 23, 2003). [CBS News, 6/23/2003]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Zacarias Moussaoui, Mohamed al-Khatani, Alice Fisher, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mohamed Atta, Al-Qaeda, Bradley University, Osama bin Laden, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
Accused al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see December 12, 2001) is charged with one count of credit card fraud. He has already been arrested on a material witness warrant pertaining to the investigation of the 9/11 attacks; since January, he has been in detention in New York City, where most of the investigations are centered. [Bradley Scout, 3/29/2002] According to the FBI, phone records link al-Marri with a phone number in the United Arab Emirates that was used by 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and one of his associates, Ramzi bin Al-Shibh. Al-Marri’s lawyer, Richard Jasper, says there is no evidence linking al-Marri to the phone calls by Atta and bin al-Shibh, al-Marri merely attempted three phone calls to the same number. “Attempted—I don’t know what that means, do you?” Jasper says. “It’s the thinnest of inferences, actually. If you read the affidavit carefully there’s no direct or indirect evidence he made the calls. How do we know there wasn’t some kind of mistaken call or some flaw in recovering the numbers?” Al-Marri has family members in the UAE. [Chicago Sun-Times, 3/21/2002]
The FBI takes over interrogations of Saudi Guantanamo detainee Mohamed al-Khatani. He had been captured and taken into US custody months before (see December 2001) but his real identity was only recently discovered. In the months before, military intelligence, using harsh tactics, was unsuccessful in gaining information from him, but the FBI allegedly uses subtle persuasion with an experienced interrogator and succeeds. Khatani discloses:
He is an al-Qaeda member and received terrorist training at two al-Qaeda camps.
He attended an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia attended by two 9/11 hijackers (see January 5-8, 2000).
He attempted unsuccessfully to be one of the hijackers himself, failing to enter the US in August 2001 (see August 4, 2001).
He had been sent to the US by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
He had met bin Laden on several occasions and had been in contact with many other senior al-Qaeda leaders.
He is related to Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, an apparent al-Qaeda sleeper agent already arrested in the US (see September 10, 2001).
He informs on about thirty other prisoners being held at Guantanamo.
But he is also believed to have little knowledge of other al-Qaeda plots. [New York Times, 6/21/2004; Time, 3/3/2006] He will later recant his confession (see October 26, 2006).
Ali Saleh Kahlah Al-Marri, a Qatari citizen and former US college student charged with bank fraud and alleged to be an al-Qaeda sleeper agent (see December 12, 2001), pleads innocent in an Illinois federal court. His court date is set for July 21, but before that can happen, President Bush will designate al-Marri an “enemy combatant” and send him into military custody, where he will be denied access to the US court system (see June 23, 2003). Al-Marri has been in detention in New York City while federal investigators probe his alleged connections to 9/11 hijackers. Al-Marri is charged with credit card fraud (see February 8, 2002) based on his alleged possession of at least 15 unauthorized and counterfeit credit cards; he is alleged to have been part of the al-Qaeda finance network. He is also charged with lying to FBI agents over alleged overseas phone calls to a number associated with an al-Qaeda figure in the United Arab Emirates, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a known al-Qaeda facilitator linked to the 9/11 attacks (see Early-Late June, 2001). Al-Marri is not charged with being personally linked to the attacks. US Attorney Jan Paul Miller says al-Marri has not been charged with a terrorist crime. [Associated Press, 5/29/2003]
Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri. [Source: Slate]A month before he is slated to go on trial for bank and credit card fraud charges (see February 8, 2002), the federal government drops all criminal charges against Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who has been held without legal representation, and in solitary confinement, since 2001 (see December 12, 2001). [CBS News, 6/23/2003; CBS News, 6/23/2003; CNN, 12/13/2005; Progressive, 3/2007]
'Grave Danger' - President Bush says al-Marri “represents a continuing, present, and grave danger” to the country, and the government designates al-Marri as an “enemy combatant,” alleging that he helped al-Qaeda operatives settle in the US. “Mr. Al-Marri possesses intelligence, including intelligence about personnel and activities of al-Qaeda,” Bush continues, and adds that gaining access to it “would aid US efforts to prevent attacks by al-Qaeda.” [Knight Ridder, 6/24/2003; Progressive, 3/2007] The presidential order says he “engaged in conduct that constituted hostile and war-like acts, including conduct in preparation for acts of international terrorism.” His detention is necessary, the order claims, to prevent him from participating in terrorist activities against the US. The order in effect precludes a pretrial hearing scheduled for July 2 and the start of a formal trial on July 22. [CNN, 6/24/2003]
Alleged Sleeper Agent - The government declaration for al-Marri says he worked as an “al-Qaeda sleeper agent” who was planning to “hack into the computer systems of US banks,” and possibly facilitate a follow up to the 9/11 attacks. For its part, the Defense Department says al-Marri trained at a terror camp in Afghanistan before 9/11, personally met Osama bin Laden, and volunteered for an unspecified “martyr mission.” [CNN, 12/13/2005] Attorney General John Ashcroft will later claim that al-Marri refused repeated offers to cooperate with the FBI; “consequently,” Ashcroft will write, Bush declares him an enemy combatant. Ashcroft will claim that under the laws of war, an enemy combatant can be killed out of hand. Instead, the government will hold al-Marri “without charge or trial until the end of the war.” [Slate, 11/30/2006]
Transferred to Navy Brig - Instead, the “enemy combatant” designation takes al-Marri, a Qatari citizen and legal US resident, out of the civilian criminal justice system and places him under the control of the Defense Department, which immediately transfers him into detention at a Navy brig in South Carolina. He could face a military tribunal or remain in detention indefinitely, without trial. He is only the third person to be publicly named as an enemy combatant, along with US citizens Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi.
