My bitter tea comes courtesy of reader Duff, who points us to this:
The Bush administration cannot legally detain a U.S. resident it believes is an al-Qaida sleeper agent without charging him, a divided federal appeals court ruled Monday. The court said sanctioning the indefinite detention of civilians would have "disastrous consequences for the constitution—and the country."
In the 2-1 decision, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel found that the federal Military Commissions Act doesn't strip Ali al-Marri, a legal U.S. resident, of his constitutional rights to challenge his accusers in court.
It ruled the government must allow al-Marri to be released from military detention."
Born in Qatar, al-Marri lived with his wife and children in Peoria, Illinois, where he was pursuing a master's degree and where he was arrested in 2001 as a"material witness" and al-Qaeda collaborator with Khalid Sheik Mohammed. He has been held without charges in various locations since then, most recently a brig in Charleston, South Carolina. Though he never personally took action against the United States, it's arguable that he participated in and assisted actions threatening to national security.
But because our president has declared himself above and untouched by the Constitution, Ali al-Marri may get to walk.
Al-Marri could be a real threat. He has been in government custody. It's probably better for everyone that he remain in government custody. The United States has numerous legal, ethical, constitutionally sound mechanisms by which he could remain in custody, if only George Bush hadn't gotten all "I'm the decider," declared him an "enemy combatant," and held him outside of those legal options.
"To sanction such presidential authority to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain civilians . . . would have disastrous consequences for the constitution -- and the country," U.S. Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the majority.
The next steps will, most likely, be those legal, ethical, constitutionally sound mechanisms. With the civilian trial of Jose Padilla currently underway, we have proof that we can, in fact, bring terrorists to justice and keep our country safe without violating the Constitution that defends the rights of every U.S. citizen and legal resident. We can protect our country from terrorists and protect civil liberties at the same time. It just makes you wonder why, if those mechanisms are in place, our own president - who took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution - continues to insist on using unconstitutional, illegal tactics that only endanger national security and give Americans reason to fear their own government.
And that, really, is what makes the ruling from the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals so valuable. With this ruling, we have evidence that someone out there, some branch of the government, is interested in protecting Americans from being rounded up by the government and held without trial. If our president isn't going to do it, someone has to.