US justices to rule on terror suspect's detention

(Adds details of case)

WASHINGTON, Dec 5 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court said on Friday that it would decide whether President George W. Bush can order the indefinite imprisonment in the United States of an al Qaeda suspect without charging him.

In the latest test of Bush's war-on-terrorism policies, the nation's highest court agreed to hear an appeal by a Qatari national, Ali al-Marri, the only foreign national currently being held in the United States as an "enemy combatant."

While President-elect Barack Obama has strongly opposed Bush's policies and has vowed to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, he and his aides have not said what position his administration will take in Marri's case.

After Bush designated Marri an "enemy combatant" in June of 2003, he has been held in solitary confinement in a U.S. Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina without being charged.

Marri's attorneys appealed a U.S. appeals court's ruling in July that the U.S. Congress gave Bush the power to detain Marri as part of its authorization for use of military force after the Sept. 11 attacks by al Qaeda in 2001.

They said the law authorizing military force and the U.S. Constitution do not allow for the indefinite military detention of a person lawfully residing in the United States, without criminal charges or a trial.

"Under the Constitution, people cannot be locked up indefinitely just because the president says so," said Jonathan Hafetz, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who represents Marri.

The Supreme Court in June rebuked Bush in a landmark ruling that prisoners held at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo can go before federal judges in Washington to seek their release. There are now about 250 prisoners at Guantanamo.

It also ruled against the Bush administration in three other war-on-terrorism cases in 2006 and 2004.

The Supreme Court most likely will hear arguments in Marri's case in March, with a decision expected by the end of June. (Reporting by James Vicini, editing by Kristin Roberts)