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Al-Marri Trial May Alter Detainee Protocol

He's the only alleged terrorist being held without charges in the United States.

For five and a half years, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri has been locked up in isolation at a U.S. Naval brig in South Carolina, labeled by the U.S. government an "enemy combatant," CBS News justice correspondent Bob Orr reports.

Al-Marri, a suspected al Qaeda sleeper agent, is a legal resident of the United States who was arrested in Illinois three months after 9/11.

Now, sources tell CBS News that federal prosecutors are charging al-Marri in a criminal court, a move that would transfer him from military custody into the justice system, where he will have access to evidence and lawyers and the right to a jury trial.

"What you have here is the Bush administration for years claiming that al-Marri was an enemy combatant who could not be tried in our regular courts," said Andrew Cohen, a CBS News legal analyst. "Now you have the Obama administration coming in, reviewing the file and essentially coming to the exact opposite conclusion."

The government's decision to charge him with crimes comes just two months before the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear al-Marri's case, challenging his indefinite detention.

His indictment could set the framework for how to deal with detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

The Obama Administration has pledged to close Gitmo, meaning high-profile terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammad may end up in U.S. criminal courts.

"So this is a major break in policy and in priorities really for this administration from the last," Cohen said.

Al-Marri is the last of three enemy combatants to be held on U.S. soil since 9/11. After years of being held without charges, Yasir Hamdi was deported to Saudi Arabia. And Jose Padilla was transferred to the criminal justice system, where he was convicted and sent to prison.

Justice Department officials will not comment on the al-Marri case. But he's expected to be turned over to federal prosecutors in Illinois to answer charges of supporting terrorists.

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