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Court ends challenge to detentions without trial

Associated Press / March 7, 2009
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WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court yesterday dismissed a challenge by suspected Al Qaeda sleeper agent Ali al-Marri to the president's authority to detain people without charges, granting an Obama administration request to end the case.

The court also set aside a federal appeals court ruling that Marri was challenging, which had affirmed the president's power to detain people in the United States without trial.

Marri and civil liberties groups had asked the court not to leave the appeals court ruling in place in the event that it dismissed Marri's appeal. The justices agreed to vacate the ruling but did not decide on its merits.

Last week, Obama ordered Marri transferred from military to civilian custody to face federal charges of conspiracy and providing support to terrorists.

But Obama has not renounced the use of preventive detention, which was pursued and defended aggressively by the Bush administration after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The administration's silence on this issue was the main reason Marri's lawyers pushed the court to hear the case even after their client got what he was seeking - if not his release, a trial at which he could answer criminal charges.

The new administration also made clear, however, that it had no desire to take a position on the Bush policies.

Jonathan Hafetz, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represents Marri, said he would have preferred a Supreme Court ruling that finally settled the issue. But he was pleased the court set aside the ruling by the US Court of Appeals.

"We trust that the Obama administration will not repeat the abuses of the Bush administration, having now chosen to prosecute Mr. al-Marri in federal court," Hafetz said.

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