US brings Somali terror suspect to New York for civil trial —after two months detainment at sea

The US has brought Somali terror suspect Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame to the US to face a civil trial in New York after holding him at sea for two months, the Obama administration disclosed July 5—immediately prompting harsh criticism from both civil libertarians and Republicans. Warsame was captured by US forces on April 19 in what prosecutors would identify only as somewhere “in the Gulf region.” He was detained on a US Navy ship for interrogation until being sent to the US for trial this week. In an appearance July 5 at US District Court for the Southern District of New York, he pleaded not guilty to charges of providing material support to a terrorist group and conspiring to teach and demonstrate how to make explosives. The indictment charges Warsame with providing material support to the Somali insurgent group al-Shabaab and to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen. If convicted, he faces a mandatory life sentence.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lauded the decision to try Warsame in the civilian courts, but questioned the long detainment at sea:

We welcome the announcement that the Obama administration will prosecute Warsame in the criminal justice system. Unlike the discredited military commissions, federal courts are able to achieve justice and unquestionably have jurisdiction over the material support and conspiracy crimes with which Warsame is charged. But the Obama administration has put a criminal conviction at risk by holding Warsame in unlawful military detention for over two months. The government could have obtained intelligence through law enforcement rather than military interrogation, as it successfully has in hundreds of terrorism cases, without jeopardizing its criminal case. We are deeply concerned that the Obama administration continues to assert a worldwide war authority wherever terrorism suspects are found, and it is incumbent upon Congress to impose necessary and wise limitations on the administration.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) criticized the decision to bring Warsame to the US for trial, arguing that terror suspects should be held in Guantánamo Bay. He made a statement on the Senate floor denouncing the move:

It is truly astonishing that this administrations is determined—determined—to give foreign fighters all the rights and privileges of US citizens, regardless of where they are captured. … It has become abundantly clear that the administration has no intention of utilizing Guantánamo unless an enemy combatant is already being held there. Instead, the administration has purposefully imported a terrorist into the US and is providing him of all the rights of a US citizen in court. This ideological rigidity being displayed by the administration is harming the national security of the United States of America.

(Jurist, CNN, VOA, July 6)

See our last posts on the detainment scandals and struggle in Somalia.