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On the June 12 edition of MSNBC Live, host Chris Jansing did not challenge White House press secretary Tony Snow's claim that "[n]one of" the many accusations against alleged terrorist Ali al-Marri were "even questioned at trial." In fact, contrary to Snow's suggestion, there was no trial. Jansing had asked for Snow's reaction to a June 11 decision by a Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel finding that the military's detention of al-Marri was unlawful and ordering that al-Marri be charged with civilian crimes, held as a material witness, deported, or released. Snow responded that al-Marri was "a member of Al Qaeda, had been working with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was the mastermind of September 11, who was apparently a part of a sleeper cell to do damage to financial centers in the United States," adding: "None of this was even questioned at trial." But al-Marri never had a "trial" at which he could challenge the government's assertions. Indeed, it was the military's authority to detain him without trial that the court of appeals was adjudicating: A month before al-Marri's scheduled trial in civilian court on criminal charges -- to which he had pleaded not guilty -- the government placed him into military custody when President Bush, in a June 23, 2003, order, declared that al-Marri "is closely associated with al Qaeda" and was therefore an "enemy combatant."
According to the appeals court's decision, al-Marri was initially arrested by the FBI as a material witness in Peoria, Illinois, on December 12, 2001. In February 2002, he was indicted in New York on a single charge of intent to commit credit card fraud; in January 2003, he was indicted on six more charges, including making false statements to the FBI. Al-Marri pleaded not guilty, and all the charges were dismissed in May 2003 for lack of venue. He was then charged with the same seven counts in Peoria, and after al-Marri again pleaded not guilty, a trial was scheduled for July 21, 2003. The appeals court described in its opinion what happened next:
On Friday, June 20, 2003, the [district] court scheduled a hearing on pre-trial motions, including a motion to suppress evidence against al-Marri assertedly obtained by torture. On the following Monday, June 23, before that hearing could be held, the Government moved ex parte to dismiss the indictment based on an order signed that morning by the President [which declared al-Marri an "enemy combatant"].
The federal district court in Illinois granted the Government's motion to dismiss the criminal indictment against al-Marri. In accordance with the President's order, al-Marri was then transferred to military custody and brought to the Naval Consolidated Brig in South Carolina.
Since that time (that is, for four years) the military has held al-Marri as an enemy combatant, without charge and without any indication when this confinement will end. For the first sixteen months of his military confinement, the Government did not permit al-Marri any communication with the outside world, including his attorneys, his wife, or his children. He alleges that he was denied basic necessities, interrogated through measures creating extreme sensory deprivation, and threatened with violence. A pending civil action challenges the "inhuman, degrading" and "abusive" conditions of his confinement.
From the June 12 edition of MSNBC Live:
JANSING: On Monday we saw a setback to the president's policies on -- the federal court ruling -- someone in the U.S. legally cannot be jailed indefinitely just because President Bush says that they're "enemy combatants." The court called this policy "disastrous." Is it now a case, Tony, where federal courts -- including the Supreme Court -- have consistently found that President Bush has overstepped his authority with his anti-terrorism efforts?
SNOW: Actually, Chris, no. This court opinion actually is at odds with the Hamdi [v. Rumsfeld] case before the Supreme Court and the Jose Padilla court case in the federal court. This is a three-judge panel. It's now going to go before the entire Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. We believe that this -- that our position is going to be upheld.
One of the unusual insinuations -- implications here is you got this guy, al-Marri, who was clearly a member of Al Qaeda, had been working with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was the mastermind of September 11, who apparently was part of a sleeper cell to do damage to financial centers in the United States. None of this was even questioned at trial.
What the court said was, because Al Qaeda is not a country, like Iran or whatever, you cannot hold him as an enemy combatant; that's completely at odds with American tradition. It's also at odds with the law. We think that our position will be upheld on appeal.
JANSING: Let me ask you finally, Tony, about what was said Sunday on Meet the Press by former Secretary of State Colin Powell.