WASHINGTON - Immigrants arrested in the United States may be held
indefinitely on suspicion of terrorism and may not challenge their imprisonment
in civilian courts, the Bush administration said Monday, opening a new legal
front in the fight over the rights of detainees.
In court documents filed with the 4th US
Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., the Justice Department said a new
anti-terrorism law being used to hold detainees in Guantanamo Bay also applies
to foreigners captured and held in the United States.
In this June 27, 2006 file photo, reviewed by US
military officials, a detainee, name, nationality, and facial
identification not permitted, sits with a drink in a styrofoam cup as
other detainees sit near him, within the grounds of Camp Delta
military-run prison, at the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base, Cuba. Guantanamo
Bay prisoners could soon lose access to their lawyers - one of their
only contacts with the outside world - because of a new law that
eliminates their right to challenge their detention in civilian courts,
the lawyers fear. [AP]
Ali Saleh Kahlah Al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar, was arrested in 2001 while
studying in the United States. He has been labeled an "enemy combatant," a
designation that, under a law signed last month, strips foreigners of the right
to challenge their detention in federal courts.
That law is being used to argue the Guantanamo Bay cases, but Al-Marri
represents the first detainee inside the United States to come under the new
law. Aliens normally have the right to contest their imprisonment, such as when
they are arrested on immigration violations or for other crimes.
"It's pretty stunning that any alien living in the United States can be
denied this right," said Jonathan Hafetz, an attorney for Al-Marri. "It means
any non-citizen, and there are millions of them, can be whisked off at night and
be put in detention."
The new law says that enemy combatants will be tried before military
commissions, not a civilian judge or jury, and establishes different rules of
evidence in the cases. It also prohibits detainees from challenging their
detention in civilian court.
In a separate court filing in Washington on Monday, the Justice Department
defended that law as constitutional and necessary.
Government attorneys said foreign fighters arrested as part of an overseas
military action have no constitutional rights and are being afforded more legal
rights than ever.
In its short filing in the Al-Marri case, however, the Justice
Department doesn't mention that Al-Marri is being held at a military prison in
South Carolina - a fact that his attorneys say affords him the same rights as anyone
else being held in the United States.
The Justice Department noted only that the new law applies to all enemy
combatants "regardless of the location of the detention."
The Bush administration maintains that al-Marri is an al-Qaida sleeper agent.
The Defense Department ordered a review of Al-Marri's status as an enemy
combatant be conducted if, as requested, the case is thrown out of