In the weeks following the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, President George W. Bush and authorities at the Pentagon developed new legal procedures to deal with captured individuals associated with the international Al-Qaeda terrorist network. One of the most interesting test cases for these new rules involved a man named Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a native of the country of Qatar, who came to the United States on September 10, 2001, along with his family, ostensibly to study at Bradley University. Soon after the attacks, on suspicion from investigative government agencies, al-Marri was arrested and later indicted as an enemy combatant. He was sentenced to military detention for the federal crime of terrorism and for his role as a sleeper agent for the terrorist network. The prosecutors charged that al-Marri had met with Osama bin Laden, trained at Al-Qaeda facilities in Afghanistan, and had been planning a potential cyanide assault on United States banks.
At issue has always been how the al-Marri case should be handled. In 2003, under the direction of the president, al-Marri was ordered to be held in isolation. The defendant’s counsel, a lawyer affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that holding his client indefinitely at a military facility was unconstitutional, according to the Bill of Rights. Arguments on both sides of the case discussed questions of national security, privacy, and the limits of presidential authority. The Supreme Court’s ruling on the matter will likely be seen as a potential sea change in how the justice system construes the nature of terrorism.
Finessing a defense to a federal criminal charge can be tough, even if you’re not directly indicted by the President of the United States. The federal government can bring a tremendous amount of resources to bear, and defendants must be prepared to battle tirelessly to get protections due to them under the Constitution.