Attorneys for Enemy Combatants See Signs of Hope in Recent Trial
Attorneys for Enemy Combatants See Signs of Hope in Recent Trial

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Convicted al-Qaida conspirator Ali Al Marri now faces more than eight years in prison for his role in the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.  He originally faced a longer term, but his sentence was reduced after details of his detention at a military prison in South Carolina were disclosed.  Attorneys representing detainees at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are looking at the Al Marri case as an example that might help their clients. 

This video of  al-Qaida agent Ali Al Marri at the U.S. Navy prison in Charleston, South Carolina gives a rare glimpse into his living conditions while detained as an enemy combatant.

But the video, and other evidence of his treatment and threats to his family in Saudi Arabia helped him to get a reduced sentence.

U.S. District Judge Michael Mihm called Al Marri's treatment in U.S. custody "unacceptable."  

"In the future, other lawyers, maybe even us, will cite this case," said Lawrence Lustberg.

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Attorney Lawrence Lustberg says Al Marri's sentence sets a precedent for other cases that have yet to make their way through the U.S. legal system. 

"I think other lawyers will quite correctly cite Judge Mihm's reasoning which is that it just is wrong and unfair to have someone spend all that time in custody for precisely the same thing and not get any credit towards your sentence for that," he said.

'It's good news that the judge looked at the circumstances in reducing his sentence," said H. . Candace Gorman.

Chicago attorney H. Candace Gorman watched the Al Marri hearings.
She represents two detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay military base in Cuba -  a Libyan and an Algerian. Gorman says they have endured many of the same detention conditions as Ali Al Marri.

"The 24-hour isolation, the no moving around without goggles and ear blinders and the lack of human contact for years," she said.

However, Gorman says she is disappointed by the Al Marri case because his guilty plea means his case will not be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.  She says that means her clients remain in legal limbo.

"It shows us what can happen in these plea deals," said Gorman. "One of the disappointing things, although I certainly don't blame Al Marri or his attorneys, is that it didn't get to go up to the Supreme Court for this whole incarceration of him for at least eight years to be found unconstitutional, that would have been the best victory."

Paul Lermack is a political science professor at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, the school that Ali Al Marri attended in the 1980s.  He agrees with Gorman, but says the Al Marri's case is not the end of the debate over how to deal with enemy combatants. 

"It may end in Al Marri's case in the sense that he will accept it and not appeal further, but the question of how to treat people like this is still continuing," said Paul Lermack. "There will not be a resolution because he made a plea bargain, because he didn't choose to fight the way he could.

Lawyers agree that Ali Al Marri's reduced sentence sets a precedent for future cases involving the detention of terrorism suspects in the United States.  But they also say the question of whether or not their indefinite detention is unconstitutional has yet to be decided by the Supreme Court - an issue that remains unresolved as efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility move forward.