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Supreme Court dismisses case of suspected Al Qaeda agent

Justices vacate an appeals court ruling that said the president has the power to imprison people in the U.S. indefinitely without a trial. The White House did not want a showdown over Bush policies.

March 07, 2009|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Friday bowed out of deciding whether the president has the power to imprison people in the U.S. indefinitely without a trial -- avoiding a showdown the Obama administration did not want.

The court granted the administration's request to dismiss the challenge to the president's authority from suspected Al Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah Marri, who was detained by the military for 5 1/2 years without charges.

But the court's order also vacates the federal appeals court ruling Marri was challenging, which had affirmed the president's power to detain people in the United States without trial.

Marri will be transferred to civilian custody as soon as next week to face charges of providing material support for terrorism. Obama administration lawyers had argued that the case before the high court was moot because Marri had been charged in the criminal system.

"We look forward to prosecuting this case in the criminal justice system and presenting the evidence for a jury to decide [Marri's] guilt or innocence," Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said.

The administration has been spared the unpalatable choice of defending the detention policies of the Bush administration, which candidate Barack Obama strongly criticized, or hurriedly renouncing a power that President Obama has never claimed.

Obama has ordered a review of detention policies, including the designation of suspects as enemy combatants who could be held outside the civilian justice system.

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