Government Brings Federal Charges Against ACLU Client Ali Al-Marri, Only "Enemy Combatant" Held On U.S. Soil

February 27, 2009 12:00 am

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PEORIA, IL – Federal prosecutors announced criminal charges today against Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, the only individual to be designated an “enemy combatant” by the Bush administration being held in military detention on U.S. soil. Al-Marri was indicted in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois and charged with two counts of material support for terrorism. The American Civil Liberties Union represents al-Marri in his case before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging his illegal designation as an “enemy combatant.”

“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,” said Jonathan Hafetz, attorney with the ACLU National Security Project and lead counsel in al-Marri’s Supreme Court case.

Al-Marri, a legal U.S. resident and Qatari national, has been detained in solitary confinement at a Navy brig in South Carolina since June 2003.

“A system in which the president can designate any citizen or legal resident an enemy combatant and lock him up for years without charges is completely at odds with the Constitution and flies in the face of our nation’s fundamental values,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “The Obama administration must unequivocally state that it will not repeat the abuse of executive authority that occurred in this case to imprison other U.S. citizens and legal residents without charges or trial.”

Al-Marri was first arrested in December 2001 at his home in Peoria, Illinois, where he was living with his wife and children. His case was scheduled to go to trial in July 2003 on charges of credit card fraud and making false statements to the FBI, but the case was halted on the eve of trial when President Bush took the extraordinary step of designating him an “enemy combatant” and transferring him to a South Carolina military brig. At the brig, al-Marri was detained incommunicado for 16 months and subjected to torture and other abuse.

“We are pleased that after more than seven years of detention, Mr. al-Marri will finally have his day in court. Mr. al-Marri is reviewing the charges and will respond in court,” said Andrew Savage, one of al-Marri’s criminal defense attorneys.

In 2007, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that the government cannot hold individuals arrested in this country in military detention without charge. However, in July 2008, the full appeals court overturned that ruling in a narrowly divided decision. In the pending case of Al-Marri v. Spagone, the ACLU has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the full appellate court decision.

“Despite this indictment, the Obama administration has yet to renounce the government’s asserted authority to imprison legal residents and U.S. citizens without charge or trial,” said Hafetz. “We will continue to pursue Mr. al-Marri’s case before the Supreme Court to make sure that no American citizen or lawful resident will ever again be subjected to such treatment. It is important that the Court hears Mr. al-Marri’s case and rejects, once and for all, the notion that any president has the sweeping authority to deprive individuals living in the United States of their most basic constitutional rights by designating them ‘enemy combatants.'”

Attorneys in Al-Marri v. Spagone are Hafetz, Steven R. Shapiro, Jameel Jaffer and Hina Shamsi of the ACLU; Andrew J. Savage, III of the law firm Savage & Savage, P.A.; John J. Gibbons and Lawrence S. Lustberg of the law firm Gibbons, P.C.; Mark A. Berman of the law firm Hartmann, Doherty, Rosa, Berman & Bulbulia LLC; Aziz Huq and Emily Berman of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law; and Sidney S. Rosdeitcher of the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP, and

The ACLU’s Supreme Court brief is available online at:

More information about Al-Marri v. Spagone, including legal documents, is available online at:

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