Fingered by KSM - According to a Justice Department official, al-Marri was “positively identified” as being part of a planned second wave of al-Qaeda terrorist attacks by an “al-Qaeda detainee in a position to know.” Justice officials imply that the detainee to finger al-Marri is senior 9/11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. [CBS News, 6/23/2003] Another suspected al-Qaeda operative, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (see Early-Late June, 2001), is also said to have mentioned him. [CNN, 12/13/2005] Alice Fisher, the deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s criminal division, says the department did not drop the criminal charges against al-Marri because the case was weak: “We are confident we would have prevailed on the criminal charges. However, setting the criminal charges aside is in the best interests of our national security.” The criminal charges—lying to banks, lying to the FBI, and credit card fraud—could have given al-Marri up to 60 years in prison and $1.75 million in fines. [CBS News, 6/23/2003]
Pleaded Not Guilty - Al-Marri’s lawyer Mark Berman says that his client pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges (see May 29, 2003), and the case was proceeding to trial. “I definitely got the sense they were reluctant to try the case in court,” Berman says. “They’d rather be in a forum where defendants aren’t represented by counsel.” Al-Marri’s wife and five children have left the US. The Saudi Arabian government granted the family passports in February, in spite of a State Department request not to issue the passports, as department officials wanted al-Marri’s wife, who is Saudi, to be available to the FBI for questioning. [Knight Ridder, 6/23/2003] Al-Marri’s lawyers say they are preparing a legal challenge to Bush’s decision. [Knight Ridder, 6/24/2003]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, US Department of State, Osama bin Laden, US Department of Justice, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, John Ashcroft, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Al-Qaeda, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Mark Berman, Alice Fisher, George W. Bush, Jose Padilla, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Yaser Esam Hamdi
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
A federal court denies the appeal of suspected al-Qaeda operative Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri , who is challenging his classification as an enemy combatant (see June 23, 2003) and wants his case heard in Illinois, where he attended college. The court rules that al-Marri’s case belongs in South Carolina, where he is being held in strict isolation in the Charleston naval brig. Mark Berman, an attorney for al-Marri, says the ruling will be appealed to the Supreme Court. (The Court will decline to review the decision (see October 4, 2004).) Al-Marri’s lawyers say that wherever the case is heard, they will seek a writ of habeas corpus to require the government to justify its detention of their client. Government lawyers say they have evidence that al-Marri was in the US helping al-Qaeda plan terrorist attacks, but have refused to provide that evidence. [Associated Press, 3/10/2004]
A Pentagon report determines that conditions at the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Charleston, South Carolina used to house “enemy combatants” are problematic at best. The facilities house three designated enemy combatants: Jose Padilla (see May 8, 2002), Yaser Esam Hamdi (see December 2001), and Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see December 12, 2001). The report, entitled “Brief to the Secretary of Defense on Treatment of Enemy Combatants Detained at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Naval Consolidated Brig Charleston,” is written by the Navy’s Vice Admiral A.T. Church III and by Marine Brigadier General D.D. Thiessen. The focus of the report is to “[e]nsure Department of Defense orders concerning proper treatment of enemy combatants.” The report documents extensive problems at both locations. It cites the following as some of the problems:
“One detainee has Koran removed from cell as part of JFCOM [Joint Forces Command] interrogation plan. Muslim chaplain not available.”
“One detainee in Charleston has mattress removed as part of JFCOM-approved interrogation plan.”
“One detainee in each location currently not authorized ICRC [Red Cross] visits due to interrogation plans in progress.”
“One detainee in Charleston has Koran, mattress, and pillow removed and is fed cold MREs as part of interrogation plan.” This citation has a footnote that reads, “After completion of current interrogation,” removal of the Koran as an incentive to answer questions “will no longer be used at Charleston.”
“Limited number and unique status of detainees in Charleston precludes interaction with other detainees. Argument could be made that this constitutes isolation.”
At the Charleston brig, “Christian chaplain used to provide socialization, but could be perceived as forced proselytization.”
Nonetheless, the report concludes, “No evidence of noncompliance with DoD orders at either facility.” The authors assume that “treatment provided for in presidential and SECDEF orders constitutes ‘humane treatment.’” [Progressive, 3/2007] When Church presents his report to journalists (see May 12, 2004), he says he only found eight “minor infractions.”
