On September 10, 2001, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, 35, relocated with his missus and five small children from his home in Qatar to Peoria, Illinois. Never partial to the old 9 to 5, Mr. al-Marri preferred the leafy campus of his alma mater Bradley University, where he studied the dark arts of computer science.
Whether he actually attended classes is unclear. According to the FBI, al-Marri rarely put in an appearance on campus. The university maintains he was not even enrolled in the graduate program, only taking a few classes — and failing those.
Thanks to the website Collegefreedom.org, we now have a better idea what al-Marri was up to and it wasn’t panty raids on the Tri Delta house. Three months after returning to Peoria he was indicted for credit card fraud and lying to the FBI. Later, telephone records would connect al-Marri to three conspirators in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, including ringleader Mohammed Atta and Mustafa Ahmed Al-Hawsawi, a suspected financier of the hijackers. The government also learned that al-Marri had trained at an al Qaeda terrorist camp in Afghanistan for about a year and a half between 1996 and 1998, where he specialized in poisons.
On his laptop computer agents found a treasure trove of jihadi paraphernalia: an Arabic prayer asking Allah to protect Osama bin Laden, files of audio lectures by bin Laden and his gang advocating martyrdom and tax deductible donations to the Taliban, and advice on how to apply for membership in one of Osama’s cushy Hindu Kush camps. Agents also found links to various websites containing the secrets to obtaining and preparing hazardous chemicals, weapons and satellite equipment, and a folder labeled “jihad arena” chock full of information on hydrogen cyanide, a poisonous gas used in chemical weapons.
When bored, al-Marri evidently collected credit card numbers, for the FBI found files containing more than 1,750 of them. He also had a fondness for computer hacking, fake driver’s licenses and credit card fraud websites, which he bookmarked liberally.
His curiosity about America was insatiable. Bookmarked pages in an almanac identified major U.S. dams, reservoirs, waterways and railroads. And he loved gadgets of all kinds. Inside his green minivan, agents found a hand-held global positioning system.
THERE SEEMS LITTLE doubt that al-Marri was a sleeper agent who was way too busy to sleep. The question for the past five years has been what to do with him. Justice Department officials would like to keep him locked away indefinitely in a South Carolina naval brig as an enemy combatant. But this week the Clinton-appointed majority on a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ordered that al-Marri’s case be treated like any other domestic terror-related case (the court cited the case of the Unabomber as an example), despite the fact that, unlike the Unabomber, al-Marri is a conscript for an international organization with whom America is supposedly at war. And since the accused was in the country legally, he had a constitutional right to due process. Anything less would violate the U.S. Constitution.
“Put simply, the Constitution does not allow the President to order the military to seize civilians residing within the United States and then detain them indefinitely without criminal process, and this is so even if he calls them ‘enemy combatants,’” wrote Judge Diana Gribbon Motz. In other words, the court doesn’t care what you call al-Marri — enemy combatant, sleeper agent, chew toy — he gets the same protection as every legal criminal resident.
To read Judge Motz’s opinion you would think the court’s ruling was all that stood in the way of the nation rapidly descending into some kind of post-apocalyptic military rule, with stormtroopers roaming the streets arresting people with whiskers and swarthy skin, labeling them terrorists, and tossing them for all eternity into the brig. And the Left was quick to agree.
“When our government locks away people incommunicado, indefinitely, in a military brig, without charging them, it invites comparison to some of the world’s most abusive regimes, now and in the past,” wrote former Justice Department ethics adviser Jesselyn Radack.
Ironically, since Al-Marri was arrested on U.S. soil, he is entitled to considerably more rights and protections than enemy combatants captured overseas and now held at Guantanamo Bay or the secret CIA prisons in Poland we keep hearing about. One lesson for smart would-be terrorists has got to be that there are benefits to murdering people on American soil. Put that in your majority opinion, Judge Motz.
Christopher Orlet writes the Existential Journalist blog.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?