Hopefully, the U.S. Supreme Court would not have agreed to review the case of a Qatari man being held as an enemy combatant in the United States if it wasn't planning to change the circumstances of his detention. But we probably won't know until at least March, when the justices hear arguments in an appeal from Ali Al-Marri, who has been held in solitary confinement, without being charged, for more than six years in the U.S. Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. According to the Reuters international news service, the federal government suspects Al-Marri, who arrived in the United States on the day before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, of being a member of al-Qaida. But whether al-Marri is or is not a terrorist is only incidental to the larger questions raised by the case. The real issue is whether the president can authorize the indefinite detention of U.S. residents, citizens or not, without charging them with any crimes. Lawyers for the Bush administration say, obviously, that such detentions are acceptable under the extraordinary circumstances of the war on terrorism. But al-Marri's appeal of an appellate court decision from July, contends that the president has overstepped his authority and violated basic American legal principles. Al-Marri is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.
"We are hopeful that the court will ... ensure that people in this country cannot be seized from their homes and imprisoned indefinitely simply because the president says so," said Steven Shapiro, the ACLU's legal director, according to Reuters. Al-Marri was arrested in December 2001 on charges of credit card fraud, lying to the FBI and other charges. He pleaded not guilty, and the U.S. government dropped the charges in 2003 and designated Marri an enemy combatant. According to Reuters, two other U.S. residents have been held as enemy combatants inside the United States since the Sept. 11 attacks. Jose Padilla of Chicago was held in Charleston for three years before being tried and convicted of offering his services to terrorists in criminal court in Miami; and Yaser Esam Hamdi was deported to Saudi Arabia in 2004 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled he had the right to challenge his detention in U.S. courts.