Late Friday, February 27, the Obama administration ordered that Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri be transferred into civilian custody and relocated from the Navy Consolidated Brig in Charleston, South Carolina. The instruction came after action on Thursday by a federal Grand Jury in Peoria, Illinois indicting the suspect under terrorism conspiracy and material support statutes.
Designated an “enemy combatant” by the Bush administration, al-Marri, a dual citizen of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, has been in military custody since 2003.
While suspected of terrorism at the time of his Peoria arrest in December 2001, al-Marri was originally indicted for credit card fraud, making false statements, and identity fraud. For a time he was also held in civilian custody under material witness statutes.
In June 2007 the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that al-Marri’s status as an enemy combatant does not preclude the right to challenge his accusers in the federal courts. In particular the Fourth Circuit found, “we conclude that we must grant al-Marri habeas relief. Even assuming the truth of the Government’s allegations, the President lacks power to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain al-Marri.”
The United States Supreme Court has been scheduled to hear al-Marri’s appeal in April. Friday Attorney-General Holder indicated the Solicitor-General will, based on these new indictments and transfer to civilian jurisdiction, petition for dismissal of al-Marri’s case before the Supreme Court. Attorneys for al-Marri have said they will press for the Supreme Court case to proceed.
(On February 23 The New Yorker published a good overview of the al-Marri case by Jane Mayer.)