For Immediate Release
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Jonathan Hafetz, Brennan Center for Justice
(212) 998 6289 (o), (917) 355–6896 (m)
Susan Lehman, Brennan Center for Justice
(212) 998 6735
Government Seeks to Strip Immigrants of Habeas Corpus
For the first time in Americas history, immigrants in the United States can be indefinitely imprisoned as enemy combatants without court review, according to papers filed last night by the government in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia. The government has now asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to dismiss a habeas corpus petition filed by 41-year old student, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who has been imprisoned without charge in a Navy Brig near Charleston, South Carolina for 3 years.
This motion is the most extreme step yet taken by Bush Administration to suspend constitutional rights that, since the nations founding, have protected all people detained within the United States. If the court grants the administrations motion, it will effectively give the United States the power to lock up any of the millions of long-term residents and other immigrants in the United States without the traditional benefits of due process, most pertinently the right to hear the charges for which they are being detained.
Coming just days after American voters voiced their opposition20to the Administration and its handling of the war in Iraq, the motion is of special consequence as it signals the Administrations determination to push ahead with what lawyers for Mr. Al-Marri say is the governments most extreme and ambitious attempt yet to extend its power. Al-Marri filed his brief on his appeal challenging his detention as an “enemy combatant” the same day the government filed its motion.
Mr. al-Marri, a 1991 graduate of Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, returned from his native Qatar to Peoria with his wife and five children to study for a masters degree in computer science. Mr. al-Marri and his family arrived in Peoria on September 10, 2001; in December, Mr. al-Marri was arrested as a material witness in connection with the 9/11 Investigators say they found 1000 credit card accounts on his computer and charged him with fraud. Mr. al-Marri was scheduled to go to trial in July 23 but, after his defense lawyer pointed out that evidence against him had been seized without a warrant, President Bush designated Mr. al-Marri an enemy combatant to the United States. Mr. al-Marri was then transferred to a naval brig in South Carolina where he has been detained since.
The government argues that the Military Commission Act, which President Bush signed it into law in October, forbids the courts to hear petitions for Habeas Corpus requests by a prisoner to challenge his imprisonment from aliens the government has designated as enemy combatants.
The governments argument is in direct conflict with the Constitution which forbids the suspension of habeas corpus except in times of invasion or rebellion2C generated public controversy when it was introduced and passed. The Court of Appeals decision on the governments motion to dismiss Mr. al-Marris appeal will thus also test the validity of key portions of the Military Commission Act. If the court grants the governments motion, Mr. al-Marri and hundreds of thousands of legal immigrants like him who arrive in the United States each year may be deprived of protection of law.
Jonathan Hafetz at the Brennan Center For Justice in New York represents Mr. al Marri. The governments motion to dismiss this petition is the most radical attack on Constitutional rights and the rule of law that administration has yet made.
Mr. Hafetz is available to speak about Mr. al-Marri, his case, and the questions it raises.
The other attorneys on the case are Lawrence S. Lustberg and Mark A. Berman of Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, and Andrew J. Savage III, of Savage and Savage, P.A.