10 February 2006

Al-Marri Still in South Carolina Brig

Ali Saleh Kahlab al-Marri, a 40 year old engineering graduate student at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, who is a citizen of Qatar and was legally in the United States with his family, has been held (free registration required for link) in solitary confinement at the South Carolina Navy brig since June 23, 2003 when the President declared him an enemy combatant. He was previously arrested in December, 2001. Jose Padilla, the other person who was so held, has since been transferred to a Miami jail and is not currently classified as an enemy combatant, although that threat of being reclassified as on hanging over his head.

Al-Marri was arrested, unarmed by civilian authorities, in West Peoria, Illinois as a "material witness" and transferred to New York. He was criminally charged with credit card fraud and making a false statement about calling a suspicious number in the Middle East, a year later. The charges were brought first in New York, and then, after a venue change, in Illinois, before George W. Bush declared him to be an enemy combatant and moved him to the Brig in South Carolina. He was moved to military custody, not from a battlefield, but from a civilian jail a year and a half after he was first arrested.

A federal court in South Carolina ruled in July that as a non-citizen, al-Marri could not simply demand that the government charge him with a crime or release him. The ruling noted the decision "does not close the door to this court to [al-Marri]," but it did not spell out what al-Marri needed to do to challenge his enemy combatant status. . . . some of the evidence against him is secret and unavailable. And the public portion of the government's evidence consists of a sworn statement from a federal agent who did not have firsthand knowledge of the assertions about al-Marri's alleged ties to Al Qaeda . . . . The allegations include phone calls al-Marri made and material on his laptop.

"All the government has submitted to say they can hold him for the rest of his life is the statement of a single government agent who has no direct knowledge." . . . according to his lawyers, has not been interrogated in more than a year. Since being moved to the brig, he has not been permitted visits with family, including a wife and five children, who live in Saudi Arabia. A brother, Jarallah al-Marri, is detained at the Guantanamo Bay naval base.

Accusations against Ali al-Marri include that he made a series of telephone calls in late 2001 to a number in the United Arab Emirates used by suicide hijacker Mohammad Atta and others involved in the Sept. 11 attacks. The government says the phone number belonged to Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, an alleged Al Qaeda paymaster.

Al-Marri's lawyers say they want to know if any evidence against their client was collected through torture.

Al-Marri denies being a terrorist or committing any crimes.

One commentator has this to say about his case:

Given the way it has been handled, this case is actually a bit more frightening than the Padilla case. Al-Marri was actually indicted by a federal grand jury in Illinois on terrorism-related charges. Thus, he was under the jurisdiction of a federal district court, where he was being accorded the procedural protections of the Bill of Rights. One day, the government asked the judge to dismiss the charges and when the request was granted, al-Marri was immediately transferred to the custody of the Pentagon, which proceeded to transfer him to the South Carolina brig in which Padilla has been jailed. (The judge dismissed the indictment “with prejudice,” which means that the government is now precluded, under the constitutional bar against double jeopardy, from charging al-Marri with the same offenses contained in the indictment.)

Thus, when we combine the Padilla and al-Marri cases, we see that the Pentagon is seeking the authority to arrest any person, American or otherwise, and punish him and also the authority to yank anyone out of the federal court system and punish him – all without having to comply with the Bill of Rights and without having to deal with the federal courts.

Some of the pleadings (mostly from his criminal case) can be found here and here. Wikipedia's article is found here. His petition for habeas corpus is found here. An appellate brief from Al-Marri from an Illinois habeas corpus petition that was ultimately dismissed on venue grounds and explains the case from his point of view is found here. A December updated from CNN is found here.

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