Image: Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri
Peoria County Sheriff's Office  /  EPA file
Ali al-Marri has been held in a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., since June 2003. The government says federal agents found evidence that al-Marri, who was charged with credit card fraud, had links to al-Qaida terrorists.
updated 7/15/2008 2:25:07 PM ET 2008-07-15T18:25:07

The Bush administration has not given legal U.S. resident Ali al-Marri an adequate opportunity to challenge his detention as an enemy combatant, a closely divided federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

In a 5-4 ruling, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the administration has the authority to detain al-Marri if the allegations against him are true. However, the court said al-Marri must be allowed to challenge his accusers.

The full appeals court's ruling stops short of last year's 2-1 panel decision ordering an end to al-Marri's military detention. But it's still a setback for the administration, which has claimed broad power to hold suspected enemy combatants suspected of terrorism.

"At least the president's claim of unchecked, unreviewable detention power has been squarely rejected," said al-Marri's attorney, Jonathan Hafetz.

Hafetz said he was still reviewing the 220-page opinion and was unsure about his next step in trying to win al-Marri's release.

Al-Marri has been held in a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., since June 2003. The native of Qatar was arrested in December 2001 at his home in Peoria, Ill., where he moved with his wife and five children a day before 9/11 to study for a master's degree at Bradley University.

The government says federal agents found evidence that al-Marri, who was charged with credit card fraud, had links to al-Qaida terrorists and was a national security threat. Authorities shifted al-Marri's case from the criminal system and moved him to indefinite military detention.

Hafetz has argued that al-Marri could not be held in military custody because he was not captured on a battlefield. The Justice Department claims Congress gave the administration authority to seize and detain anyone affiliated with al-Qaida, regardless of where they are captured.

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