Jacob Hornberger. [Source: Institute for Historical Review]Jacob Hornberger, the president of the Future of Freedom Foundation, writes that the Pentagon has learned “when the judiciary issues an order, the Pentagon is required to obey it,” which is “why the government is now permitting Ali Saleh al-Marri to meet with his attorney as part of his habeas corpus proceeding in federal district court in South Carolina.” Al-Marri is one of three “enemy combatants” (see June 23, 2003) designated by President Bush. Until recently, the Pentagon had refused to allow al-Marri to contact his lawyers, who have been challenging his detention and enemy combatant status in the US courts, but a recent Supreme Court decision scotched that procedure (see June 28, 2004). Hornberger compares al-Marri’s treatment to that of ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, whom Iraqi and US officials have restricted from consulting with his own lawyers in Iraq. Al-Marri, before being removed from the US judicial system, “would have been entitled to all the rights and guarantees recognized in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, including being informed of the charges against him, compulsory process of witnesses, cross-examination of adverse witnesses, assistance of counsel, and a jury trial,” Hornberger writes. “If the jury had acquitted him, as juries recently did with defendants in federal terrorism cases brought in Detroit and Boise, he would have walked away from the federal courtroom a free man. By removing al-Marri from the jurisdiction of the federal court on the eve of his trial and placing him into military custody as an ‘enemy combatant,’ the Justice Department and the Pentagon, working together, effectively hijacked our criminal justice system and sabotaged our constitutional order.” [Atlanta Inquirer, 8/21/2004; Future of Freedom Foundation, 2007]
The Supreme Court declines without comment to hear an appeal by “enemy combatant” Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see December 12, 2001 and June 23, 2003). Al-Marri has filed a civil suit, Al-Marri v. Rumsfeld, challenging his detention and his status as an enemy combatant. Previously, courts ruled that al-Marri’s lawyers should have filed the suit in South Carolina, where al-Marri is being held in a Charleston naval brig, not in Illinois, where al-Marri was attending college. The Supreme Court refused to overturn that decision. Al-Marri’s lawyers intend to refile the suit in South Carolina (see August 8, 2005). [Al-Marri v. Rumsfeld, 6/2004; Associated Press, 10/4/2004; Slate, 4/20/2006]
Lawyers refile a civil suit against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on behalf of “enemy combatant” Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who has been in US custody since late 2001 (see December 12, 2001) and was designated as an enemy combatant a year and a half later (see June 23, 2003). Al-Marri is asking the federal district court in South Carolina to declare unconstitutional what he, through his lawyers, calls the severe and unnecessary deprivations and restrictions to which he has been subjected since he was placed in military custody. Al-Marri had already filed a suit challenging the legality of his detention on habeas corpus grounds, a lawsuit that was ultimately dismissed (see October 4, 2004). Human Rights Watch director Jamie Fellner says: “It is bad enough that al-Marri has been held indefinitely without charges and incommunicado. Now we learn that his life in the brig has also been one of cruelty and petty vindictiveness.” [Human Rights Watch, 8/8/2005]
Allegations of Cruel Treatment - Al-Marri is currently the only known person designated as an enemy combatant still in legal limbo. He has been in solitary confinement since his December 2001 arrest, and in Guantanamo since mid-2003. Al-Marri was sent to the Charleston, South Carolina Naval brig once he was designated as an enemy combatant, isolated in a lightless cell hardly larger than a closet, and since then, his lawyers say, he has been subjected to deprivations of the most basic kinds, including shoes, socks, blankets, toilet paper, toothpaste, and sunlight. Sometimes he is denied water. During the day his mattress is removed. His captors often turn the temperature down in his cell to near-freezing conditions, but do not give him extra clothes or blankets. He is provided three short “recreation” sessions a week—in handcuffs and leg irons—but those are often denied him. He is allowed three showers a week, again in handcuffs and leg irons. He has been denied access to medical care. A devout Muslim, he is not given the basic necessities for religious observances—his captors even refuse to tell him which way to face towards Mecca, an essential element of daily devotions. Letters from his wife and children are heavily censored. Privileged notes he has written to his lawyer have been confiscated and not returned. He is subjected to constant video surveillance. He was repeatedly interrogated, his lawyers say, but has not been interrogated for a year. His captors have repeatedly threatened his family, telling him that he would be sent to Egypt or Saudi Arabia, where he would be tortured and sodomized and his wife raped in front of him. According to the lawsuit, his captors falsely told him that, because of him, his father and four of his brothers were in jail, and that if he cooperated, they would be released.
