Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri pleaded guilty to conspiring with al Qaeda leaders to commit acts of terrorism yesterday. He could be sentenced up to 15 years in prison, though he has spent nearly half that awaiting trial and may get credit for the time already served.
Al-Marri was an exchange student who arrived in the United States on September 10th, 2001 as an al Qaeda sleeper agent. Read the government’s declaration of facts used to detain him. This is the stuff of movies; the FBI took a dangerous man off the streets when it arrested him.
Unfortunately, the government took him out of the criminal justice system and asked that the charges against him be dismissed with prejudice (meaning that they cannot be re-filed in the future). He became a domestically detained enemy combatant and the test case for future domestic military detentions. Just as attorneys seek sympathetic plaintiffs to overturn unjust laws, the government can find unsympathetic defendants to justify overbroad claims of power. Al-Marri is about as unsympathetic as you can get.
The real tragedy is that al-Marri will serve a relatively short sentence. Had the government prosecuted him on the seven charges alleged the first time around, he would have been put away for decades. Related posts here, here, here, and here.