A member of al Qaeda's senior command and son-in-law to Osama bin Laden, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, pleaded not guilty on March 1 during a pre-trial in criminal court in New York on a charge of plotting to kill Americans.
The Obama administration’s rush to conduct trials of suspected terrorists on American soil is already extremely controversial. But now some law makers want to know if this case has obstructed efforts by U.S. intelligence agencies to gather vital information from the terror suspect and the chance to learn more about al-Qaida’s relationship with Iran, as well as its evolving strategy and capabilities.
Abu Ghaith's arraignment hearing in New York took place a day after he was remanded into U.S. custody by counterterrorism officials in Jordan. The administration was unwilling to send him Guantanamo with other members of al-Qaida. In a very direct letter to President Obama the chairmen of four House committees slammed the administration's handling of Abu Ghaith, saying the decision "suggests a fundamental lack of coherent national security strategy."
“We write to express our grave misgivings about your Administration’s apparent rush to bring senior al-Qa’ida member and spokesman, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, to the United States to stand trial in criminal court, perhaps missing a key intelligence opportunity,” wrote House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), House Armed Services Committee Chairman “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), and House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).
They claim there was no way U.S. intelligence officials had enough time to interrogate Abu Ghaith on current and future al Qaeda operations during that 24-hour window and are demanding a briefing from Attorney General Eric Holder, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel explaining how U.S. officials "ensured that all intelligence was gained" from Abu Ghaith prior to his arraignment, according to the letter.
“He appears to be a member of al-Qaeda’s management council, a shadow of al-Qaeda leadership body,” the chairmen continued. “…Unfortunately, given the limited length of time Abu Ghaith was in U.S. custody prior to his appearance in court, we have little confidence that intelligence professional had the time necessary to question him seriously about these connections or plans. Even low-level terrorists captured and held by the U.S. military have been subjected to significantly more questioning than Abu Ghaith appears to have been.”
"Blinding ourselves to possible intelligence about terrorism threats does not make them go away," the House lawmakers added.
Abu Gaith maintained a close relationship with Osama bin Laden around the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and joined other senior al-Qaeda operative in Iran after 9/11.