- The Washington Times - Friday, February 27, 2009

UPDATED:

The final “enemy combatant” held by the U.S. military on American soil was indicted Friday in criminal court, marking a stunning departure from the way the Bush administration typically handled terrorism cases.

Ali al-Marri was charged in a federal indictment with two counts of providing material support to terrorists.

The indictment contains no specific allegations, but signifies that Mr. al-Marri will be transferred from a military facility to a federal prison. Mr. al-Marri’s lawyers will then be able to argue that he be released on bail, though a judge can order him held pending trial.

The Bush administration said Mr. al-Marri was an al Qaeda sleeper agent, making him an “enemy combatant” who can be held indefinitely without charges. For nearly six years, he has been held in solitary confinement in a Navy brig in South Carolina.

Mr. al-Marri has challenged his detention and the Supreme Court has agreed to hear his case. It is unclear what impact the charges will have on that case.

His lawyer, Jonathan Hafetz, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, said he hoped the court would still hear the case.

“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,” Mr. Hafetz said before the indictments was unsealed. “But it is vital that the Supreme Court case go 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.”

Mr. al-Marri, a native of Qatar, arrived in the U.S. on Sept. 10, 2001 with his wife and five children. He entered the country legally and was working toward a master’s degree attending computer science classes at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., when he was arrested in December 2001.

Authorities initially accused him of credit card fraud and lying to investigators, charges stemming from the FBI’s investigation into the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Investigators said Mr. al-Marri had met with Osama bin Laden and Sep. 11-mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed while attending Al Qaeda training camps. The FBI said it found incriminating information on his laptop computer, such as information about poisons, coded messages and lectures from Mr. bin Laden.

Two years later, the criminal charges were dropped and the Bush administration declared him an “enemy combatant,” saying Mr. al-Marri had critical information about terrorism.

Mr. al-Marri was then brought to the Navy brig, where, his lawyers claim, he was tortured and not allowed contact with anyone for 16 months.

He is not the first “enemy combatant” held in the U.S. to have his case moved to civilian courts.

U.S. citizen Jose Padilla was held in the same brig at Mr. al-Marri before being convicted of terrorism conspiracy charges and sentenced to more than 17 years in prison.

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