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Obama reverses Bush-era order on 'enemy combatant' Ali al-Marri

WASHINGTON — President Obama directed military officials to transfer suspected al-Qaida sleeper agent Ali al-Marri into the custody of U.S. law enforcement Friday, reversing a Bush-era order that essentially kept the detainee outside the reach of American courts for more than five years.

The turnaround came on the same day that Justice Department leaders unsealed criminal charges against Marri, 43, who has been incarcerated in a South Carolina naval brig since 2003 as the sole remaining "enemy combatant" in the United States.

Marri faces as many as 15 years in prison on allegations of conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists. The Qatar native journeyed to Illinois, purportedly to begin studying for a master's degree, a day before terrorist strikes hit the Pentagon and the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Marri's legal status has been closely watched, in part because human rights advocates have used him as a test case before the Supreme Court. Their hope is to repudiate a policy that allowed the government to indefinitely detain people who reside legally in the United States but are suspected of conspiring with al-Qaida — without charging them with a crime.

A decision to secure an indictment against Marri in a federal court in Peoria, Ill., probably will avoid a high court hearing scheduled for late April, in which the court could have set a precedent that would tie Obama's hands in cases involving future suspects.

Acting Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler petitioned the court Friday to dismiss the case and issue an order "as expeditiously as possible" that would allow the Defense Department to transfer Marri to civilian custody.

Kneedler wrote that the Supreme Court case is no longer relevant because Marri was challenging his status as a person held by the military without charges, a situation that no longer applies.

"No live controversy remains in this case," the government filing said.

Obama reverses Bush-era order on 'enemy combatant' Ali al-Marri 02/27/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 27, 2009 10:19pm]
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