The debate over how the U.S. deals with suspected terrorists captured outside the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan flared up again last week when the Obama administration announced charges in
The suspect, Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, is charged with providing support to al-Shabab, a Somali-based Islamist group fighting the U.S.-backed central government there, and to
In April, Mr. Warsame was captured aboard a fishing trawler in international waters between Yemen and
The Obama administration has long insisted that the civilian courts are the proper venue for trying terrorist suspects, regardless of where in the world they are apprehended. The case last year of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, who was accused of conspiracy and murder in connection with the 1988 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 242 people, showed that federal courts are perfectly capable of meting out justice using standard rules of evidence and with results just as definitive as those rendered by a military commission. It's a virtual certainty that Mr. Ghailani will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
In the case of Mr. Warsame, officials say, the federal courts offer even stiffer penalties for defendants and fewer legal hurdles for prosecutors than their military counterparts. The government will have to show only that Mr. Warsame provided support to al-Shabab and AQAP, while a military tribunal would have the more difficult task of proving that he belonged to al-Qaida or that he personally engaged in hostilities against the U.S. or its allies. If convicted by a federal jury, he could face life in prison.
Mr. Obama came into office pledging to close Guantanamo, shut down its military tribunals and bring the remaining prisoners to detention facilities in the U.S. to await trial. But that plan was thwarted when Congress blocked funds to transport Guantanamo inmates onto American soil. Now the administration is attempting an end-run around the ban by bypassing Guantanamo altogether and bringing captured suspects like Mr. Warsame directly to courts in the U.S.
That tactic has already been criticized by
Never mind that Congress can't speak, explicitly or otherwise, through "pending legislation." The bigger irony is that Republicans, who claim to be tough on terrorism, would rather take suspects like Mr. Warsame out of the federal courts, where the penalties are tougher and convictions easier to win, and put them in military tribunals, where the situation is just the opposite. Under the circumstances, it's hard to view their protests as anything but partisan posturing.