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Even those who are not particularly fond of the USA have a grudging admiration of

its justice system. Folks with an ingrained sense of right and wrong – and who
experience American jurisprudence mainly through television shows like Philly and
Boston Public – sometimes moan in frustration when some clever defense attorney
gets off a client who is patently guilty; but, by and large, it seems to work
pretty well. After 9/11, that system’s reputation took a bit of a beating, with
measures like the Patriot Act and Guantanamo Bay being justified in the name of
national security. It was a matter of concern, not just to outsiders, but to many
Americans too. No less a person than Colin Powell described Guantanamo as a
national shame. Now the justice system is striking back.

The federal ap¬peals court in Richmond, Vir¬ginia, recently ruled that the
President may not declare civilians in the US to be ene¬my combatants; and have
the military hold them indefi¬nitely. The ruling was a sting¬ing rejection of one
of the Bush administration's cen¬tral assertions about the scope of executive
authority to combat terrorism.

The ruling came in the case of Ali Al Marri, a citizen of Qatar, who is presently
in military custody in Charleston, South Carolina. Al Marri is the only person on
the American mainland known to be held as an enemy combat¬ant. The court ruled
that the admin¬istration may charge Al Marri with a crime, deport him or hold him
as a material witness in connection with a grand jury investigation. It stated
that the continued military detention of Al Marri was not tenable in law.
The appeals court said that a fundamental principle was at stake here. Military
detention of someone who had lawfully entered the US and established connections
here vio¬lates the constitution.

The US Justice Department is not giving up without a fight, though. It said it

would ask the full fourth circuit to ¬hear the case again, which could eventually
reach the Supreme Court. It added that Al Marri represented a dan¬ger to the US.
The Department issued a statement which said, "The President has made clear that
he intends to use all available tools at his disposal to protect Americans from
fur¬ther Al Qaeda attack, including the capture and detention of Al Qaeda agents
who enter our borders."

Al Marri was ar¬rested on December 12, 2001, in Peoria, Illinois, where he was
living with his family and studying computer science at Bradley University. He was
charged with credit-card fraud and lying to federal agents, and he was on the
verge of a trial on those charges when he was moved into military detention in
2003. He has been held for the last four years at the navy brig in Charleston.

So how does this one man, who has been in custody for over five years, represent a
clear and present danger to the US – and how is this danger mitigated by denying
him the due process of law? I do not have any answers. Do you?