Feb. 26, 2009 -- In a stark departure from Bush administration policy, the Justice Department is preparing to charge the only alleged enemy combatant held on U.S. soil in the federal court system, ABC News has learned.
U.S. officials said Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari national whom FBI agents arrested in Illinois in December 2001, could face charges for allegedly providing material support to terrorists.
One day before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, al-Marri and his family legally entered the United States so he could begin a master's degree program at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. He had received a bachelor's degree from the same school in 1991.
The U.S. government alleged that he repeatedly attempted to contact an al Qaeda leader suspected of financing the Sept. 11 attacks as part of his alleged involvement in a suspected second-wave attack.
According to an individual briefed on the matter, prosecutors are currently presenting evidence to a federal grand jury in the central district of Illinois.
Al-Marri is currently incarcerated in a U.S. Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. American Civil Liberties Union attorney Jonathan Hafetz met with him there Wednesday, and said today that "If true, the decision to charge al-Marri is an important step in restoring the rule of law and is what should have happened seven years ago when he was first arrested."
Hafetz is representing al-Marri in a pending Supreme Court case challenging his detention. The justices are slated to take up the matter in April.
In 2003, President Bush signed an executive order declaring that al-Marri was "closely associated" with al Qaeda and had "engaged in conduct that constituted hostile and warlike acts."
In addition, the ACLU claims that while in custody at the naval brig, the U.S. government held al-Marri incommunicado for more than a year and subjected him to torture and other abuses.
At the time of al-Marri's arrest, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft compared him to Mohammed Atta, the suspected ringleader of the group of hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks.
The argument at the time was that the priority was to get information out of al-Marri about potential upcoming terrorist plots, as opposed to trying him for alleged crimes.
Al-Marri Supreme Court Case
The Supreme Court had announced in December that it would take up the case challenging al-Marri's indefinite detention.
Today's move was widely expected in the legal community, in part because of the unique and narrow aspects of his case -- he is the only legal resident alien who is in detention in the U.S. without charges against him.
The Obama administration had asked the Supreme Court for more time to file papers in the case while it decided how it would proceed against al-Marri.
Hafetz said it is "vital" that the Supreme Court case move forward "because it must be made clear once and for all that indefinite military detention of persons arrested in the U.S. is illegal and that this will never happen again."
In a report in The New Yorker published earlier this week, al-Marri said through his lawyers that he is "not asking to be taken at my word and to be released, although I very much want to go home to my family."
He continued, saying that what he does want is "to be treated like every other person in the United States who is accused of a crime, including terrorism, and to be given a fair trial in an American court."
ABC News' Jan Crawford Greenburg and Ariane de Vogue contributed to this report.