New York Trial For Somali Terrorism Suspect Reignites Gitmo Debate

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is pushing back against GOP criticism of the Obama administration’s decision to bring Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, the Somali man facing terrorism charges, to New York for trial.

Feinstein, an influential and respected voice on intelligence and national security issues, said the intelligence panel has been kept fully informed on Warsame’s interrogations and the intelligence they produced, adding that she agreed with the decision to try him civilian court.“I have been in favor of allowing the President to make these decisions on a case-by-case basis, and there is good reason to support the decision of the executive branch in this case,” she said. “…The Bush Administration utilized the federal courts to prosecute terrorists and so should the Obama Administration. Military Commissions are an option depending on the nature of the case.”

Pointing to the more than 300 convicted terrorists who have been tried in federal courts, Feinstein predicted that Warsame will be added to that list.

Earlier Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) ripped the Obama administration for its decision to bring Warsame to New York for trial, arguing that the administration’s “ideological rigidity” is “harming the national security” of the country.

“Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame is a foreign enemy combatant,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Wednesday morning “He should be treated as one; he should be sitting in a cell Guantanamo Bay, and eventually be tried before a military commission. Warsame is an admitted terrorist.”

The Washington Post Wednesday reported that Warsame, who had been held and interrogated on a U.S. Navy ship for the past two and half months, over the weekend had been flown to New York to face criminal charges in a civilian court. Republicans are vehemently opposed to trying terror suspects in civilian courts rather than military commissions.

Republicans believed they had scored a victory earlier this year when the President conceded to keeping the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay open despite his campaign pledge to shutter it within the first year of his administration. Republicans in Congress joined together with Democrats opposed to having terrorism suspects sent to individual states for trial to prevent the prison’s closing.

Despite that development, McConnell now says that Warsame’s transfer to New York for trial makes it “abundantly clear” that the administration has “no intention of utilizing Guantanamo unless an enemy combatant is already being held there.”

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) is circulating a letter among like-minded GOP senators that calls on Holder to reconsider his decision to bring any terrorism suspect to U.S. soil for prosecution. The letter already has the signatures of 39 GOP senators.

“Under your decision, Mr. Warsame will be prosecuted as a civilian with considerable expense and time diverted from U.S. criminal cases,” the senators wrote. “His prosecution will trigger more Jihadist attention to the city and court where the prosecution will take place.”

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) leapt to Holder and Obama’s defense, saying it is “unfair” to questions the President because the same standard was not applied to the President Bush who tried hundreds of accused terrorists in U.S. criminal courts successfully. Durbin, however, did not mention that he did so only because the military commission system, which was later revised, was under attack by the Supreme Court in the early part of Bush’s tenure.

“The bottom line, though, is to say to any president, whether it’s Republican George Bush or Democrat Barack Obama, Congress is going to tell you the best place to try a terrorist. Do we really have that expertise? I don’t,” Durbin said. “I’m not sure Sen. McConnell does. I think it’s up to the president, the secretary of defense, the Central Intelligence Agency and the attorney general to make that call. Take the would-be terrorist to the court where we’re most likely to convict.”