The Supreme Court is meeting today to decide whether to review an ACLU challenge to the Bush administration’s authority to indefinitely imprison a U.S. citizen or a legal resident of the United States without charge or trial based simply on the president’s assertion that the detainee is an “enemy combatant.”
The case was filed on behalf of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a U.S. resident who was first arrested in December 2001 at his home in Peoria, Illinois, where he was living with his wife and children. His criminal case was set to go to trial in July 2003, until President Bush took the extraordinary step of designating al-Marri an “enemy combatant.” Al-Marri was then transferred to a military brig in South Carolina where he was subjected to torture and other degrading treatment.
Al-Marri is now the only person detained as an “enemy combatant” in the mainland United States.
The law in question — a 2001 authorization to use military force in Afghanistan — has been twisted beyond recognition. It now allows the military to seize U.S. citizens as well as legal residents like Marri and hold them forever in a state of legal limbo.
Among our legal system’s most fundamental principles are the right to a jury trial and the presumption that someone is innocent until proved guilty. Like executive branch decisions approving torture, Marri’s detention is a radical departure from America’s deepest values, a moment when our country lost its bearings.
We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will take this case and ensure that people in this country cannot be removed from their homes and imprisoned indefinitely — without charge or trial — just because the president says so. If they don’t, this case could represent the tragic, but appropriate final chapter of the Bush administration’s failed national security policies.