The Obama administration’s transfer of a Somalian terrorism suspect to New York for trial in civilian courts after two months of secret detention and interrogation aboard a naval ship brought down a harsh conservative response. Among the chief critics, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said the administration was not doing “what’s best for the country.”
On CNN, Graham laid out a case for permanent detention without trial in order to maintain what sounds like a never-ending interrogation. “You capture people to keep them off the battlefield and gather intelligence, and criminal prosecutions stop the intelligence gathering process,” he said, adding, “I am fighting a war, and in war you don’t capture people for the purpose of prosecution.” Graham said he would rather see terrorism suspects sent to the controversial prison at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba:
The last thing I’m worried about is prosecuting enemy fighters. I want to find out what they know about the enemy, what intelligence value do they have to the United States?
Having people on ships has never been used in warfare before in terms of prisons. He should have been sent to Guantanamo Bay and held as an enemy combatant slowly, methodically, lawfully interrogated.
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Graham’s argument evades the biggest lightning rod issue in the debate — whether to try suspects in civilian or military courts — and seems to simply call for them to be perpetually questioned about what they know.
A Bush administration official, though, noted in comments to the New York Times that a mix of custody and prosecution tactics helps to keep options available for various cases that may arise:
Kenneth L. Wainstein, who led the Justice Department’s national security division during the Bush administration, praised the Obama administration’s handling of the Warsame case, saying it showed the value of allowing the executive branch flexibility between using the military and criminal justice systems.
“From the government’s perspective, it’s better to maintain options for custody and prosecution and in each case to select that option that best fits the needs of a particular case,” Mr. Wainstein said.
While Graham did pay lip service to the notion of civilian trials — “I’m okay with using federal courts in some terrorist cases” — one wonders in which cases, if any, he would think more interrogations and more intelligence extraction were not necessary and prosecution in either military or civilian realms could proceed.
CAP’s Ken Gude notes that U.S. criminal courts actually “have an excellent record at convicting terrorists.”