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Republican lawmakers urge Obama to define terror suspect detention policy

Top Republican lawmakers on Wednesday urged [press release] US President Barack Obama to define terror suspect interrogation, detention and prosecution procedures. In a letter [text, PDF] to the president, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee [official website] Howard McKeon and other officials from the Intelligence, Judiciary, Foreign Relations, and Homeland Security Committees criticized the administration for its lack of comprehensive policies for dealing with terror suspects. The letter comes in response to the Obama administration's handling of terror suspect Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, who was brought to the US [JURIST report] in July to face a civil trial in New York, a decision that has sparked harsh criticism from lawmakers who want terror suspects to be held at the Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detention facility. Warsame was captured by US forces in April [CNN report] somewhere in the Gulf region and detained on a US Navy ship for questioning until being sent to the US for trial. The lawmakers criticized the administration for limiting use of military detention and prosecution and called on Obama to articulate his position on detention policies:

By foreclosing these options and failing to create a long-term detention regime that puts a priority on intelligence collection and keeping terrorists out of the United States—combined with reluctance to consult or collaborate with Congress on these issues—the Administration has forced Congress to take action on these issues. These concerns are only heightened given the decision to handle Warsame's case in a manner that directly contradicts pending legislation.
The lawmakers also pointed to immigration issues that arise when a suspect is detained in the US and discussed the experiences of other countries that have become "safe havens" for terror suspects.

US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] has consistently advocated [JURIST report] that terror suspects be tried in civilian courts despite finding little support from Congress. Last month, Holder gave a speech defending the civil court system for terror suspects [JURIST report] saying he will, "defend the exclusive right of the executive branch to determine appropriate venues and mechanisms for all criminal trials," and that he will, "continue to point [to] one indisputable fact ... proven repeatedly by this administration and the previous one: in disrupting potential attacks and effectively interrogating, prosecuting, and incarcerating terrorists, there is quite simply no more powerful tool than our civilian court system." In April, Holder announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and four other co-conspirators will be tried before a military commission [JURIST report] for their roles in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Holder, who wanted the accused be tried before a federal civilian court [JURIST report], referred the cases to the Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] after Congress imposed a series of restrictions [JURIST report] barring the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the US. Holder refused to delay the trial any longer for the sake of the victims of the 9/11 attacks and their families, explaining that the restrictions are not likely to be repealed in the immediate future. The Obama administration changed its position despite repeated appeals from rights groups to utilize civilian courts over military commissions for the trials of suspected terrorists. However, international pressure to use civilian courts remains. Last March, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism Martin Scheinin [official website] called on the Obama administration to hold civilian trials [JURIST report] for Mohammed and other suspected terrorists saying that the military commissions system is fatally flawed and cannot be reformed.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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