Administration to weigh in on detainees
Has chance to change meaning of 'enemy combatant'
WASHINGTON - A federal judge has decided to give the Obama administration time to weigh in on some of the legal cases brought by terror detainees held by the United States, and the Supreme Court has granted a delay in the case of an alleged terrorist sleeper agent.
US District Judge John Bates gave the new president and his Justice Department until February to tell him whether they want to change the government's position on the definition of "enemy combatant." Prisoners from US detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan are challenging their detention as so-called enemy combatants in federal court.
"The new presidential administration may wish to review the government's current position regarding the appropriate definition of 'enemy combatant' to be used in these and other habeas cases," Bates said Thursday.
The Obama administration has until Feb. 9 to weigh in on Guantanamo Bay cases and Feb. 20 on cases involving detainees at Bagram Airfield.
President Obama on Thursday issued several executive orders reining in secretive US counterterrorism policies and ending harsh interrogations.
The Supreme Court also granted the administration a month's delay in the case of alleged Al Qaeda sleeper agent Ali al-Marri, the only person being held as an enemy combatant in the United States.
In a related matter, a Saudi militant who was released from Guantanamo Bay after six years of confinement is now a top figure in the Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda, a US counterterrorism official confirmed yesterday.
Said Ali al-Shihri was released in 2007 to the Saudi government for rehabilitation. He reemerged this week, identified by a militant-leaning website as a top deputy in "Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula," a Yemeni offshoot of the terror group headed by Osama bin Laden.
The Yemeni branch has been implicated in several attacks on the US Embassy in Yemen's capital, Sana.
Shihri is one of a small number of deputies in the group, the US counterterrorism official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss sensitive intelligence.
The militant website, which referred to Shihri under his terror nom de guerre, "Abu Sayyaf al-Shihri," also revealed his Guantanamo prisoner number, 372.
The announcement from the militant site came the same day that Obama signed an executive order directing the closure of the jail at Guantanamo Bay within a year.
A key question facing Obama's new administration is what to do with the 245 prisoners still confined at Guantanamo. That means finding new detention facilities for hard-core prisoners while trying to determine which detainees are harmless enough to release.
At least 18 former Guantanamo detainees have "returned to the fight" and another 43 are suspected of resuming terrorist activities, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said on Jan. 13. He declined to provide the identity of the former detainees or what their terrorist activities were.
It is unclear whether Shihri's name would be a new addition to that list of 61.
The Internet site, an online magazine published by Al Qaeda affiliates, announced that Shihri is the group's second-in-command in Yemen. "He managed to leave the land of the two shrines [Saudi Arabia] and join his brothers in Al Qaeda," the statement said.