Commentary - “Mr. al-Marri has been detained at a naval brig for two-and-a-half years in cell that is 9 feet by 6 feet,” says law professor Jonathan Hafetz, who will become one of al-Marri’s lawyers. “During that time he has long been denied books, news, any contact with the outside world other than his attorneys, including his wife and five children, who he has neither seen nor spoken to. I mean things that we don’t even do to people who’ve been convicted of crimes.” Fellner says: “It’s the combination of restrictions imposed on al-Marri that offends basic norms of decency. There is no security justification for them. The Pentagon apparently believes it can hold him under any conditions they choose for as long as they choose.” [Human Rights Watch, 8/8/2005; Associated Press, 8/9/2005; Al-Marri v. Rumsfeld, 8/9/2005 ; CNN, 12/13/2005]
Military Denies Mistreatment - The military denies that al-Marri has been mistreated. [CNN, 12/13/2005] Defense spokesman Navy Lieutenant Commander J. D. Gordon says in 2007, “The government in the strongest terms denies allegations of torture, allegations made without support and without citing a shred of record evidence. It is our policy to treat all detainees humanely.” [Progressive, 3/2007]
Jeffrey Rapp, the director of the Joint Intelligence Task Force for Combating Terrorism at the Defense Intelligence Agency, provides a 16-page document supporting the government’s declaration that Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri is an enemy combatant (see December 12, 2001). Rapp gives the classified document, originally prepared in September 2004 and partially declassified for the court, to the trial judge presiding over the case, Henry Floyd (see April 6, 2006). The document, informally known as the “Rapp Declarations,” makes an array of charges against al-Marri, including alleging that he “met personally” with Osama bin Laden and was sent to the US to “explore computer-hacking methods to disrupt bank records and the US financial system.” Rapp claims that al-Marri was trained in the use of poisons and had detailed information about poisonous chemicals on his laptop computer, a claim verified by an FBI search. Additionally, Rapp says that al-Qaeda “instructed al-Marri to explore possibilities for hacking into the mainframe computers of banks with the objective of wreaking havoc on US banking records.” Rapp also says that al-Marri’s computer was loaded with “numerous computer programs typically utilized by computer hackers; ‘proxy’ computer software which can be utilized to hide a user’s origin or identity when connected to the Internet; and bookmarked lists of favorite Web sites apparently devoted to computer hacking.” Rapp refuses to cite any sources other than “specific intelligence sources” that are “highly classified.” [Jeffrey M. Rapp, 9/9/2004 ; CNET News, 9/22/2006] While this kind of evidence is routinely dismissed as hearsay evidence inadmissible in court, Floyd rules that because the Supreme Court ruled in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld that hearsay evidence can be used against alleged enemy combatants (see June 28, 2004), the “Rapp Declarations” would be considered. Floyd says that al-Marri’s lawyers will have to provide “more persuasive evidence” that counters the government’s case—a reversal of the usual burden of proof that places the responsibility of proving guilt on the prosecution and not the defense. [CNET News, 9/22/2006]
Justice Department prosecutors defend their designation of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari citizen alleged to have been part of the 9/11 planning (see December 12, 2001), as an “enemy combatant.” The government’s “enemy combatant” allegations against al-Marri are contained within documents signed by Jeffrey Rapp, the director of the Pentagon’s Joint Intelligence Task for Combating Terrorism (known as the Rapp Declarations) (see April 5, 2006). The unclassified portion of the allegations states almost verbatim the same charges against al-Marri that were dropped in 2003—setting up fake bank accounts, stealing credit cards, and keeping pro-terrorist literature and photos on his computer (see June 23, 2003). The government says it has more evidence tying al-Marri to the 9/11 plot, but that evidence remains classified, so neither al-Marri nor his lawyers can see it. While al-Marri’s lawyers protest that the evidence is “triple hearsay” and inadmissible in court, the judge rules otherwise. Slate’s Emily Bazelon will report, “The declassified allegations aren’t revelatory.” The material attempts to link al-Marri to the 9/11 plotters through Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the lead plotter for the attacks. It still is not clear in the newly released evidence who the sources of the information are, but it seems that much of the evidence against al-Marri comes from interrogation sessions held with Mohammed himself. Bazelon observes, “[I]t’s also a safe bet that evidence against al-Marri was obtained through torture.” Such evidence is legally inadmissable as well. Mohammed and other witnesses subjected to illegal interrogation methods can “certainly not be used as witnesses, because that could expose classified information and could open up charges from defense lawyers that their earlier statements were a result of torture,” says a government official. [Slate, 4/20/2006]
Court documents filed by the Justice Department allege that accused al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari national, was chosen to come to the US by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed because, in part, al-Marri has a wife and children, and therefore would arouse less suspicion. Al-Marri was taken into federal custody as a material witness to the attacks (see December 12, 2001) and later designated as a “enemy combatant” (see June 23, 2003). The Justice Department is battling a lawsuit filed by al-Marri’s lawyers challenging his detention. According to the Justice Department, al-Marri was told to arrive in the US before the attacks, and to head to Pakistan if he didn’t get inside the US in time. Al-Marri, his wife, and their five children arrived in the US on September 10, 2001, where he began taking courses at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. The new details come from declassified portions of a sworn statement that the government is using to justify al-Marri’s indefinite detention. The Bush administration has insisted on limiting the information available to detainees and to the public, but was pressured into releasing the al-Marri information after a federal magistrate told government lawyers in February that “the deck is stacked pretty good in favor of the government to start with,” and thusly he wouldn’t consider evidence about al-Marri that al-Marri and his lawyers were not permitted to view for themselves. The magistrate, Judge Robert Carr, is expected to soon recommend whether al-Marri should continue to be held as an enemy combatant. According to the declassified summary, al-Marri traveled to Dubai in August 2001 and was given somewhere between $10,000 and $13,000 plus $3,000 more for a laptop computer. Al-Marri was allegedly given the money by Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, an al-Qaeda paymaster and one of Mohammed’s lieutenants who also