Senior Republican senators said they are “very concerned” about a Pentagon decision to transfer a suspected Somali terrorist captured abroad to the U.S. for trial, saying the lack of a clear policy for such cases has become “an intolerable situation.”
In a July 12 letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, 23 senators registered their objections to a decision they said risks releasing a terrorist in the U.S. who might be acquitted in a trial.
The Somali man, Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, was captured by the U.S. military in the Arabian Peninsula in April and interrogated aboard a Navy ship for more than two months. He was brought to New York for trial last week and accused of providing material support to terrorist groups.
“We are very concerned that this policy appears to be a circumvention of the clear intent of many in Congress that terrorists captured abroad under the Authorization for Use of Military Force should not be brought into the United States for trial,” wrote the senators, led by John McCain of Arizona, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader.
Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent, and Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, a Democrat, were the only non- Republicans to sign the letter.
The senators raised concern about recent testimony from Vice Admiral William McRaven of the U.S. Special Operations Command, who said detentions of terrorists captured outside Afghanistan and Iraq are handled on a case-by-case basis.
“We believe this is an intolerable situation,” the senators wrote.
Colonel Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to comment on the letter. He said the department will respond to the senators privately and won’t release copies of its correspondence with Congress.
The senators asked Panetta to answer a series of questions on detainee policy, including whether some such as Warsame could be transferred to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Warsame was identified by U.S. prosecutors as a leader of al-Shabaab, which has been designated by the U.S. as a foreign terrorist organization. Warsame allegedly worked to broker a weapons deal with al-Qaeda and taught others how to make explosives and weapons of mass destruction, according to the indictment unsealed last week.
The U.S. “has been able to obtain very valuable intelligence” as a result of the interrogations of Warsame, White House spokesman Jay Carney said last week.