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June 23, 2003: US Drops Criminal Charges Against Al-Marri, Designates Him ‘Enemy Combatant’

Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri.Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri. [Source: Slate]A month before he is slated to go on trial for bank and credit card fraud charges (see February 8, 2002), the federal government drops all criminal charges against Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who has been held without legal representation, and in solitary confinement, since 2001 (see December 12, 2001). [CBS News, 6/23/2003; CBS News, 6/23/2003; CNN, 12/13/2005; Progressive, 3/2007]
'Grave Danger' - President Bush says al-Marri “represents a continuing, present, and grave danger” to the country, and the government designates al-Marri as an “enemy combatant,” alleging that he helped al-Qaeda operatives settle in the US. “Mr. Al-Marri possesses intelligence, including intelligence about personnel and activities of al-Qaeda,” Bush continues, and adds that gaining access to it “would aid US efforts to prevent attacks by al-Qaeda.” [Knight Ridder, 6/24/2003; Progressive, 3/2007] The presidential order says he “engaged in conduct that constituted hostile and war-like acts, including conduct in preparation for acts of international terrorism.” His detention is necessary, the order claims, to prevent him from participating in terrorist activities against the US. The order in effect precludes a pretrial hearing scheduled for July 2 and the start of a formal trial on July 22. [CNN, 6/24/2003]
Alleged Sleeper Agent - The government declaration for al-Marri says he worked as an “al-Qaeda sleeper agent” who was planning to “hack into the computer systems of US banks,” and possibly facilitate a follow up to the 9/11 attacks. For its part, the Defense Department says al-Marri trained at a terror camp in Afghanistan before 9/11, personally met Osama bin Laden, and volunteered for an unspecified “martyr mission.” [CNN, 12/13/2005] Attorney General John Ashcroft will later claim that al-Marri refused repeated offers to cooperate with the FBI; “consequently,” Ashcroft will write, Bush declares him an enemy combatant. Ashcroft will claim that under the laws of war, an enemy combatant can be killed out of hand. Instead, the government will hold al-Marri “without charge or trial until the end of the war.” [Slate, 11/30/2006]
Transferred to Navy Brig - Instead, the “enemy combatant” designation takes al-Marri, a Qatari citizen and legal US resident, out of the civilian criminal justice system and places him under the control of the Defense Department, which immediately transfers him into detention at a Navy brig in South Carolina. He could face a military tribunal or remain in detention indefinitely, without trial. He is only the third person to be publicly named as an enemy combatant, along with US citizens Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi.
Fingered by KSM - According to a Justice Department official, al-Marri was “positively identified” as being part of a planned second wave of al-Qaeda terrorist attacks by an “al-Qaeda detainee in a position to know.” Justice officials imply that the detainee to finger al-Marri is senior 9/11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. [CBS News, 6/23/2003] Another suspected al-Qaeda operative, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (see Early-Late June, 2001), is also said to have mentioned him. [CNN, 12/13/2005] Alice Fisher, the deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s criminal division, says the department did not drop the criminal charges against al-Marri because the case was weak: “We are confident we would have prevailed on the criminal charges. However, setting the criminal charges aside is in the best interests of our national security.” The criminal charges—lying to banks, lying to the FBI, and credit card fraud—could have given al-Marri up to 60 years in prison and $1.75 million in fines. [CBS News, 6/23/2003]
Pleaded Not Guilty - Al-Marri’s lawyer Mark Berman says that his client pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges (see May 29, 2003), and the case was proceeding to trial. “I definitely got the sense they were reluctant to try the case in court,” Berman says. “They’d rather be in a forum where defendants aren’t represented by counsel.” Al-Marri’s wife and five children have left the US. The Saudi Arabian government granted the family passports in February, in spite of a State Department request not to issue the passports, as department officials wanted al-Marri’s wife, who is Saudi, to be available to the FBI for questioning. [Knight Ridder, 6/23/2003] Al-Marri’s lawyers say they are preparing a legal challenge to Bush’s decision. [Knight Ridder, 6/24/2003]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, US Department of State, Osama bin Laden, US Department of Justice, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, John Ashcroft, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Al-Qaeda, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Mark Berman, Alice Fisher, George W. Bush, Jose Padilla, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Yaser Esam Hamdi

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

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