Obama signals major shift in US anti-terror policy
He ordered the case of enemy combatant Ali Al-Marri, who has been held in solitary confinement for five years without charges, to be moved to the US criminal justice system.
In a major shift away from the controversial anti-terror policies of the Bush administration, President Obama on Friday ordered the transfer of a suspected Al Qaeda sleeper agent from a Navy brig into the US criminal justice system.Skip to next paragraph
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The move marks an abrupt shift away from former President Bush’s frequent assertions of commander-in-chief power to order the open-ended detention and harsh interrogation of anyone he deemed to be an enemy combatant dangerous to US national security.
Instead of seeking to defend that assertion of executive authority, the Obama administration appears to be prepared to rely instead on the criminal justice system to determine how Mr. Al-Marri should be treated.
Held in solitary confinement
Al-Marri, a citizen of both Qatar and Saudi Arabia, has been held without charge in a solitary confinement cell as an enemy combatant in a Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina, for five years and eight months.
At one point, he complained to his lawyer that his harsh treatment and conditions of confinement were driving him out of his mind. According to legal documents, he protested by smearing the inside of his cell with his own feces.
His case sparked a contentious debate over whether an American president has the power to order a legal US resident like Al-Marri – or even a US citizen – into indefinite, incommunicado detention by the military simply by designating that person an enemy combatant.
After years of litigation that issue is currently before the US Supreme Court, which is poised to hear Al-Marri’s case in April. A decision would be expected by late June. But now, given Al-Marri’s possible transfer to the criminal justice system, the Obama administration is expected to ask the high court to dismiss the case.
“We will continue to pursue Mr. Al-Marri’s case before the Supreme Court to make sure that no American citizen or lawful resident will ever again be subjected to such treatment,” he said in a statement. “It is important that the court hears Mr. Al-Marri’s case and rejects, once and for all, the notion that any president has the sweeping authority to deprive individuals living in the United States of their most basic constitutional rights by designating them ‘enemy combatants.’”
Parallels with Padilla case
Legal analysts are drawing parallels between the Al-Marri case and the earlier case of Jose Padilla. Mr. Padilla, a US citizen, had been held as an enemy combatant for three and a half years in a different wing of the Charleston brig. On the eve of his case arriving at the
Supreme Court, the Bush administration announced it was moving Padilla into the criminal justice system to face trial in Miami.