Tags: Analysis: US Trial of Somali Terrorist Suspect Questioned

Analysis: US Trial of Somali Terrorist Suspect Questioned

Monday, 25 July 2011 11:54 AM

The Obama administration’s decision to bring a suspected Somali terrorist to the United States for a civilian trial is reigniting debates over detention and prosecution of terrorist suspects and the rights of terrorists.

At midnight on July 4th, the US government whisked terrorist suspect Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame from detention on a U.S. Navy ship to New York to face charges of providing assistance to al Qaeda and Somali terrorist organization al Shabaab. US military personnel reportedly arrested Warsame in Africa on April 19th and held him on a Navy ship in international waters for questioning for two months. Warsame first was questioned by the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG), a task force run by the Obama National Security Council composed of experts from law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and reportedly provided important information concerning al Qaeda and al Shabaab and ties between the two groups.

After the HIG completed its questioning, the FBI took custody of Warsame and read him his Miranda rights. After Warsame waived these rights, the FBI questioned him for information that could be used in a possible criminal trial. The indictment against Warsame includes nine counts of providing material support to al Qaeda and al Shabaab, according to the New York Times and other media sources.


Warsame’s arrest is important because he could have information not only on al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda, but also about how the groups interact and their links to terrorist groups in several countries.

Although President Obama has opposed housing terrorists in the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and trying them in military courts, due to intense bipartisan opposition, he appeared to reverse course last April when Attorney General announced that the U.S. would try several Guantanamo detainees -- including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed – in a military tribunal at Guantanamo. The Warsame case is a new and abrupt policy reversal by the Obama administration.

The president’s decision to try Warsame in a civilian court without notifying Congress has raised the hackles of Congress. The New York Times reports that House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon stated that “the transfer of this terrorist detainee directly contradicts Congressional intent and the will of the American people . . . Congress has spoken clearly multiple times — including explicitly in pending legislation — of the perils of bringing terrorists onto U.S. soil. It is unacceptable that the administration notified Congress only after it unilaterally transferred this detainee to New York City despite multiple requests for consultation.”

Republican leaders of five House committees responded last Tuesday by accusing the President of not having a coherent policy on terrorist suspects, according to AP. Congressman McKeon charged that bringing Warsame into the United States is a threat to US security and fails to protect classified information. The House has already passed a bill to prohibit transfers of foreign terrorist suspects to the United States. Congress also is concerned about establishing case law allowing foreign terrorists captured abroad to receive the same constitutional rights of American citizens.


The way the Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame case has been handled – especially the apparent decision to sneak him into the country on July 4th when the American public was distracted by Independence Day celebrations and Congress was out of town, is certain to lead to more bad blood between the White House and Congress.

While some of the debate over the Warsame case between the administration and Congress is political rhetoric, it raises difficult questions over security, terrorist rights, and collection and security of intelligence. The administration appears to have exercised a loophole in the law restricting terror trials in civilian courts by not designating Warsame an enemy combatant and interrogating him on a Navy ship. The decision to try Warsame as a civilian could lead other terrorist suspects to demand civilian trials.
Civilian prosecution of terrorist suspects could seriously jeopardize U.S. national security.

By extending Constitutional rights to terrorist suspects, the U.S. could lose access to valuable intelligence information on terrorist activities if they invoke Miranda rights. At the same time, trying terrorist suspects in civilian courts could require the government to either release sensitive intelligence in support of prosecutions – which would damage U.S. national security – or withhold sensitive intelligence, which could lead to terrorist suspects being acquitted and/or released.

[Lisa M. Ruth is a former CIA analyst and officer. She is currently Managing Partner of C2 Research, a boutique research and analysis firm in West Palm Beach, Florida and is Vice President at CTC International Group, Inc., a private intelligence firm.]

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Analysis: US Trial of Somali Terrorist Suspect Questioned
Monday, 25 July 2011 11:54 AM
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