President Bush overstepped his authority when he ordered the indefinite military detention of an Arab computer-science student from Qatar on suspicion that he was an Al Qaeda sleeper agent.
In a stinging rebuke to the Bush administration’s tactics in the war on terror, a panel of the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday ordered the government to release Ali Saleh al-Marri after being held four years in a military brig.
“To sanction such presidential authority to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain civilians, even if the president calls them ‘enemy combatants,’ would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution – and the country,” writes US Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz in the 2-to-1 decision.
“For a court to uphold a claim to such extraordinary power … would effectively undermine all of the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution,” Judge Motz writes. “We refuse to recognize a claim to power that would so alter the constitutional foundations of our republic.”
Motz was joined by Judge Roger Gregory in the majority opinion.
Mr. Marri’s lawyers were pleased with the outcome.
“This decision is a landmark victory for the rule of law,” says Jonathan Hafetz, a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school, who argued the case for Marri. “It affirms the right of all individuals in this country to habeas corpus and rejects the administration’s position that it can lock up people in the US, potentially for life, without charge and without trial.”