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Supreme Court case: Can terror suspect in US be held indefinitely?

Justices agreed Friday to hear the appeal of terror suspect al-Marri, held without charge for more than five years.

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He says the AUMF was written to "protect United States citizens both at home and abroad."

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Marri's lawyers argue that the government's power to capture prisoners on a battlefield and hold those prisoners for the duration of hostilities does not apply to civilians in the US, who are far removed from any actual battlefield.

Government lawyers counter that the battlefield in the war on terror extends worldwide, including within US borders. Al Qaeda operatives may be held by the US military regardless of where they are captured, they say.

Marri is a citizen of both Saudi Arabia and Qatar. He has been held in US custody nearly seven years. For the last five years he's been detained without charge as an enemy combatant in a 9-foot by 6-foot cell at the US Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, S.C.

US officials suspect Marri was sent to America by Osama bin Laden to carry out a second wave of terror attacks after the 9/11 attacks. They say he was plotting to wreak havoc on the US financial system by hacking into bank and other databases. In addition, he received Al Qaeda training in the use of poisons, according to the government.

Marri's lawyers deny the allegations.

Once in military custody, intelligence officials tried to pressure Marri into confessing. His lawyers say he was subject to harsh interrogation tactics. It is unclear what he told interrogators.

Solicitor General Garre urged the high court to reject Marri's appeal. He said the case should return to a federal judge in South Carolina where Marri would be given an opportunity to fight the allegations against him in a court hearing.

Hafetz says the central issue in the Marri case has been in some stage of litigation for nearly seven years. "The permissible bounds of the executive's domestic detention authority remain shockingly ill-defined," he says.

"The issue before the court is not whether the government's allegations are true," Hafetz says. "It is whether the government must prove those allegations in a criminal trial, with the full safeguards of the criminal process. Further proceedings on remand will not affect or clarify that legal question."

Hafetz says the appeals court decision in Marri's case gives broad authority for the government to hold US citizens in open-ended military detention without charge.

"The Fourth Circuit's decision has profound repercussions," he writes. "It grants the executive discretion to displace the constitutional protections of the criminal justice system, including the right to speedy presentment, confrontation, and trial by jury, merely by alleging a connection to possible terrorist activity."

Garre said the case does not involve whether American citizens can be detained as enemy combatants. He noted that Marri is a foreign national, not a citizen.