According to various news outlets, including the Washington Post, al-Marri (also known as Abdulkareen A. Almuslam), the last remaining unlawful enemy combatant in the United States, is about to be indicted in federal district court in the Central District of Illinois. The news stories indicated that he will be charged with, among other things, material support for terrorism.
This is a significant development, and a clear break from the Bush administration’s policy with respect to al-Marri.
As readers of this blog are well aware, the Supreme Court had taken up the al-Marri case, and is currently scheduled to hear his case this spring.
Recall that President Obama issued a series of Executive Orders during his first week in office. One aspect of that flurry of orders required an analysis of the al-Marri case. If the news stories are true—that he is about to be indicted—it appears that analysis concluded that he could be safely tried in federal district court.
Many of us who have been closely involved in detention-related matters, both inside and outside of the government, are not surprised at this development. Just yesterday, I mentioned at a panel event at the National Press Club that I believed that the Obama Administration would attempt to resolve the al-Marri case before it was argued before the Court.
Al-Marri’s attorney, Jonathan Hafetz, now with the ACLU (formerly with the Brennan Center) told the Washington Post (in the article linked above) that the decision to charge his client “is an important step in restoring the rule of law.” He added, “But it is vital that the Supreme Court hear the case 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 never happens again.”
As stated above, al-Marri is currently detained in the Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina. Once indicted, al-Marri would presumably be brought to a federal facility in Illinois, where his conditions of detention would be different from those he enjoys in the brig.
For those interested in some of the evidence allegedly in the possession of the government on al-Marri, take a look at the previously-classified Declaration of Mr. Jeffrey N. Rapp, Director, and Joint Intelligence Task Force for Combating Terrorism, found here.
If charged with material support for terrorism (as news outlets are suggesting he will be) and convicted, al-Marri could face a sentence of up to life in prison.
Ironically, if acquitted of all charges in federal district court, and the U.S. Supreme Court hears his case, and the Court upholds the Fourth Circuit’s opinion, al-Marri might find himself right back in military detention as an unlawful enemy combatant.