For Immediate Release
June 11, 2007
Susan Lehman, 212–998–6318
Mike Webb, 212–998–6746
Jonathan Hafetz, 212–998–6289
In Landmark Case, Court Upholds Habeas Corpus Rights
Today, in a watershed case, a federal appeals court ruled Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a legal resident of the United States, could not be detained indefinitely, without charge.
In a two to one ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Court held the President lacks legal authority to detain Mr. al-Maari without charge; all three judges ruled that Mr. al-Maari is entitled to traditional habeas corpus protections which give him the right to challenge his detainment in a U.S. Court.
“This is a huge victory” said Jonathan Hafetz, litigation director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty & National Security Project and the lead counsel in the case. “The ruling puts the United States where it belongs: in full support of fundamental habeas corpus rights even in times of perceived emergency. The Court soundly and rightly rejected the Administration’s attempt to treat the globe as a battlefield that is exempt from rule of law.”
“The decision protects legal residents and citizens from secret detention. In the American tradition, the Court found that the President can not expand his power, even in times of terror, above and beyond the other co-equal branches of the government,” said Mr. Hafetz.
Al-Marri came to the United States with his wife and five children to obtain a masters degree at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. In December 2001, he was arrested and charged with credit card fraud and other criminal offenses. Al-Marri asserted his innocence and prepared to contest the charges at trial. But, in June 2003, shortly before his trial was scheduled to commence, and on the eve of a hearing to suppress illegally seized evidence, the President signed a one-page order declaring al-Marri an “enemy combatant” and directing his transfer to a Navy Brig in South Carolina, where he been held incommunicado and interrogated ever since. At the Brig, al-Marri was subjected to torture and and degrading treatment. He remains in solitary confinement at the Brig and has not seen or spoken with his family for more than five years.
Mr. Al-Marri challenged the President’s assertion of unchecked executive detention power over all individuals in the United States. In the administration’s view, the President has the authority to arrest and detain individuals without charge, without due process, and without meaningful judicial review. The Court rejected this view.
Hafetz added, “We’re pleased the court saw through the government’s stunning position in this case. Had it not, the executive could effectively disappear people by picking up any immigrant in this country, locking them in a military jail, and holding the keys to the courthouse. This is exactly what separates a country that is democratic and committed to the rule of law from a country that is a police state.”
Jonathan Hafetz is available to discuss this case. Please contact the Brennan Center to arrange an interview.
Fourth Circuit Decision