Commentary: Sending alleged 'combatant' to prison is vote of confidence in legal system

This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.

The decision by the Obama administration to charge alleged al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali al-Marri with criminal conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists is a major turning point in the war on terror. Mr. Marri was the last alleged terrorist being held in a military prison in this country under the ''enemy combatant'' designation. This deprived him of all his legal rights under a novel and dangerous doctrine of executive power conceived by the Bush administration. Let's hope this is the last we see of it.

Mr. Marri should soon be headed to a prison in Illinois to await trial in federal court – a trial that the native of Qatar should have had years ago when he was arrested in Peoria. Instead, the Bush administration labeled Mr. Marri, a legal U.S. resident, as an enemy combatant, thus arrogating unto itself the power to circumvent the legal system and setting an unsound precedent that could haunt future generations.

President Barack Obama's decision is a vote of confidence in the criminal-court system. It says that no matter how dangerous and ill-intentioned Mr. Marri may be, judges and juries are up to the job of dealing with him. Of course, we don't really know what Mr. Marri was up to because the only ''evidence'' against him in the public record so far is an affidavit from a military intelligence official alleging wrongdoing.

On the strength of that affidavit and the executive branch's designation, Mr. Marri was held for five years in a brig in Charleston, S.C., mostly in solitary confinement. His case not only weakened the rights of all individuals who deem the legal system a shield against the abuses of executive power, but also weakened America's cause in the war on terror.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Miami Herald.

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