allegedly helped some of the 9/11 hijackers (see Early-Late June, 2001). When al-Marri was taken into custody, the computer was found to contain files on the manufacture of hydrogen cyanide as well as over a thousand credit card numbers. The documents say that Mohammed communicated about al-Marri’s activities in the US through his brother, Jaralla Saleh Mohamed Kahla al-Marri, currently being held at Guantanamo Bay. Jonathan Hafetz, one of Ali al-Marri’s lawyers, says that not only should al-Marri “been given this information long ago,” but because the government has not offered any evidence to support the summary, the document is little more than hearsay. Carr told government lawyers to either stop using classified information or declassify it so that al-Marri could see it and respond to it. “You need to make your choice, because this deals with a man’s freedom,” Carr tells the Justice Department lawyers. “He has been removed from the battlefield, so to speak, for many years.” [Chicago Tribune, 4/6/2006]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Robert Carr, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Bradley University, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Al-Qaeda, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Bush administration (43), Jonathan Hafetz, Jaralla Saleh Mohamed Kahla al-Marri
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
The Justice Department argues in federal court that immigrants arrested in the US and labeled as “enemy combatants” under the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) can be indefinitely detained without access to the US justice system. The argument comes as part of the Justice Department’s attempt to dismiss a habeas corpus suit challenging the detention of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari citizen accused by the government of being an al-Qaeda agent (see December 12, 2001 and February 1, 2007). The government argues that the MCA “removes federal court jurisdiction over pending and future habeas corpus actions and any other actions filed by or on behalf of detained aliens determined by the United States to be enemy combatants, such as petitioner-appellant al-Marri.… In plain terms, the MCA removes this Court’s jurisdiction (as well as the district court’s) over al-Marri’s habeas action. Accordingly, the Court should dismiss this appeal for lack of jurisdiction and remand the case to the district court with instructions to dismiss the petition for lack of jurisdiction.” This is the first time the Bush administration has argued in court that the MCA strips a detainee held within the US of habeas rights.
Defense Counterargument - Al-Marri’s lawyers say that because he is being held in a South Carolina detention facility, he has the right to challenge his detention in a civilian court like any other non-citizen held on criminal charges. The Justice Department says that enemy combatants have no such rights regardless of where they are being held. Jonathan Hafetz, one of al-Marri’s lawyers, says: “[T]he president has announced that he can sweep any of the millions of non-citizens off the streets of America and imprison them for life in a military jail without charge, court review, or due process. It is unprecedented, unlawful, and un-American.” [Jurist, 11/14/2006] The government has “never admitted that he has any rights, including the right not to be tortured,” Hafetz adds. “They’ve created a black hole where he has no rights.” [Progressive, 3/2007] The Bush administration is also challenging lawsuits filed by detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility on similar grounds. [Jurist, 11/14/2006]
Civil libertarians, both conservative and liberal, join in filing a legal brief on behalf of suspected al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see December 12, 2001), whose lawyers are preparing to file a suit challenging his detention as an “enemy combatant” (see February 1, 2007). Liberal and progressive law school deans Harold Koh of Yale and Laurence Tribe of Harvard are joined by conservatives such as Steven Calabresi, a former Reagan White House lawyer and co-founder of the staunchly conservative Federalist Society, in a brief that argues an immigrant or a legal resident of the US has the right to seek his freedom in the US court system. Al-Marri is a Qatari citizen who attended Bradley University in Illinois. The brief argues that the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) is unconstitutional. The brief “shows the phrases ‘conservative’ and ‘libertarian’ have less overlap than ever before,” says law professor Richard Epstein, a Federalist Society member who signed it, adding, “This administration has lost all libertarians on all counts.” Koh says: “This involves the executive branch changing the rules to avoid challenges to its own authority. Serious legal scholars, regardless of political bent, find what the government did inconsistent with any reasonable visions of the rule of law.” Epstein, who says Koh is “mad on many issues,” agrees, calling the al-Marri case “beyond the pale.” He says, “They figured out every constitutional protection you’d want and they removed them.” Lawyer Jonathan Hafetz, representing al-Marri, says the case brings up issues about what the framers of the Constitution intended—something libertarians and judicial conservatives often look to. [Associated Press, 12/13/2006]
The Bush administration confirms that it believes US citizens can be designated as “enemy combatants” under the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006). The confirmation comes during the trial of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari and the only person on the American mainland being held as an enemy combatant. Al-Marri, currently held at the Charleston, South Carolina Naval brig, is a legal US resident accused of being a sleeper agent for al-Qaeda (see September 10, 2001). He was arrested in December 2001, while living with his family and studying computer science at Bradley University in Illinois. Al-Marri is charged, not with any direct terrorist activities, but with credit card fraud and lying to federal agents. He is challenging his indefinite detention in federal court, and the government is using the MCA to argue that al-Marri has no status in the courts because of his designation as an enemy combatant. One of the appellate court judges, Roger Gregory, asks Justice Department lawyer David Salmons, “What would prevent you from plucking up anyone and saying, ‘You are an enemy combatant?’” Salmons responds that the government can do just that, without interference from the courts, and adds, “A citizen, no less than an alien, can be an enemy combatant.” Gregory and the second of the three appellate judges, Diana Gribbon Motz, seem uncomfortable with the law’s provisions that the US judiciary has no role in such designations. When Motz asks Salmons about the difference between nations making war and individuals committing acts of terrorism, Salmons retorts with a familiar, and long-disputed, argument that the US Congress gave the government the right to detain terrorist suspects without charge or recourse to the judiciary when it granted the administration the right to use military force against terrorists after the 9/11 attacks (see September 14-18, 2001).
