National security will be jeopardized if the Bush administration is not allowed to indefinitely hold suspected terrorists as enemy combatants inside the U.S., the Justice Department said Wednesday in appealing a court’s ruling against the tactic.
The administration asked the full 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider a three-judge panel’s ruling that the government should charge Ali al-Marri a legal U.S. resident from Peoria, Ill., and the only suspected enemy combatant on American soil or release him from military custody.
“The scope of the President’s authority to combat al Qaeda fighters who come to America to commit terrorist acts is exceptionally important, and the panel majority’s ruling that the President lacks the authority to detain such al Qaeda agents militarily poses an immediate and potentially grave threat to national security,” the government said in its petition.
The Justice Department had said after the June 11 ruling that it would seek a rehearing before the full appeals court. The court could ask al-Marri’s attorney for a written response before deciding whether to review the ruling.
“The court’s decision was unquestionably correct, and there’s no basis for the government’s attempt to have the full court revisit it,” al-Marri’s attorney, Jonathan Hafetz, said in a telephone interview.
The appeals court said in its 2-1 decision that the federal Military Commissions Act, passed in fall 2006 to establish military trials, doesn’t strip al-Marri of his constitutional right to challenge his accusers in court.
Allowing the military to seize civilians within the U.S. and detain them indefinitely without charges “would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution and the country,” the court said.
Al-Marri has been held in solitary confinement in the Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., since June 2003. The Qatar native has been detained since his December 2001 arrest at his home in Peoria, where he moved with his wife and five children a day before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to study for a master’s degree at Bradley University.
The government says federal agents found evidence that al-Marri, who was charged with credit card fraud, had links to al-Qaida terrorists and was a national security threat. Authorities shifted al-Marri’s case from the criminal system and moved him to indefinite military detention.
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