Republican senators on Tuesday called on the Obama administration to take captured al Qaeda operative Abu Anas al-Libi to the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, saying they feared the loss of valuable intelligence if a civilian trial limited how long U.S. officials can interrogate him.
Three senators who specialize in national security issues -- Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina; Kelly Ayotte, of New Hampshire; and Saxby Chambliss, of Georgia -- called for al-Libi to be held in a “permanent confinement facility” for the purposes of “long-term interrogation.”
Al-Libi was captured in Tripoli, Libya, over the weekend by American special forces, and is reportedly being held on a Navy ship. He is accused of being involved in the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
The three senators slammed the Obama administration for lacking a clear detainee policy, warning that officials have determined al-Libi can only be held for a maximum of 60 days before being handed over to the Justice Department for a civilian trial.
Obama first won office by promising to close Guantanamo Bay, where suspected terrorists are held indefinitely without being formally charged or given access to a lawyer. Congressional Republicans blocked the closing, though Obama says he will continue efforts to eventually shut it down.
“In al-Libi’s case, he is on an American warship somewhere in the Mediterranean because the Obama administration refuses to use Guantanamo Bay,” said Graham, a former military lawyer. “The use of the Navy’s warships in lieu of Gitmo compromises our ability to gather intelligence, because the best tool we have is time itself.”
The senators reasoned that if a detainee knew how long their interrogation would last, they would simply refuse to divulge information until the deadline passed.
"The uncertainty on the part of the captured individual of not knowing how long he's going to be there" is a valuable tool, Chambliss said. Added Ayotte: "If the understanding is 'just hold out' ... why not wait it out?"
Ayotte said 60 days was not a “sufficiently long period of time” to interrogate a high value target like al-Libi. Chambliss, co-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called the operative “the highest value target we have captured in years.”
“A Navy vessel is not a substitute for a detention facility like Guantanamo Bay, which is a top-rate detention facility,” Ayotte said. “We need to have a long-term detention facility.”
Graham called for the use of a “well-run detention facility” such as Guantanamo, one that “follows all international regimes,” so that al-Libi could be held “as long as is necessary” before being turned over to the Justice Department for trial.