Supreme Court Vacates Decision Giving President Indefinite Detention Power In Al-Marri Case

March 6, 2009 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court today vacated a lower court decision giving the president the extraordinary power to seize and indefinitely detain U.S. citizens or residents without charge or trial. The case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who, after being held for almost six years in military detention, was indicted last week in federal court and charged with two counts of material support for terrorism.

In July 2008, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in a fractured decision that the president had legal authority to imprison al-Marri indefinitely without charge. As one judge noted in dissent, however, to accept the government’s claim of extraordinary detention power would have “disastrous consequences for the Constitution—and the country.” The Supreme Court vacated that decision and dismissed the case as moot.

The following can be attributed to Jonathan Hafetz, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project and lead counsel in al-Marri’s case:

“While we would have preferred a Supreme Court ruling that U.S. citizens and lawful residents detained in the U.S. cannot be held in military custody as ‘enemy combatants’ without charges or trial, the Supreme Court nonetheless took an important step today by vacating a lower court decision that had upheld the Bush administration’s authority to designate al-Marri as an ‘enemy combatant.’ Congress never granted the president that authority and the Constitution does not permit it. We trust that the Obama administration will not repeat the abuses of the Bush administration having now chosen to prosecute Mr. al-Marri in federal court rather than defend the Bush administration’s actions in this case.”

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