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US Court Rules Against Military Detention of Terror Suspects

A U.S. appeals court has ruled that military authorities cannot detain suspected terrorists indefinitely on U.S. soil. The Department of Justice said it is disappointed with the ruling and plans to appeal. As VOA correspondent Gary Thomas reports, the ruling is the latest in a series of legal setbacks for the Bush Administration's policies of dealing with terror suspects.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals said Monday the government does not have the authority to indefinitely detain a legal U.S. resident in military custody.

The court said Ali al-Marri, who has spent four years in a military brig without trial, enjoys the protection of habeas corpus, which is the legal right to challenge one's detention. It ordered the government to release him into civilian custody.

In a telephone interview with VOA, Jonathan Hafetz, al-Marri's lawyer, praised the court's decision.

"This is a landmark ruling that affirms the right of habeas corpus for all individuals in the United States, citizen or non-citizen, and rejects the administration's attempt to treat the entire world as a battlefield and to lock up people in this country, potentially for life, without charge, without evidence, and without a trial," said Hafetz.

Al-Marri, a native of Qatar, is only the second person seized in the United States and held as an enemy combatant. He was arrested in December, 2001 and charged with credit card fraud. Before the case could go to trial in 2003, he was designated an enemy combatant and placed in solitary confinement in a military brig in Charleston, South Carolina. U.S. officials claimed he was an al-Qaida sleeper agent.

Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen, was arrested in 2002 and also designated an enemy combatant. He was confined in the Charleston brig until 2006 where, after a series of legal challenges, he was transferred to civilian custody to face terrorism-related charges. He is currently on trial in Miami.

The al-Marri ruling is the second recent blow to the Bush Administration's system of detaining suspected terrorists. Suspected terrorists seized outside the United States have been held in indefinite detention, most of them at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, undergoing months of interrogation.

Last week, U.S. military judges in Guantanamo Bay, ordered charges dismissed against two terror suspects on trial before military tribunals because they had been misdesignated as enemy combatants rather than unlawful enemy combatants.

The judges said the distinction is important because it affects their status under the Geneva Conference that governs treatment of prisoners of war - a designation the U.S. government has refused to allow the war on terror detainees.