WASHINGTON - A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that President George W. Bush has the power to keep a terrorist suspect jailed indefinitely, but that the detainee has the right to challenge his detention as an "enemy combatant."
The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, took up the case of Ali Al-Marri, the only "war on terror" suspect arrested on US soil, and reversed a June 2007 decision by a lower court denying Bush the power to keep the suspect jailed indefinitely and ordering his release.
By a 5-4 decision, the Richmond court, reputedly one of the most conservative in the country, said: "if the government's allegations about Al-Marri are true, Congress has empowered the president to detain him as an enemy combatant."
At the same time, the court also decided by a 5-4 vote that "al-Marri has not been afforded sufficient process to challenge his designation as an enemy combatant."
The US Supreme Court ruled last month that war on terror detainees held at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, under habeas corpus, have a right to challenge their detention in a civilian court.
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The high court concluded that the Guantanamo naval base can be treated as US territory where rights enshrined in the US Constitution must be respected.
The US Justice Department welcomed the Richmond court's decision upholding Bush's power to jail terrorist suspects indefinitely.
"We are pleased with the court's en banc decision today ... that authority is backed by the support of Congress and is a vital tool in protecting the nation against further terrorist attacks," it said in a statement.
Al-Marri, a Qatari citizen imprisoned for five in a military jail in South Carolina, was arrested on suspicion of credit card fraud three months after he arrived in the United States on a student visa with his wife and children on September 10, 2001.
In 2003, Bush declared him an "enemy combabant" and charged him with receiving training in Afghanistan after volunteering as an Al-Qaeda martyr in 2001.
© 2008 Agence France Presse