US residents in military brigs? Govt says it's war
By MATT APUZZO, Associated Press Writer
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.
That this situation has been going on for six years now, and counting, may come as a surprise to most Americans who remain blithely oblivious to the peril each and every one of them has been in since the Busheviks seized the reins of Imperial Government.
Six years a legal US resident has been held in a military brig without charge?
"Authorities say..." And that's what's at issue here. On the "say so" of The Authorities, including Bush himself, Al-Marri has been held for six years and potentially could be held forever.
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.
And you know what? The Government's claim is that anyone can be rounded up and held prisoner without charge, indefinitely.
Anyone. That means you. That means me.
Al-Marri has been designated the test for this radical, unAmerican proposition.
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.
Well, isn't that the truth.
On June 23, 2003, Bush declared al-Marri an enemy combatant, which stripped him of those rights. Bush wrote that al-Marri possessed intelligence vital to protect national security. In his jail cell in Peoria, however, he could refuse to speak with investigators.
A military brig allowed more options. Free from the constraints of civilian law, the military could interrogate al-Marri without a lawyer, detain him without charge and hold him indefinitely. Courts have agreed the president has wide latitude to imprison people captured overseas or caught fighting against the U.S. That is what the prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba is for.
But al-Marri was not in Guantanamo Bay.
"The president is not a king and cannot lock people up forever in the United States based on his say-so," said Jonathan Hafetz, a lawyer who represents al-Marri and other detainees. "Today it's Mr. al-Marri. Tomorrow it could be you, a member of your family, someone you know. Once you allow the president to lock people up for years or even life without trial, there's no going back."
Yes. And this is where we are in this nation right now. Most Americans are oblivious to it because this particular perversion of law and the Constitution does not directly affect them right now. Consequently, what happens to this Scary Muslim Man is of no consequence for them, and furthermore there are lawyers arguing the case before a federal court so what's the problem anyway?
Courts have gone back and forth on al-Marri's case as it worked its way through the system. The last decision, a 2-1 ruling by a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel, found that the president had crossed the line and al-Marri must be returned to the civilian court system. Anything else would "alter the constitutional foundations of our Republic," the judges said.
The full appeals court is reviewing that decision and a ruling is expected soon. During arguments last year, government lawyers said the courts should give great deference to the president when the nation is at war.
"What you assert is the power of the military to seize a person in the United States, including an American citizen, on suspicion of being an enemy combatant?" Judge William B. Traxler asked.
"Yes, your honor," Justice Department lawyer Gregory Garre replied.
So. Really. What's the problem? As long as it is just Scary Arabs and Other Morenos, who cares?
One judge questioned why there was such anxiety over the policy. After all, there have been no mass roundups of citizens and no indications the White House is coming for innocent Americans next.
Another judge said the question is not whether the president was generous in his use of power; it is whether the power is constitutional.