COLUMBIA, S.C. — Former generals and U.S. Justice Department officials filed briefs Thursday urging the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Bush administration's authority to indefinitely detain the only suspected enemy combatant held on U.S. soil.
"This unprecedented expansion of executive authority within the borders of the United States is not only at odds with more than 200 years of history, but it is wholly unnecessary," argued former judges and officials including former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and former FBI Director William Sessions. "The federal government is eminently capable of both protecting our nation's security and safeguarding our proud tradition of civil liberties."
That brief and others from retired military officers, professors and nonprofit organizations were filed in support of a request by Ali al-Marri, a native of Qatar held in solitary confinement at a Navy brig near Charleston since 2003. He has not been charged.
The legal U.S. resident was living in Illinois when he was arrested in December 2001 as a material witness to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The government has said federal agents found evidence that Marri, who was charged with credit card fraud in 2002, had links to al-Qaida terrorists and was a national security threat. Authorities shifted his case from the criminal system and moved him to the military brig indefinitely after he was declared an enemy combatant.
The American Civil Liberties Union asked the high court last month to review a July decision in which the closely divided 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the administration has the authority to detain anyone suspected of being an al-Qaida member. But the court also ruled that suspects must be able to challenge their military detention.
The Supreme Court has not yet said whether it will take the case.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment on the matter. After the appeals court issued its rulings, department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the decision "recognizes the president's authority to capture and detain al-Qaida agents who, like the 9/11 hijackers, come to this country to commit or facilitate warlike acts against American civilians."
In a separate action, the ACLU asked a judge last week to force the federal government to preserve evidence in Marri's case. His attorneys have said the requirement is necessary because the government has admitted it destroyed some taped interrogations. They say those tapes would have shown Marri was subjected to brutal interrogations and sensory and environmental deprivation and prevented from practicing his religion.
According to documents obtained last week through a Freedom of Information Act request, U.S. military officers at the Charleston brig were ordered to treat prisoners there the same way prisoners at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were treated, including depriving them of natural light for months and forbidding them from having even soccer balls or other items.