Theoretically Declaring War on PETA - Motz is skeptical of the argument, and asks a series of hypothetical questions about just what organizations or individuals President Bush could designate as enemy combatants. Using the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) as an example, Motz asks, “Could the president declare war on PETA?” Salmons says the question is unrealistic, but refuses to say that Bush could not do so if he chose. The Bush administration is careful in its use of the enemy combatant designation, Salmons says, therefore, “The representative of PETA can sleep well at night.” [New York Times, 2/2/2007]
Ignoring Constitutional Concept of 'Inalienable Rights' - Author and investigative journalist Robert Parry notes that in the al-Marri case, the Bush administration is arguing against the concept of “inalienable,” or “unalienable,” rights as granted by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. According to the administration, as long as the US is embroiled in what it calls the “war on terror,” Bush can use his “plenary,” or unlimited, executive powers to essentially waive laws and ignore Constitutional rights if he so chooses. Parry writes that “since the ‘war on terror’ will go on indefinitely and since the ‘battlefield’ is everywhere, Bush is asserting the president’s right to do whatever he wants to whomever he wants wherever the person might be, virtually forever.” Parry concludes, “The Justice Department’s arguments in the [al-]Marri case underscore that Bush still sees himself as a modern-day version of the absolute monarch who gets to decide which rights and freedoms his subjects can enjoy and which ones will be denied.” [Consortium News, 2/3/2007]
Entity Tags: Military Commissions Act, Bush administration (43), Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Al-Qaeda, David Salmons, George W. Bush, Robert Parry, Roger Gregory, Diana Gribbon Motz, US Department of Justice, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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]
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
Amnesty International logo. [Source: Amnesty International]The human rights group Amnesty International hails an appeal court decision to release alleged al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see June 11, 2007) from military detention. Executive director Larry Cox says in a statement: “Today’s decision strikes down a fundamental premise of the Bush administration’s ill-advised and immoral detention regime: the president’s assertion that he can decide who to detain, and how to detain them, without any judicial review. The Fourth Circuit has affirmed al-Marri’s fundamental human right to challenge his detention. This and other recent developments are an indictment of the Bush administration’s detention regime. It’s now up to Congress to act. They should seize this opportunity to reverse their ill-considered decision last year to strip habeas rights from non-citizens in US custody. This decision restores constitutional habeas rights to those arrested on US soil. However, that is only a tiny subset of the many individuals whose rights have been trampled in the name of the war on terror. Today’s ruling is plain common sense: the president can’t seize civilians in the United States, hold them in military custody, and deny them habeas rights. It’s a sign of how bad things have gotten that the decision comes as such a welcome glimmer of hope.” [US Newswire, 6/11/2007]
Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd says the administration is “disappointed” in the decision to void Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri’s “enemy combatant” status (see June 11, 2007), and will ask that the full appellate court re-hear the case (see Late October-Early November, 2007). “The president has made clear that he intends to use all available tools at his disposal to protect Americans from further al-Qaeda attack, including the capture and detention of al-Qaeda agents who enter our borders,” Boyd says. [Bloomberg, 6/11/2007; US Newswire, 6/11/2007]
Former Reagan Justice Department official and constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein and former civil liberties lawyer Glenn Greenwald applaud the recent ruling requiring the government to overturn alleged al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri’s military detention status (see June 11, 2007). Fein writes that the decision “rebuked President Bush’s frightening claim that the Constitution crowned him with power to pluck every American citizen from his home for indefinite detention without trial on suspicion of preparing for acts of international terrorism.” Other terrorist acts, such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) and the 1993 World Trade Center bombings (see February 26, 1993), “were tried and punished in civilian courts,” Fein notes, adding that Bush bypassed the USA Patriot Act to classify al-Marri as an enemy combatant, although the Patriot Act “provides a specific method for the government to detain aliens affiliated with terrorist organizations who are believed likely to engage in terrorist activity.” Al-Marri was denied that procedure due to his classification as an enemy combatant. [Washington Times, 6/19/2007] Greenwald writes, “How extraordinary it is—how extraordinarily disturbing it is—that we are even debating these issues at all. Although its ultimate resolution is complicated, the question raised by al-Marri is a clear and simple one: Does the president have the power—and/or should he have it—to arrest individuals on US soil and keep them imprisoned for years and years, indefinitely, without charging them with a crime, allowing them access to lawyers or the outside world, and/or providing a meaningful opportunity to contest the validity of the charges? How can that question not answer itself?… Who would possibly believe that an American president has such powers, and more to the point, what kind of a person would want a president to have such powers? That is one of a handful of powers that this country was founded to prevent.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 6/17/2007]
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
