Why was an admitted Al Qaeda operative freed early from a US prison?

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," January 20, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

MARTHA MACCALLUM:, 'ON THE RECORD' GUEST HOST: Some disturbing news tonight: an Al-Qaeda operative who was serving time in a U.S. prison was suddenly and inexplicably released. The Qatar native was sentenced in 2009 for providing material support to Al- Qaeda.

But the Justice Department tells Fox News that he was released before completing that 15 year sentence due to quote, "time served." He had been in custody since 2001. And Defense One's Kevin Baron joins us with more on this. Kevin, good evening. Good to have you here tonight.


MACCALLUM: First, can give everybody background on Al-Marri. What is he accused of doing? What was he up to when he was arrested?

BARON: Well, Al-Marri who came into the United States the day before 9/11 and was picked up because he was alleged to have been placed here by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the master mind of 9/11, to be a sleeper agent. That was a government charge. And his case is famous because he initially was supposed to go to the court system but then was put into military detention under the Bush administration as an enemy combatant, one of the few people to actually to be designated an enemy combatant, but was held at the Charleston Brig in Charleston, South Carolina, not down in Guantanamo. And then shortly after President Obama took office, he was put back into the criminal system where he later then pled and had been serving at the Supermax in Colorado.


BARON: So the unique -- in the case of the in and outs of the -- this, you know, debate that, you know, really from the past 10 years how to handle these kind of suspects.

MACCALLUM: And I remember some of the things he was accused of was investigating the use of cyanide as a possible poisonous gas.

BARON: Right.

MACCALLUM: He was caught taking photographs and looking up on Internet plans of different transportation hubs in the United States. And as you say, the story is that KSM ordered him to be here by September 10th, 2001, to get into the country literally the day before 9/11. But the problem was that he proved that he was mistreated in Charleston, correct? And that may be why his sentence was mitigated, correct?

BARON: Right. So he was in Charleston, but he was alone in a solitary confinement for I think more than a year without any contact of family, representation. And so when Obama came into office, and you know, wanted to do something about this unique case, rather than let him stand there without any representation, habeas corpus was being challenged, rather than send him to Guantanamo which the administration had pledged and the president as a candidate had pledged to close put him into that facility. But I've been to that brig in Charleston. He was the only person there. I have been to the facility. I visited him with Admiral Mullen who did a surprise inspection about five years ago because it was even back then considered a possible alternative site for Gitmo detainees.

MACCALLUM: Right. It was a fascinating story that you tell. And just quickly, why do you think they let him out early? He was supposed to be released in a week or so?

BARON: Right. He was already supposed to be released. This was probably just for security and back in Qatar which, you know -- and by now the United States, especially in the intelligence world, is very close with Qatar. They've been instrumental in helping with some hostage cases overseas with communicating with Al-Newsra and ISIS. So it's not a surprise to that country and to that government that he was delivered or was, you know, let out a little ahead of schedule most likely for security.

MACCALLUM: Let's see what he is up to know. Kevin, thank you very much.

BARON: Sure.