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'Enemy Combatant' Fights for Due Process

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'Enemy Combatant' Fights for Due Process

Law

'Enemy Combatant' Fights for Due Process

'Enemy Combatant' Fights for Due Process

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A federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., hears the case of a man held as an "enemy combatant." Ali al-Marri's lawyers say he deserves the same due process as any defendant. The federal government disagrees.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Since 9/11, three men have been held as enemy combatants in the United States. Only one is in a military prison. His lawyers are in a Richmond courtroom this morning to challenge that detention. The case also tests a major new anti-terror law, as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO: On September 10th, 2001, Ali al-Marri moved with his wife and five kids from Qatar to Peoria, Illinois. He'd to college in Peoria in the '90s, and he came back to get a master's degree. Today, al-Marri is in solitary confinement at a naval prison in South Carolina. Jonathan Hafetz is his lawyer.

JONATHAN HAFETZ: At the brig, he's not permitted to talk or see his family, who he hasn't seen in five years. He has no social contact. I mean, his lawyers are really his only link to the world.

SHAPIRO: Al-Marri is in the brig because according to the federal government, the family and the master's degree were a cover that made al-Marri the ideal terrorist. Bradford Berenson worked in the White House Counsel's Office from 2001 to 2003.

BRADFORD BERENSON: Al-Marri is an al-Qaida agent here in the United States, not in a position substantially different from that of the 9/11 conspirators.

SHAPIRO: Berenson says the president's ability to hold people in military custody is a vital weapon in the counterterrorism arsenal.

BERENSON: There may be many instances in which a person could not properly be charged with a crime, or a crime under the ordinary criminal code couldn't be proven. But we're protecting the safety of the country, requires that that person be removed from the battlefield and taken out of circulation and held pursuant to military authority.

SHAPIRO: That phrase - removed from the battlefield - is important, because in al-Marri's case the battlefield was Peoria, Illinois.

HAFETZ: The consequences of this interpretation are breathtaking.

SHAPIRO: Defense lawyer Hafetz.

HAFETZ: If the U.S. is a battlefield just like Afghanistan, then the president can snatch people off the street and detain them militarily because he thinks they're combatants, and indeed could even shoot people who he suspects are affiliated with a terrorist organization, just like a combatant in a war zone.

SHAPIRO: There have been two others - Jose Padilla and Yaser Hamdi. They were both U.S. citizens. Al-Marri is not. Wake Forest law professor Bobby Chesney says that may not make much difference to the courts.

BOBBY CHESNEY: The tougher question is how much process is due to figure out if you've really got the right guy.

SHAPIRO: Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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