June 11 (Bloomberg) -- A divided federal appeals court, in a rebuke to the Bush administration, ruled that an alleged al-Qaeda agent held for four years in U.S. military custody can't be detained indefinitely without being charged.
The 2-1 decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia said accused terrorist Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri can instead be given a criminal trial in a civilian court. The judges said the U.S. can no longer hold him in a Navy brig in South Carolina.
``The president cannot eliminate constitutional protections (even more details of US Constitution and State's Rights) with the stroke of a pen by proclaiming a civilian, even a criminal civilian, an enemy combatant subject to indefinite military detention,'' the court said. Al-Marri ``can be returned to civilian prosecutors, tried on criminal charges, and, if convicted, punished severely.''
Al-Marri was in the U.S. legally when he was arrested in December 2001 during the investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks. He was the first terrorism defendant labeled an illegal enemy combatant by the government. A citizen of Qatar, al-Marri was transferred to naval custody in 2003, and he has been held since then in the military prison near Charleston, South Carolina.
In a statement, Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said the administration was ``disappointed'' with the ruling and would ask the full appellate court to re-hear the case.