Top GOP lawmakers press Obama on detention policy

AP News
Posted: Jul 19, 2011 1:14 PM
Top GOP lawmakers press Obama on detention policy

The Obama administration lacks a coherent policy for handling terror suspects captured outside of Afghanistan, the Republican leaders of five House committees told President Barack Obama Tuesday.

The lawmakers signed a letter questioning why the administration decided to try a suspected Somali terrorist in a civilian court in New York rather than in a military commission setting at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The military captured Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame on April 19 and then put him aboard a Navy warship, where he was interrogated at sea by intelligence officials.

He was later transferred to New York where he was indicted earlier this month on federal charges.

"While the primary focus in the media on the Warsame case has been about forum selection for purposes of prosecution, our overarching concern is the lack of a comprehensive detention system to incapacitate and interrogate terrorists captured outside of Afghanistan," the lawmakers wrote.

Signing the letter were Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., Intelligence committee chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y.

In the letter, the members cited recent congressional testimony from Vice Adm. William McRaven, who said decisions are made on a case by case on where to hold suspected terrorists captured by the U.S. military outside of Afghanistan and Iraq.

They wrote that the lack of a comprehensive military detention system will have detrimental results, including "the loss of critical detainee-provided intelligence and forcing the United States to be wholly dependent on foreign governments to hold and provide access to detainees."

Under interrogation, Warsame provided what U.S. officials said was important intelligence about al-Qaida in Yemen and its relationship with al-Shabab militants in Somalia. The two groups have been known to have ties, but the extent of that relationship has remained unclear.

The FBI later stepped in and began the interrogation from scratch, in a way that could be used in court. After the FBI read Warsame his Miranda rights, which include the right to remain silent and speak with an attorney, he kept talking for days.

Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, disputed the Republican claims in the letter.

"The policy is fairly clear as long as you understand that it's not a black and white situation or a math problem. We hold everybody we can and get the most information we can," Smith said in an interview. The decision is either a civilian trial or military tribunal, and Smith said the administration "in this case, made the right call."

The House-passed defense bill spending bill has language that would limit Obama's authority to transfer terrorist suspects from the U.S. naval facility at Guantanamo to installations in the United States, even for trial. It also would make it difficult for the administration to move detainees to foreign countries.

Smith said that Congress needs to "take the handcuffs off" and allow the president to use all tools available in the war on terror.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter.