It’s time to tell the stories of two brothers, Jarallah al-Marri and Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri. They are both citizens of Qatar.
Jarallah is currently in Guantanamo Bay. He was originally picked up on the Afghan-Pakistani border in 2001 and turned over to the Americans who then flew him to Guantanamo Bay.
He has had a “Combatant Status Review” and the military court “determined” that he was an unlawful combatant at the time he was detained, therefore he will remain in Guantanamo indefinitely. I also note that he was one of hundreds of prisoners there who participated in hunger strikes to “protest the inhumane conditions and religious persecution” found there.
Jarallah has a heart condition and it’s unknown how serious that is, or whether he will outlive his indefinite detainment. The most serious (publically revealed) charge against him is that he went to one of Osama bin Laden’s training camps in Afghanistan prior to 9/11. Jarallah admitted he went to this camp but said he didn’t know it belonged to Osama bin Laden.
So that’s Jarallah. His brother Ali Saleh however is in an entirely different form of legal limbo. Since September 11, 2001, three (and only three) people have ever been charged with being an “enemy combatant”. Two were American citizens, Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla. Hamdi has been released to Saudi Arabia after renouncing his American citizenship. Jose Padilla has been “un-declared” an enemy combatant and is now in jail facing an ordinary criminal trial in Florida.
So Ali Saleh remains the last person in the United States classified as an “enemy combatant”, something that Bush himself has to officially designate.
As I said, Ali Saleh is a Qatari citizen. But he first came to the United States in 1983 (legally). In 1991, he graduated from Bradley University with a degree in business and returned to Qatar. He then spent a number of years in Qatar and Saudi Arabia until deciding to get a Master’s degree at Bradley University (in Peoria, Illinois).
Ali Saleh made the fatal mistake of arriving in Illinois on September 10, 2001, along with his wife and five children. By October 2001, the FBI had visited Ali Saleh, probably because his brother Jarallah had been detained in Pakistan. By December 2001, the FBI had enough evidence to obtain a warrant and they searched his apartment.
From December 2001 to June 23, 2003 the case against Ali Saleh was of an ordinary criminal nature. He was charged with using false identification to open bank accounts. He also apparently had a lot of stolen credit card information in his apartment, as well as a number of international phone calling cards. Ali Saleh was also charged with lying to the FBI about these items.
On June 23, 2003, Bush declared him an enemy combatant and the criminal charges against him were immediately dropped. He then disappeared into the legal limbo blackhole that being an “enemy combatant” entails. For an entire year, he was held in the same South Carolina Naval brig as Jose Padilla, denied access to his family or even lawyers. In June 2004, the Supreme Court ruled (in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld) that enemy combatants do have some rights.
The Baltimore Sun/Chicago Tribune wrote an article about Ali Saleh Al-Marri, although they misspell his name:
A federal court in South Carolina ruled in July that as a noncitizen, al-Marri could not simply demand that the government charge him with a crime or release him. The ruling noted that the decision “does not close the door to this court to [al-Marri],” but it did not spell out what al-Marri needed to do to challenge his enemy combatant status.
In December, the court said al-Marri was entitled to “receive notice of the factual basis for his classification [as an enemy combatant], and a fair opportunity to rebut the government’s factual assertions by presenting more persuasive evidence before a neutral decisionmaker.”
But his lawyers say that standard, borrowed from the Supreme Court’s June 2004 decision, stacks the deck against al-Marri because some of the evidence against him is secret and unavailable.
And the public portion of the government’s evidence consists of a sworn statement from a federal agent who did not have firsthand knowledge of the assertions about al-Marri’s alleged ties to al-Qaida, Hafetz said. The allegations include phone calls he made and material on his laptop.
According to his lawyers, al-Marri has not been interrogated in more than a year. Since being moved to the brig, he has not been allowed visits with his wife and five children, who live in Saudi Arabia.
Accusations against Ali al-Marri include that he made a series of telephone calls in late 2001 to a phone number in the United Arab Emirates used by suicide hijacker Mohammad Atta and others involved in the Sept. 11 attacks. The government says the phone number belonged to Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, an alleged al-Qaida paymaster.
He’s been in prison for more than four years and still has yet to see a courtroom. And as the article above shows, the main (unclassified) evidence against him is that a phone card in his possession was used to call Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi. I note that Hawsawi has been detained by the United States and is being held in an undisclosed location, one of the “black” prisons somewhere on the planet.
There were also a lot of incriminating items on Ali Saleh’s laptop, including cartoons about September 11 and information about hydrogen cyanide.
CNN had an article on Ali Saleh in December 2005:
The Pentagon asserts al-Marri trained at a terror camp in Afghanistan before September 11, met bin Laden, and volunteered for a “martyr mission.”
“It’s not true, and it’s never been established by any evidence that’s been provided certainly to us or in a court of law,” said New Jersey-based defense attorney Mark Berman. “What we’re trying to obtain on his behalf is an opportunity to confront whatever evidence the government has so we can, in fact, establish that he is not what the president says he is.”
After al-Marri was sent to the U.S. Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina, the military refused to allow his attorneys to visit him for 16 months.
When they finally did, they heard tales from their client of being deprived of shoes and socks, blankets, toilet paper, toothpaste and sunlight.
Al-Marri complained that he was subjected to constant video surveillance, repeated interrogations and threats against his family overseas.
But worst of all, he said, was the isolation.
“Mr. al-Marri has been detained at a naval brig for two-and-a-half years in cell that is 9 feet by 6 feet.” said Jonathan Hafetz, of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.
“During that time he has long been denied books, news, any contact with the outside world other than his attorneys, including his wife and five children, who he has neither seen nor spoken to,” he added. “I mean things that we don’t even do to people who’ve been convicted of crimes.”
Reading between the lines here, it looks like Ali Saleh made two fatal mistakes. One was having a brother who was in Afghanistan at the wrong time, and who was possibly connected to terrorists. The second was setting up bank accounts with a false name and identity. From looking at the information available, it seems like the government had a pretty solid case against him on those fraud charges.
That being said, those two things don’t make him a terrorist. I don’t know all the evidence against Ali Saleh and it’s possible he really is a terrorist. In that case, my suggestion is to charge him in a court of law and put him on trial. If he is indeed a genuine threat to the United States, I will be quite pleased to see him convicted and sentenced appropriately.
However as long as his fundamental rights to a fair and speedy trial are being abridged, then it is the United States itself which is committing the graver act. The country is full of dangerous people who commit or plan to commit awful acts. And these people are regularly tried in an open court and convicted. Keeping Ali Saleh in indefinite legal limbo serves no purpose at all except to keep the extraordinarily frightening risk of being designated a “enemy combatant” hanging over the heads of all Americans, citizens and legal residents alike.
I will say that if Ali Saleh was genuinely a “sleeper agent” for Al-Qaeda then he was unbelievably stupid. Arriving in the U.S. just a day before the 9/11 attacks, having a brother in Afghanistan, being an Arab Muslim and committing small time fraud is not a good way to escape the attention of the authorities. The whole point of being a “sleeper agent” is to blend into the local population without attracting attention to yourself until it’s time to strike.
My educated guess is that al-Hawsawi, wherever he is, has been tortured (or at least strenuously interrogated) and his “testimony” is the primary basis for the government’s suspicions against Ali Saleh. Of course what the Torture Masters know quite well is that this testimony can never be used in a court of law, therefore they’ve got no other choice but to hold Ali Saleh as an “enemy combatant”. Hawsawsi was “rendered” in Pakistan in March 2003 and Ali Saleh was declared an enemy combatant in June 2003, so the timing certainly matches.
What a bunch of tragic buffoonery the “war on terror” is, where ordinary law enforcement and military techniques for protecting America have been violated. Instead of convictions in court and the enthusiastic support by the population for the government, we’ve got torture, secret jails, jails hidden away in inaccessible places like Guantanamo Bay, secret kidnappings (renditions) from allied countries, the military (NSA) spying on American citizens and the denial of basic rights like habeas corpus, making the United States hated and despised around the world.
On September 12, 2001 the entire world stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States, with every country reaching out to support America in her time of need. Four years later, the United States is rapidly becoming a pariah of nations. The squandering of global goodwill on such an unprecedented scale defies description.
And the saddest irony of all is that none of us are any safer today.
This is cross-posted from Flogging the Simian