May 24, 2008
WASHINGTON – If his cell were at Guantanamo Bay, the prisoner would be just one of hundreds of suspected terrorists detained offshore, where the U.S. says the Constitution does not apply.
But Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri is a U.S. resident being held in a South Carolina military brig; he is the only enemy combatant held on U.S. soil. That makes his case very different.
Al-Marri’s capture six years ago might be the Bush administration’s biggest domestic counterterrorism success story. Authorities say he was an al-Qaida sleeper agent living in middle America, researching poisonous gasses and plotting a cyberattack.
To justify holding him, the government claimed a broad interpretation of the president’s wartime powers, one that goes beyond warrantless wiretapping or monitoring banking transactions. Government lawyers told federal judges that the president can send the military into any U.S. neighborhood, capture a citizen and hold him in prison without charge, indefinitely.
There is little middle ground between the two sides in al-Marri’s case, which is before a federal appeals court in Virginia. The government says the president needs this power to keep the nation safe. Al-Marri’s lawyers say that as long as the president can detain anyone he wants, nobody is safe.
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