View Full Version : The White House Wins A Disturbing Legal Victory

07-21-2008, 08:38 AM
The White House wins a disturbing legal victory



The Bush administration has been a waging a fierce battle for the power to lock people up indefinitely simply on the president's say-so. It scored a disturbing victory last week when a federal appeals court ruled that it could continue to detain Ali al-Marri, who has been held for more than five years as an enemy combatant. The decision gives the president sweeping power to deprive anyone - citizens as well as noncitizens - of their freedom. The Supreme Court should reverse this terrible ruling.

Al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar legally residing in the United States, was initially arrested in his home in Peoria, Illinois, on ordinary criminal charges, then imprisoned by military authorities.

The government, which says he has ties to Al Qaeda, designated him an enemy combatant, even though it never alleged that he was in an army or carried arms on a battlefield. He was held on the basis of extremely thin hearsay evidence.

Last year, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, based in Richmond, Virginia, declared that the government could not hold al-Marri, or any other civilian, simply on the president's orders. If it wanted to prosecute him, the court ruled, it could do so in the civilian court system.

That was the right answer. Unfortunately, last week the full 4th Circuit reversed the decision, and with a tangle of difficult-to-decipher opinions, upheld the government's right to hold al-Marri indefinitely. The court ruled that al-Marri must be given greater rights to challenge his detention. But this part of the decision is weak, and he is unlikely to get the sort of procedural protections necessary to ensure that justice is done.

The implications are breathtaking. The designation "enemy combatant," which should apply only to people captured on a battlefield, can now be applied to people detained inside the United States. Even though al-Marri is not a U.S. citizen, the court's reasoning appears to apply equally to citizens.

Equally troubling, the ruling supports President George W. Bush's ludicrous argument that when Congress authorized the use of force against those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, it gave the president essentially unlimited powers. If a president ever wants to round up Americans on vague charges and detain them indefinitely, this ruling gives him a dangerous green light.

Al-Marri's lawyers say they will ask the Supreme Court to review the ruling. Without doubt, it should. The case raises critically important issues for a free society, and the 4th Circuit's convoluted set of opinions is too confusing to give proper guidance to other courts, the executive branch, or the people.

The jumble reflects how badly the administration has butchered the law in this area. People accused of bad deeds should be tried in court - not in sham proceedings. They should be put in jail - not in secret detention. If they are not proved guilty, they should be set free. It is up to the Supreme Court to restore these principles of American justice.