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Charges (Finally) Brought Against al-Marri

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February 27, 2009

Yesterday, The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer reported that a federal grand jury in Peoria, Illinois was preparing to bring criminal terrorism charges against Ali al-Marri, the ACLU’s client in a challenge to his indefinite detention before the Supreme Court. When al-Marri was first arrested, he was indicted by a federal grand jury on credit card fraud charges, but a few weeks before his case was to go to trial, President Bush stepped in, named al-Marri an “enemy combatant,” and locked him in solitary confinement in a South Carolina Navy brig for more than five years. Terrorism charges—or charges that would somehow legitimize his “enemy combatant” status—were never brought against al-Marri. Until now.

So while the new charges may not sound like a good thing, they actually are. Al-Marri should have been brought to trial over five years ago. And that’s the issue in our lawsuit on behalf of al-Marri: does the president have the power to pluck a person off the street—U.S. citizen, resident, alien, anyone—call them an “enemy combatant,” and lock them up without bringing charges against them? We say no.

ACLU National Security Project staff attorney Jonathan Hafetz, who’s representing al-Marri, said in a statement today:

This indictment is an important step toward restoring the rule of law and is exactly what should happen when the government suspects an individual of terrorist acts. This case is now finally where it belongs: in a legitimate court that can fairly determine whether Mr. al-Marri is guilty of a crime.

We still believe the Supreme Court must hear al-Marri’s case. It’s essential that this case is heard so it can be determined, once and for all, that the President cannot do this. If it’s not heard by the high court, the appeals court ruling, which asserts that the president does have such a power, stands. And then there’s nothing to stop the next power-grabbing President from doing to someone else what President Bush did to al-Marri.

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