Detain, Deport, or Prosecute al-Marri?

Detain, Deport, or Prosecute al-Marri?

The New York Times has a thoughtful piece by Adam Liptak this weekend on the Obama Administration’s difficult choice in its forthcoming brief in the Supreme Court case of al-Marri v. Pucciarelli. Essentially, the Obama Administration will have to choose between continued detention, deportation to a third country, or prosecution.

Each choice is perilous. If Obama chooses continued detention he will affirm much of the Bush Administration’s central claim that this really is a war on terror and that the legal framework of war authorizes detention of enemy combatants during continued hostilities. Treating terror as war and terrorists as warriors would enrage civil libertarians. Failing to do so would leave Obama open to criticism for being soft on terrorism. Forcing this question in Obama’s first month in office should be avoided at all costs.

That means Obama should find a way to render the case moot. Deporting him to his native country of Qatar is the easiest way to do so. Qatar is a relatively liberal Muslim nation that has extremely good relations with the United States. With an appropriate diplomatic agreement one would think that Obama could structure al-Marri’s deportation and subsequent treatment in Qatar in a way that protects United States national security interests while affording al-Marri his due process.

The final option is to prosecute al-Marri. This could be done either in a military tribunal or through a criminal proceeding. Liptak’s article does not distinguish between these two options and only obliquely addresses the prospects of a successful prosecution. Assessing the merits of this choice depends on the strength of the evidence against al-Marri, which is not apparent to me from the publicly-available information.

The long and the short of it is that Obama does not need and should avoid an early test on this most sensitive topic. The Clinton Administration famously started off on the wrong foot with the military with an early confrontation on gays in the military. Obama needs time to work through his position on the treatment of enemy combatants. It is not an easy issue that can be thoughtfully resolved in his first month in office. Finding a way to get the al-Marri case to go away would be high on my list of priorities if I were in his shoes.

Do you agree? What should Obama do with al-Marri?

What Should Obama Do with Al-Marri?
Detain as Enemy Combatant
Deport to Qatar
Prosecute before Military Tribunal
Prosecute in Criminal Proceeding
Free polls from

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Howard Gilbert
Howard Gilbert

If al Marri loses before the Supreme Court his case returns to District Court to determine if he is an enemy combatant. Then the US Courts determine his legal status instead of yet another unilateral executive decision to bypass the courts. What is wrong with presenting evidence in court and letting the judge make the decision?

Charles Gittings

Well I’ll be outraged if they do anything with the illegal Guantanamo kangaroo courts but shut them down forthwith. If in fact this guy is as dangerous as they’ve claimed, then there really is no option but to prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law. Indeed, if in fact he’s that dangerous, it’s an absolute disgrace that he’s not been prosecuted long before now — among so many other disgraceful things the Bush administration has and has not done. What I find puzzling about this and similar situations is that so many lawyers exhibit such a deep distrust and / or contempt for due process and the rule of law. Are lawyers really so venal that the only thing that matters is manipulating the law to get the result you want regardless of the facts and the law? (Or is just that they’re so certain of their own limitations that cheating becomes habitual?) There’s not a doubt in my mind that’s how Addington and Yoo operate, and there isn’t a doubt in my mind that such lawyers are a worse threat to the United States than Al-Marri or Al Qaeda ever will be.  The law exists to defend… Read more »

Vlad Perju


Are you suggesting that deportation to Qatar is not an acceptable option under these circumstances?  And as for prosecution, can you clarify whether you think a military tribunal or a criminal prosecution are both viable options?  Beyond your sharp rhetoric, I can’t tell what you think is an acceptable option. 

Can you also clarify whether you think the international humanitarian regime of detaining POWs is acceptable?  I can’t tell from your comments here and elsewhere whether you dispute the concept of the war on terror as a war, or whether you dispute the whole idea of detaining POWs during continued hostilities.  Was it, for example, permissible in your view for the United States to hold POWs for years during the Vietnam or Korean Wars?

Incidentally, al-Marri is not being detained in Guantanamo, he is in being held in a Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina.

Roger Alford

Charles Gittings

Roger, I think deportation is an option legally, but that if the government’s claims have any credible basis (which can’t be assumed), that it would be irresponsible given the nature of the accusations. Further, Al-Marri is a victim of war crimes and crimes against humanity — he’s a material witness, and deporting him would obstruct justice. Bottom line, we don’t have enough credible facts to make a sound decision, and the facts we do have weigh heavily against deportation. The “military commissions” were what prompted me to start my preposterous little project seven years ago. They are absolutely unlawful and represent criminal offenses p. 18 USC 2441 and several other statues in and of themselves. It would be possible to convene a lawful military commission under pre-existing US military law, but the Bush kangaroo courts are fundamentally unlawful and beyond redemption.  They should be shut down, repudiated, and the people responsible for setting them up should be prosecuted. Both the DTA and MCA are facially unconstitutional: they represent an attempt to enact blank-check bills of attainder in violation of Art. I, and to strip the courts of the equity jurisdiction vested in them by Art. III. I think detaining POWs… Read more »