[JURIST] The Obama administration has brought Somali terror suspect Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame to the US to face a civil trial in New York, a decision that has sparked harsh criticism. 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. He made an appearance on Tuesday in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York where he pleaded not guilty to charges of providing material support to a terrorist group and conspiring to teach and demonstrate how to make explosives. The decision to bring Warsame to the US suggests how the Obama administration will handle other terror suspects captured outside Iraq and Afghanistan. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] lauded the decision but questioned the long detainment overseas. Hina Shamsi of the ACLU released a statement [text]:
We welcome the announcement that the Obama administration will prosecute Warsame in the criminal justice system. Unlike the discredited military commissions, federal courts are able to achieve justice and unquestionably have jurisdiction over the material support and conspiracy crimes with which Warsame is charged. But the Obama administration has put a criminal conviction at risk by holding Warsame in unlawful military detention for over two months. The government could have obtained intelligence through law enforcement rather than military interrogation, as it successfully has in hundreds of terrorism cases, without jeopardizing its criminal case. We are deeply concerned that the Obama administration continues to assert a worldwide war authority wherever terrorism suspects are found, and it is incumbent upon Congress to impose necessary and wise limitations on the administration.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) [official website] criticized the decision to bring Warsame to the US for trial arguing that terror suspects should be held in Guantanamo Bay. He made a state on the Senate floor Wednesday denouncing the move:
It is truly astonishing that this administrations is determined—determined—to give foreign fighters all the rights and privileges of US citizens, regardless of where they are captured. … It has become abundantly clear that the administration has no intention of utilizing Guantanamo unless an enemy combatant is already being held there. Instead, the administration has purposefully imported a terrorist into the US and is providing him of all the rights of a US citizen in court. This ideological rigidity being displayed by the administration is harming the national security of the United States of America.
US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] has consistently advocated [JURIST report] that terror suspects should 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 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—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.