WASHINGTON – The US Supreme Court Friday dismissed a constitutional challenge brought by alleged Al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali al-Marri as to whether "enemy combatants" can be held indefinitely on US soil.
Marri had been the only "enemy combatant" held on US soil without charge.
The Supreme Court agreed in December to consider a petition by Marri's lawyers challenging former president George W. Bush's authority to indefinitely hold US residents and citizens without charge or trial.
But President Barack Obama's administration sought to block the challenge, urging in papers filed before the court Wednesday that the case be dismissed, because Marri has now been charged in the federal system.
The news comes after Obama ordered the closure of the "war-on-terror" US prison camp in Guantanamo, Cuba, two days after assuming office in January, leaving open the fate of some 245 prisoners still held there.
Marri, a dual Qatari-Saudi national, was arrested in late 2001. He has been held in a military brig in South Carolina since 2003 when Bush declared him an "enemy combatant."
But in a change of status, he was charged last week in a federal court with providing support to Al-Qaeda, and his transfer to a federal prison was announced.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the case, said it would have preferred a ruling "that US citizens and lawful residents detained in the US cannot be held in military custody as 'enemy combatants' without charges or trial."
But the rights group noted "the Supreme Court nonetheless took an important step today by vacating a lower court decision that had upheld the Bush administration's authority to designate al-Marri as an 'enemy combatant.'"
Rights organizations have called on European Union members to accept some 60 Guantanamo detainees, but the block is divided with some European politicians suggesting Guantanamo is Washington's problem to solve.
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