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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.” (Liptak 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.” (Parry 2/3/2007)
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. (O'Dell 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? (Elkins 11/1/2007)
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