GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA — The lead prosecutor in the 9/11 war crimes case underway this week in Guantanamo Bay said he was consulted about and supported the U.S. government's decision to try the latest suspected al Qaeda terrorist capture by the U.S., Anas al-Libi, in a civilian court.
Brig. Gen. Mark Martins said he “coordinated on” and “concurred in” the decision by the Obama administration to bring al-Libi to trial in a New York federal court rather than a military commission like the one now weighing war crime charges against 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Al-Libi was captured by U.S. forces in Libya on Oct. 5 and is accused of assisting in the bombing of American embassies in Africa in 1998. His capture reignited a debate over whether suspected terrorists should be tried in American civilian courts or before a military commission, and where suspects should be brought for interrogation. Al-Libi was interrogated for a week aboard an American warship in the Mediterranean.
“There are cases in which federal courts are the proper forum, and there are a narrow category of cases where military commissions are the proper forum,” Martins told reporters, calling federal courts the “appropriate” venue for al-Libi.
Republican hawks in Congress have called for al-Libi to be held indefinitely for interrogation at Guantanamo before being tried. But President Obama has pledged to shut down Gitmo and decided to try al-Libi in a civilian court, which would limit how long U.S. officials can interrogate the suspected terrorist before he is turned over for trial.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the decision to bring al-Libi to trial in New York "despicable."
"The president's agenda to close Gitmo is a blatant unwillingness to confront global terrorism and it only emboldens our enemies to continue their despicable acts against humanity," Inhofe said last week. "Gitmo is a great resource for our national security and prevents bringing terrorism into the United States."
After being interrogated for a week aboard a military ship, al-Libi was brought to New York to face federal charges stemming from the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. He has pleaded not guilty.
Martins said that the decision to try al-Libi in federal court instead of before a military commission reflects “no change in the policies or the policy direction” of the U.S. government, which this week is trying five suspects from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks before a military commission in Guantanamo Bay.
The general, who said he “coordinate[s] on all cases that could fall within my jurisdiction,” said he approved of the decision to try al-Libi in a federal court.
“In many cases, federal courts will be the more feasible and the better choice based on law and [other] factors,” Martins said. “Military commissions will be the best forum, all factors considered, in a narrow but critical category of cases.”