Lawyers for alleged enemy combatant Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see December 12, 2001) file papers with the court asserting that al-Marri was systematically abused by FBI and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) interrogators while in military custody. Al-Marri continues to be held in the Naval brig in Charleston, South Carolina (see June 23, 2003). Additionally, al-Marri was told that cabinets full of videotapes of his interrogations exist, according to the legal filings. Al-Marri has been in federal detention, without charge, since 2003. The New York Times has reported that about 50 videotapes of interrogation sessions with al-Marri and fellow detainee Jose Padilla (see May 8, 2002) were recently found by Pentagon officials (see March 13, 2008). DIA spokesman Donald Black admits that one tape shows al-Marri being gagged with duct tape, but says that al-Marri brought that treatment upon himself by chanting loudly and disruptively. One of al-Marri’s lawyers, Jonathan Hafetz, says that the treatment al-Marri has been forced to endure is far worse than anything Black describes—al-Marri, Hafetz says, has been subjected to stress positions, sensory deprivation, and threats of violence or death. “On several occasions, interrogators stuffed Mr. al-Marri’s mouth with cloth and covered his mouth with heavy duct tape,” says the legal filings. “The [duct] tape caused Mr. al-Marri serious pain. One time, when Mr. al-Marri managed to loosen the tape with his mouth, interrogators re-taped his mouth even more tightly. Mr. al-Marri started to choke until a panicked agent from the FBI or Defense Intelligence Agency removed the tape.” [United Press International, 3/13/2008; Washington Post, 3/31/2008]
The Pentagon reviews a compendium of videotaped interrogations conducted at numerous US military detention facilities, including Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq. It identifies at least 50 tapes, including one showing the forcible gagging of a suspect. Defense Department officials say that only a few of the tens of thousands of interrogations conducted since 2001 were recorded. Most were “routinely destroyed” if they were found to have no continuing value, according to Pentagon spokesman Don Black. Among the 50 or so tapes already identified are interrogations of two high-level “enemy combatants,” Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri and Jose Padilla. Both were interrogated at the Naval brig in Charleston, South Carolina. A tape of an interrogation of al-Marri shows the terrorist suspect being gagged and manhandled by FBI agents (see March 13, 2008), but not waterboarded or otherwise tortured. Black says that the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Michael Maples, has reviewed the tape and is satisfied that al-Marri was treated in an acceptable fashion. As for other possible tapes, Admiral Mark H. Buzby, the military commander at Guantanamo, says, “We suspect that the recording devices contain recorded data but we are unable technologically to confirm whether data remains.” [New York Times, 3/13/2008]
The Supreme Court grants the Obama administration a month’s delay in the case of alleged al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali al-Marri (see December 12, 2001). Al-Marri is the only known person being held as an “enemy combatant” in the United States (see June 23, 2003 and January 22, 2009). Obama has directed the Justice Department to review al-Marri’s case. [Associated Press, 1/23/2009]
Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union calls the case of alleged al-Qaeda detainee Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see June 23, 2003) a key test of “the most far-reaching use of detention powers” ever asserted by the executive branch. Al-Marri has spent five years incarcerated in the Charleston Naval Brig without being charged with a crime. “If President Obama is serious about restoring the rule of law in America, they can’t defend what’s been done to Marri. They would be completely buying into the Bush administration’s war on terror,” he says. Hafetz, who is scheduled to represent al-Marri before the Supreme Court in April, compares the Bush administration’s decision to leave al-Marri in isolation to his client’s being stranded on a desert island. “It’s a Robinson Crusoe-like situation,” he adds. Hafetz says that among the issues to be decided is “the question of who is a soldier, and who is a civilian.” He continues: “Is the fight against terrorism war, or is it not war? How far does the battlefield extend? In the past, they treated Peoria as a battlefield. Can an American be arrested in his own home and jailed indefinitely, on the say-so of the president?” Hafetz wants the Court to declare indefinite detention by executive fiat illegal. He also hopes President Obama will withdraw al-Marri’s designation as an enemy combatant and reclassify him as a civilian; such a move would allow al-Marri to either be charged with crimes and prosecuted, or released entirely. Civil liberties and other groups on both sides of the political divide have combined to file 18 amicus briefs with the Court, all on al-Marri’s behalf. The al-Marri decision will almost certainly impact the legal principles governing the disposal of the approximately 240 detainees still being held at Guantanamo.
Opinion of Former Bush Administration Officials - Former Bush State Department counsel John Bellinger says of his counterparts in the Obama administration: “They will have to either put up or shut up. Do they maintain the Bush administration position, and keep holding [al-]Marri as an enemy combatant? They have to come up with a legal theory.” He says that Obama officials will find it more difficult to put their ideals into action: “Governing is different from campaigning,” he notes, and adds that Obama officials will soon learn that “they can’t just set the clocks back eight years, and try every terror suspect captured abroad in the federal courts.” Former Attorney General John Ashcroft calls keeping al-Marri and other “enemy combatants” locked away without charges or trials a “sound decision” to “maximize the national interest,” and says that in the end, Obama’s approach will be much like Bush’s. “How will he be different?” he asks. “The main difference is going to be that he spells his name ‘O-b-a-m-a,’ not ‘B-u-s-h.’”
