Al-Marri was a Quatari student living with his wife and children in Peoria, Illinois. He was in the U.S. legally on a student visa. In December 2001, he was caught up in the post 9/11 dragnet of Arab nationals, and charged with giving false statements to the FBI. He was supposed to be a material witness in the 9/11 attacks. What makes his case unique is what happened next.
A month before Al-Marri's case was to come to trial, in June 2003, the Bush Justice Department swooped down and took the defendent from the criminal system, made the court drop its charges (which it did "with prejudice"), and declared Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri an "enemy combatant". He was taken to the Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina (where Jose Padilla was also held). Like Padilla, he was held without further charges for years.
Al-Marri was given the "Padilla Treatment" -- kept in solitary confinement, denied all contact with the outside world, including even his own attorneys, not charged with any crimes, and given no opportunity to prove his innocence. Instead, the Bush administration simply asserted the right to detain him indefinitely without so much as charging him with anything....Seems the judge of the appellate court hearing al-Marri's appeal agreed with Mr. Greenwald (from the Reuters' report):
There is no greater betrayal of the core principles of American political life than to have the federal government sweep people off the streets, throw them into a black hole with no contact with the outside world and no charges asserted of any kind, and simply keep them there for as long as the President desires -- in al-Marri's case, with respect to detention, now five years and counting.
"The government cannot subject al-Marri to indefinite military detention. For in the United States, the military cannot seize and imprison civilians -- let alone imprison them indefinitely," Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote. (Emphasis mine)
The ruling does not free Mr. Al-Marri, but it does direct the Secretary of Defense to release him in a "reasonable" period of time. The article notes that the government could choose to criminally charge him (though they can't on the previous charges), initiate deportation hearings, or hold him as part of the Patriot Act for some limited period of time.
Those who wish to follow the legal peregrinations of this legal case, and they are most interesting for the struggles going on within the judicial system over Bush's enemy combatant cases, can read the summary over at Human Rights First, which also has links to the multiple filings in the case.
While not a definitive decision striking down the Bush Administration's warped anti-civil liberties campaign, codified in the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act of 2006, it is a great victory against the right of an imperial President to intevene in lawful proceedings, seize people in this country lawfully, and put them in military prisons -- not in Afghanistan, Iraq, Poland or Romania -- but in the United States. It was precisely this type of governmental power that was codified in the Military Commissions Act, a law among the most pernicious ever passes in this country.
Every day that goes by that Bush and Cheney and Gonzales and Rice are not impeached is another day that the moral and political reputation of this country sinks into the sewer. I salute the bravery and integrity of the appellate court in ordering the release of the wrongfully held Mr. Al-Marri.