Can U.S. Hold Peoria Man Without Charge?

Court might consider whether U.S. can hold accused terrorist as enemy combatant.

WASHINGTON, Nov. 10, 2008— -- The lone enemy combatant left in the United States, currently incarcerated in a Navy brig in South Carolina, is asking the Supreme Court to determine whether someone who was swept up while living in the country legally can be held indefinitely by the military without charges.

Today, lawyers for Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri filed their final brief with the Supreme Court, which is expected to decide by the end of the month whether to take the case.

The case has piqued the interest of many, even those weary of another "legal war on terror" case, because it could have implications for American citizens seized on U.S. soil.

Al-Marri's lawyers contend that, even though he is a Qatari national and legal resident, not a U.S. citizen, the outcome of his case could apply equally to American citizens and "cast a pall over the physical liberty of all persons in the United States."

Unlike other former enemy combatants who were seized either on the battlefield or on a return trip from an alleged visit with terrorists abroad, al-Marri was living in Peoria, Ill., with his wife and five children when he was seized. He has been held as an enemy combatant for five years.

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 war-like acts."

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

Al-Marri claims that, while in custody, he was held at times incommunicado and was interrogated in "ways that bordered on, and sometimes amounted to, torture, including sleep deprivation."

Last July, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that Congress, under legislation passed in the immediate wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, had empowered the president to detain individuals -- including U.S. citizens -- as enemy combatants and to hold them indefinitely.

The appeals court also found that al-Marri had been afforded insufficient process to challenge the government's allegations.

Several high ranking former Department of Justice and military officials, including Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, Brig. Gen. David M. Brahms, and former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno have filed "friend of the court" briefs on behalf of al-Marri.