[JURIST] Former US Attorney General Janet Reno [WP profile] joined seven other former US Justice Department officials Monday in opposing an interpretation of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) [PDF text; JURIST news archive] that would deny suspected terrorists held in the US access to the civilian court system. The former prosecutors filed an amicus brief [text, PDF] with the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in an appeal [brief, PDF] brought by Ali Saleh Kahlah Al-Marri [Wikipedia profile], a Qatari citizen detained while studying in the US, who is disputing the government's plan to try him before a military commission [JURIST news archive].
Last week, the Justice Department filed [JURIST report] a motion to dismiss [text, PDF] Al-Marri's case, arguing that immigrants labeled as enemy combatants [JURIST news archive] under an expansive definition [WP report] of the term in the MCA can be indefinitely detained and should be denied access to civilian courts even if they were arrested and held inside the country. The former prosecutors said construing the new law in this way would set a "dangerous precedent" and that
the existing criminal justice system is more than up to the task of prosecuting and bringing to justice those who plan or attempt terrorist acts within the United States without sacrificing any of the rights and protections that have been the hallmarks of the American legal system for more than 200 years. The federal government is eminently capable of both protecting our nations security and safeguarding our proud traditions of civil liberties. We would do well to remember Benjamin Franklins admonition that [t]hose who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.Reno's participation in the challenge marks a rare departure from the normal practice of former US attorneys general to refrain from questioning administration policy. While most of the other eight attorneys listed on the brief worked for the US government during former President Bill Clinton's time in office, W. Thomas Dillard and Anton Valukas both served as attorneys for former President Ronald Reagan. AP has more.