Civil Liberties

Enemy Combatant To Be Tried

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More on the al-Marri case, which Jacob Sullum blogged yesterday.

From the AP via Cincy Enquirer about the Qatar citizen and legal resident in the U.S. who has been in custody since 2001 and solitary confinement since 2003:

A divided panel from a conservative federal appeals court harshly rebuked the Bush administration's anti-terrorism strategy Monday, ruling that U.S. residents cannot be locked up indefinitely as "enemy combatants" without being charged.

The three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the government should charge Ali al-Marri, a legal U.S. resident and the only suspected enemy combatant on American soil, or release him from military custody.

The federal Military Commissions Act doesn't strip al-Marri of his constitutional right to challenge his accusers in court, the judges found in Monday's 2-1 decision.

"Put simply, the Constitution does not allow the President to order the military to seize civilians residing within the United States and then detain them indefinitely without criminal process, and this is so even if he calls them 'enemy combatants,'" the court said….

The Bush administration had argued that the Military Commissions Act stripped the court's jurisdiction in the cases of people deemed enemy combatants by the executive branch. The appeals court replied:

"The MCA was not intended to, and does not apply to aliens like al-Marri, who have legally entered, and are seized while legally residing in, the United States," the court said.

The court also said the government failed to back up its argument that the Authorization for Use of Military Force, enacted by Congress immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, gives the president broad powers to detain al-Marri as an enemy combatant. The act neither classifies certain civilians as enemy combatants, nor otherwise authorizes the government to detain people indefinitely, the court ruled.

The case, which is expected to reach the Supreme Court, could help define how much authority the government has to indefinitely detain those accused of terrorism and to strip detainees of their rights to challenge the lawfulness or conditions of their detention.

More here.