Current Administration's Opinion - Obama spokesman Larry Craig sums up the issue: “One way we’ve looked at this is that we own the solution. We don’t own the problem—it was created by the previous administration. But we’ll be held accountable for how we handle this.” [New Yorker, 2/23/2009]
Federal prosecutors charge Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, the only “enemy combatant” held on US soil (see June 23, 2003), with criminal terrorism charges. Al-Marri is charged with two counts of providing material support to al-Qaeda and conspiring with others to provide material support to al-Qaeda, according to a press release from the Justice Department. He faces a maximum jail sentence of 30 years. US Attorney Rodger Heaton says: “The indictment alleges that Ali al-Marri provided material support to al-Qaeda, which has committed horrific terrorist acts against our nation. As a result, he will now face the US criminal justice system, where his guilt or innocence will be determined by a jury in open court.” Such a decision takes al-Marri out of the military commissions system and places him in the US criminal judicial system. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is representing al-Marri’s Supreme Court challenge to the “enemy combatant” designation, but criminal charges will not necessarily resolve that issue. Part of the discussion of whether to charge al-Marri centered on the evidence against him: al-Marri’s lawyers claim that much of the evidence against their client was obtained through harsh interrogation techniques and torture, which would render that evidence inadmissible in a US court. Some of the evidence may also be too sensitive to reveal in open court, having been gathered through classified intelligence operations. Lead counsel Jonathan Hafetz says: “[T]he decision to charge al-Marri is an important step in restoring the rule of law and is what should have happened seven years ago when he was first arrested (see February 8, 2002). But it is vital that the Supreme Court case go forward because it must be made clear once and for all that indefinite military detention of persons arrested in the US is illegal and that this will never happen again.” Amnesty International’s Geneve Mantri calls the decision to charge al-Marri “another crucial step in the right direction,” and adds: “If there are individuals who pose a real threat to the United States, the best, most effective means of dealing with them is the current system of justice. There are a number of outstanding questions about how the detainee cases will be reviewed and what the approach of the new administration will be, but Amnesty International welcomes this as an indication that they have faith in the US justice system and rule of law.” [US Department of Justice, 2/27/2009; Washington Post, 2/27/2009; American Civil Liberties Union, 2/27/2009] The ACLU wants the Supreme Court to ignore the criminal charges and rule on al-Marri’s petition for habeas corpus rights; the Justice Department says that the criminal charges render al-Marri’s lawsuit moot. [Lyle Denniston, 2/26/2007]
Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari held without charge for seven years by the Bush administration on suspicion of being an al-Qaeda sleeper agent (see December 12, 2001 and June 23, 2003), pleads guilty to one felony count of providing material support to a terrorist organization. Al-Marri was released from the Naval Brig in Charleston on order of the Obama administration’s Justice Department and charged with multiple counts of supporting terrorism (see February 27, 2009). He faces up to 15 years in prison. Until accepting the plea, al-Marri has always denied any connection with al-Qaeda or with Islamist terrorism. Attorney General Eric Holder says of the al-Marri plea: “Without a doubt, this case is a grim reminder of the seriousness of the threat we as a nation still face. But it also reflects what we can achieve when we have faith in our criminal justice system and are unwavering in our commitment to the values upon which the nation was founded and the rule of law.” Lawrence Lustberg, one of al-Marri’s lawyers, says his client agreed to the plea bargain “because he wanted to go home,” and because of fears that a jury trial might end up with al-Marri serving 30 years and not a maximum of 15. (Holder rejected earlier plea deals, insisting that al-Marri serve at least 15 years in prison.) Court papers show that al-Marri was an al-Qaeda agent, with close ties to alleged 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Al-Marri admitted to attending al-Qaeda training camps between 1998 and 2001, and to coming to the US at Mohammed’s direction (see September 10, 2001). The plan was for al-Marri to stay in contact with Mohammed using code names—al-Marri was “Abdo” and Mohammed was “Muk,” apparently short for his nickname “Mukhtar” (see August 28, 2001)—and a Hotmail email account. Documents confirming this were found at an al-Qaeda safe house in Pakistan. Al-Marri’s attempts to contact both Mohammed and al-Qaeda financier Mustafa al-Hawsawi after the 9/11 attacks were unsuccessful. Al-Marri also conducted research on the effects of cyanide gas, and on potential targets for terrorist attacks, including waterways, dams, and tunnels. Al-Marri’s plea agreement says that he will be deported to Saudi Arabia or Qatar when his sentence is completed, or perhaps sooner. The judge in the case, Michael Mihm, has not yet ruled whether al-Marri will be given credit for the seven years he served in the Charleston brig. [Politico, 4/30/2009; New York Times, 4/30/2009; US Newswire, 4/30/2009]
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