How Will Obama Rule on Ali Al-Marri?

Arrested in Peoria, Ill., in December 2001, Qatari native Ali Al-Marri has been held as an "enemy combatant" in solitary confinement in a Charleston, S.C., Navy brig since June 2003.

Almost immediately after taking office, President-elect Obama will have to decide whether his presidential actions will fall in line with his rhetoric as a candidate, especially on the matter of whether a U.S. president can hold a civilian in military detention indefinitely without filing any charges against him.

The New York Times takes a look today at the Al-Marri case, noting that a legal brief from the Obama Administration in the Al-Marri matter -- and President Bush's assertion that he has the powers to detain anyone indefinitely -- is due before the U.S. Supreme Court by Feb. 20. The case will likely be argued before the highest court in the land in March.

The U.S. government alleges in court papers that Al-Marri "was directed by al Qaeda leaders to enter the U.S. before Sept. 11, 2001, to serve as a sleeper agent, facilitate terrorist activities subsequent to Sept. 11 and explore computer hacking methods to disrupt bank records and the U.S. financial system."

But it's unclear that any evidence supporting those charges would be admissible in a U.S. court. Some of the evidence comes from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks, who provided information under conditions that include waterboarding.

As a candidate, Obama has said that he "reject(s) the Bush administration’s claim, that the president has plenary authority under the Constitution to detain U.S. citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants.” Complicating the matter, Al-Marri is not a U.S. citizen, though he was in the U.S. legally.

Obama transition team spokeswoman Brooke Anderson punted when asked what the president-elect will do, saying that Mr. Obama “will make decisions about how to handle detainees as president when his full national security and legal teams are in place.”

-- jpt

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