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U.S. urges dismissal of legal challenge on enemy combatant

Legal showdown over detentions comes from transfer of man to military brig

Ali Saleh al-Marri
Ali Saleh al-Marri

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(CNN) -- The Justice Department is urging a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit challenging the government's decision to declare a Qatari man an "enemy combatant" and confine him in a U.S. Navy brig.

In a document filed in U.S. District Court in Illinois Wednesday, Justice Department officials defended the transfer of Ali Saleh al-Marri, 37, from a civilian court in Illinois to military custody in Charleston, South Carolina.

President Bush ordered the transfer last month, declaring al-Marri an enemy combatant who "represents a continuing, present and grave danger to the national security of the United States."

But in their July 8 suit, al-Marri's lawyers said the transfer "constitutes the type of unbridled authority against which the Constitution was intended to guard."

The government said the suit, which names President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as defendants, should be dismissed, and that a court in South Carolina should consider any case against the remaining defendant, Cmdr. M.A. Marr of the Naval Brig in Charleston.

The government said Marr is outside the Illinois court's territorial jurisdiction, and the proper venue for the argument is where al-Marri is detained.

The al-Marri case is one of a handful seen as tests that could set the standard for how far the United States can go in detaining terrorism suspects in their efforts to protect the nation.

What happens to al-Marri could present a picture of what happens to Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi, U.S. citizens who also have been named enemy combatants since the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Al-Marri, a citizen of the small Persian Gulf country of Qatar and a graduate of Bradley University in Peoria, was arrested in late 2001 and indicted last year for credit card fraud and making false statements to FBI agents.

Despite prosecutors' stated belief that al-Marri had ties to al Qaeda, they had not sought terrorism-related charges.

Government sources say information later obtained from al Qaeda leaders now in U.S. custody identified al-Marri as someone who helped other al Qaeda operatives entering the United States.

In its court papers, the government reiterated arguments used in the Padilla and Hamdi cases.

"While the military campaign is ongoing, the al Qaeda network and those who support it remain a serious threat, as does the risk of future terrorist attacks on United States citizens," the government said.

The case is pending before U.S. District Judge Michael Mihm.

As in the Hamdi and Padilla cases, the issue is likely to reach federal appeals courts, and possibly the U.S. Supreme Court.

From CNN Producer Terry Frieden in Washington


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