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The Bush administration confirms that it believes US citizens can be designated as “enemy combatants” under the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006). The confirmation comes during the trial of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari and the only person on the American mainland being held as an enemy combatant. Al-Marri, currently held at the Charleston, South Carolina Naval brig, is a legal US resident accused of being a sleeper agent for al-Qaeda (see September 10, 2001). He was arrested in December 2001, while living with his family and studying computer science at Bradley University in Illinois. Al-Marri is charged, not with any direct terrorist activities, but with credit card fraud and lying to federal agents. He is challenging his indefinite detention in federal court, and the government is using the MCA to argue that al-Marri has no status in the courts because of his designation as an enemy combatant. One of the appellate court judges, Roger Gregory, asks Justice Department lawyer David Salmons, “What would prevent you from plucking up anyone and saying, ‘You are an enemy combatant?’” Salmons responds that the government can do just that, without interference from the courts, and adds, “A citizen, no less than an alien, can be an enemy combatant.” Gregory and the second of the three appellate judges, Diana Gribbon Motz, seem uncomfortable with the law’s provisions that the US judiciary has no role in such designations. When Motz asks Salmons about the difference between nations making war and individuals committing acts of terrorism, Salmons retorts with a familiar, and long-disputed, argument that the US Congress gave the government the right to detain terrorist suspects without charge or recourse to the judiciary when it granted the administration the right to use military force against terrorists after the 9/11 attacks (see September 14-18, 2001).
Theoretically Declaring War on PETA - Motz is skeptical of the argument, and asks a series of hypothetical questions about just what organizations or individuals President Bush could designate as enemy combatants. Using the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) as an example, Motz asks, “Could the president declare war on PETA?” Salmons says the question is unrealistic, but refuses to say that Bush could not do so if he chose. The Bush administration is careful in its use of the enemy combatant designation, Salmons says, therefore, “The representative of PETA can sleep well at night.” (Liptak 2/2/2007)
Ignoring Constitutional Concept of 'Inalienable Rights' - Author and investigative journalist Robert Parry notes that in the al-Marri case, the Bush administration is arguing against the concept of “inalienable,” or “unalienable,” rights as granted by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. According to the administration, as long as the US is embroiled in what it calls the “war on terror,” Bush can use his “plenary,” or unlimited, executive powers to essentially waive laws and ignore Constitutional rights if he so chooses. Parry writes that “since the ‘war on terror’ will go on indefinitely and since the ‘battlefield’ is everywhere, Bush is asserting the president’s right to do whatever he wants to whomever he wants wherever the person might be, virtually forever.” Parry concludes, “The Justice Department’s arguments in the [al-]Marri case underscore that Bush still sees himself as a modern-day version of the absolute monarch who gets to decide which rights and freedoms his subjects can enjoy and which ones will be denied.” (Parry 2/3/2007)
Attorneys for accused al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see December 12, 2001) challenge his detention as an enemy combatant (see June 23, 2003). The attorneys, appearing before a three-judge panel in Richmond’s Fourth US Court of Appeals, say that al-Marri is being held unconstitutionally and should be allowed to challenge his imprisonment in court under his right to habeas corpus. Al-Marri, a Qatari national, is the only person being held as an enemy combatant on US soil. His lawyers argue that he has inalienable rights as a legal resident of the US, including the right to due process and to challenge his accusers in court. One of al-Marri’s lawyers, Jonathan Hafetz, tells the court: “The basic question is whether criminal or military law governs this case. [The president] cannot militarize the case of a man in Peoria with the stroke of a pen.” The government says that the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) gives the government the right to hold al-Marri and any other designated enemy combatant indefinitely, without recourse to the courts. Hafetz contends that the MCA doesn’t repeal defendants’ right to challenge their detention. He also says al-Marri was improperly classified as an enemy combatant. Justice Department lawyers argue that the court has no jurisdiction to hear such cases, and that the government has classified evidence proving that al-Marri is indeed an al-Qaeda agent. Judge Diana Gribbon Motz asks Justice Department lawyer David Salmons what would stop Bush from declaring anyone he chose an enemy combatant, even if that person was a citizen of a nation not at war with the US. “What I don’t understand is how you make one an enemy combatant,” she says. “What did the president look to, to call someone an enemy combatant?” Salmons says that Congress and the Supreme Court have granted Bush the authority to fight terrorism, (see September 14-18, 2001) and that authorization grants Bush the right to designate people with suspected al-Qaeda links as enemy combatants. Motz disagrees: “If the US can do this, it’s contrary to the Constitution. It would give other nations the ability to do that by declaring a US citizen an enemy combatant.” Salmons says the 9/11 attacks make the situation different. Al-Marri is supported in the court by, among others, former Attorney General Janet Reno, seven former Justice Department officials, and 29 US law school professors, who all contend that the government’s treatment of al-Marri is unconstitutional and sets a dangerous precedent in depriving US residents of basic legal rights. The case is al-Marri v. Wright, 06-7427. (Associated Press 2/1/2007)
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