The GOP was criticizing the administration’s move from the moment bin Laden’s kin landed on U.S. soil.
“Rather than issuing doomsday predictions about sequestration, the president should be notifying Congress that he’s planning a U.S. civilian court trial for a terrorist who took credit for 9/11 and is on video threatening to blow up more U.S. buildings and planes,” Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said on March 8.
“The president may not like it, but the fact remains—Gitmo is still up and running. And as long as it is, it’s the only place where we should be detaining America’s most dangerous enemy combatants—period.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Abu Ghaith “is an enemy combatant and should be held in military custody.”
“The decision of the president to import Sulaiman Abu Ghaith into the United States solely for civilian prosecution makes little sense, and reveals, yet again, a stubborn refusal to avoid holding additional terrorists at the secure facility at Guantanamo Bay despite the circumstances. At Guantanamo, he could be held as a detainee and fulsomely and continuously interrogated without having to overcome the objections of his civilian lawyers,” McConnell said.
“From public reports it is clear that Abu Ghaith possesses valuable knowledge of al Qaeda’s activities within Iran. Abu Ghaith has sworn to kill Americans, and he likely possesses information that could prevent harm to America and its allies.”
At the White House, Earnest said “with all due respect to Senator McConnell, that’s not the assessment of the intelligence community.”
“It’s not the assessment of the Department of Justice. It’s not the assessment of the Department of Defense,” the spokesman said of the assertion that Gitmo is the place for the al-Qaeda member. “So he’s certainly welcome to his opinion, but that’s not the assessment of the people who are responsible for protecting the national security of the United States of America.”
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said he wasn’t concerned about Abu Ghaith possibly being acquitted in criminal court, and said the security risk to Manhattan is less than if professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was being tried in federal court — as the administration wanted.
“My concern here is that I believe even though he gave a 22-page statement, when you have someone who was in the bin Laden inner circle, someone who was in Iran for so many years — and there’s a lot more we can gain from him. And I don’t care how good the interrogators are, in the brief a period of time, I don’t think they would have got all out of him that they could have,” King said March 11.
“Also as far as setting a precedent, if someone captured overseas who was in the bin Laden inner circle is going to get a civilian trial, then I don’t know who is going to be tried in a military commission,” he added.
The decision to try Abu Ghaith in civilian court comes as the Obama administration appears eager to quietly let the Guantanamo commissions drag on for an indefinite period of time.
In “an unorthodox development” in the proceedings for accused USS Cole mastermind Ayman al-Rahim al-Nashiri, as his lawyer characterized it, the government filed a motion for a 706 inquiry, under the Rule for Military Commissions, to assess the capacity of the accused Persian Gulf al-Qaeda operations chief to stand trial.
A finding of incapacity to stand trial could be a convenient finding for an administration that might rather indefinitely tuck this death penalty case away — already the forgotten case on an island where the media prefer to show up for the 9/11 trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his cohorts.
Shortly after the president took office in 2009, the Obama administration withdrew charges against al-Nashiri. New charges were filed in 2011.
Commission proceedings are scheduled to resume April 15. The defense has been petitioning to suspend the competency review “until reasonable safeguards are implemented to protect Mr. al-Nashiri’s confidence.”
One congressman not mentioned in this story told PJM on condition of anonymity that he believes Obama is simply hoping for terror suspects at Guantanamo to die — natural deaths.