Obama Faces Criticism Over Detention Ship

October 9, 2013
Obama, pictured here meeting with former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, sidestepped a question Tuesday about whether Al-Libi's capture complied with "international law"

Obama, pictured above with former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, has sidestepped questions about whether al-Libi’s capture complied with “international law”

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans criticized the Obama administration for detaining a  man reputed to be a major al-Qaeda operative on a ship at sea rather than in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

While three U.S. senators and a representative congratulated the administration for pursuing a boots-on-the-ground strategy that resulted in the capture of Abu Anas Al-Libi in Libya Saturday, they said keeping him on a naval vessel in the Mediterranean Sea for a limited period will not yield much new intelligence on al-Qaeda’s inner workings.

“A navy vessel is not a substitute for a detention facility,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire said at a press conference at the Capitol Tuesday.

“(This) is the wrong way to prosecute the War on Terror. Al -Libi should be sent to a detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, where he can he be interrogated for crucial intelligence, a process which can take many months,” Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) said in an email interview.

“He was living in Libya … I can’t believe he was not aware of the attack on our consulate in Benghazi,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said, referring to the September 2012 attack that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

Al-Libi was captured Saturday morning in the streets of Tripoli. Working with the FBI and the CIA, the U.S Army’s Delta Force apprehended al-Libi, a 49-year-old who is charged in U.S. federal court for helping orchestrate the August 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The FBI had put a $5 million bounty on his head, while the southern district court in New York had indicted him for the African embassy attacks.

President Obama sidestepped a question Tuesday about whether Al-Libi’s capture complied with international law. Instead, he emphasized Al-Libi’s culpability in the African embassy attacks.

“We know that al-Libi planned and helped execute a plot that killed hundreds of people, a whole lot of Americans … He will be brought to justice,” Obama said at a rare White House press conference.

A White House spokesperson did not return an email for more detailed comment. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was unavailable for comment.

Ayotte, Graham, and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) argued that indefinite detention of enemy combatants is more likely to yield high-quality information than keeping them at sea for a few months.

Graham, a former prosecutor in the U.S. Air Force, said detainees who appear before a traditional U.S. or military court stop talking to prosecutors after they are read their Miranda rights and get access to a lawyer.

“I think most Americans would be shocked to know that we have no strategy” long term to elicit information from enemy combatants, Graham said.

Laura Pitter, a senior counter-terrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch, disputed Republicans’ argument that holding an alleged enemy combatant indefinitely will increase national security.

“Experienced interrogators will tell you that methods used by law enforcement personnel, to gain the trust and rapport of detainees rather than putting them in isolation, is a more effective way to treat prisoners,” Pitter said in an interview.

Obama, a former lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Chicago, promised to close the detention facility at Guantanamo as a presidential candidate in 2008. But his administration has not ordered the facility closed, and Congress has foundered on finding a replacement prison.

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