Obama Re-Examines the President's Power to Disappear Enemies


In addition to issuing executive orders that restrict the interrogation techniques used by U.S. personnel, call for closing the Guantanamo Bay prison within a year, and in the meantime require reviews of the cases against the detainees held there, President Obama today ordered a review of the government's policy concerning the detention of legal residents designated as enemy combatants because of alleged ties to terrorism. Specifically, he signed a memorandum instructing "the attorney general, the secretaries of defense, state and homeland security, and the director of national intelligence to conduct a review of the status of the detainee Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who is currently held at the Naval Brig in Charleston, S.C."

Al-Marri, whose case is before the Supreme Court, was arrested by the FBI in 2001 and transferred to military custody in 2003, just before he was scheduled to be tried on charges of credit card fraud and lying to the government. Obama said Al-Marri, whom President Bush identified as an Al Qaeda operative, "is clearly a dangerous individual." But that does not mean Obama agrees with the policy of indefinitely imprisoning accused terrorists without trial. Al-Marri, a legal U.S. resident from Qatar who was studying computer science in Peoria at the time of his arrest, is the last remaining "enemy combatant" imprisoned in the United States. In defending its treatment of him and similarly situated detainees, the Bush administration argued that the president has the unreviewable authority to seize and imprison anyone he unilaterally identifies as an enemy, including legal residents and citizens arrested on U.S. soil. That's the sort of power routinely exercised by kings, dictators, and strongmen throughout history, but it has no place in a constitutional republic.

Previous reason coverage of Al-Marri's case here.