VA: COURT RULES AGAINST INDEFINITE TERROR LOCKUPS
The Bush administration cannot use new anti-terrorism laws to keep U.S. residents locked up indefinitely without charging them, a divided federal appeals court said yesterday.
The ruling was a harsh rebuke of one of the central tools the administration believes it has to combat terror.
"To sanction such presidential authority to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain civilians, even if the president calls them 'enemy combatants,' would have disastrous consequences for the constitution - and the country," the court panel said.
In the 2-1 decision, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel found that the federal Military Commissions Act doesn't strip Ali al-Marri, a legal U.S. resident, of his constitutional rights to challenge his accusers in court. It ruled the government must allow al-Marri to be released from military detention.
The government intends to ask the full 4th Circuit to hear the case, Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said.
"The President has made clear that he intends to use all available tools at his disposal to protect Americans from further al-Qaida attack, including the capture and detention of al-Qaida agents who enter our borders," Boyd said in a statement.
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, Ill., 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.
"This is a landmark victory for the rule of law and a defeat for unchecked executive power," al-Marri's lawyer, Jonathan Hafetz, said in a statement. "It affirms the basic constitutional rights of all individuals - citizens and immigrants - in the United States."