South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham says America’s fleet of Navy ships aren’t meant to be holding sites for terrorists.
Two days after the alleged mastermind in the bombings of U.S. embassies was snatched from a car in Libya, Graham said terror suspect Abu Anas al-Libi should not be housed indefinitely on a Navy vessel ahead of his eventual return to the U.S.
“I believe the most responsible course of action would be to hold him as an enemy combatant at Guantanamo Bay for intelligence-gathering purposes,” Graham, R-S.C., said.
“U.S. Navy ships were never intended to be confinement and interrogation facilities in the war on the terror,” he added.
Al-Libi, a ranking al-Qaeda operative, was taken from a car in the Libyan capital of Tripoli by U.S. commandos Saturday as part of his 2000 federal indictment for the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. More than 220 people were killed.
Media reports say al-Libi is being held on board the U.S.S. San Antonio in the Mediterranean Sea. The Pentagon says his confinement status is considered legal “under the law of war in a secure location outside of Libya.”
Graham’s position against the use of ships as jails runs counter to a government strategy that previously utilized shipboard confinement as a first step ahead of criminal prosecution. The “interrogation at sea” method was used early in the case of terror figure Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, formerly of a Somali group known as Shabab.
Warsame was captured by U.S. forces in 2011 and interrogated on a Navy vessel ship for about two months before he was taken to New York for prosecution. He pleaded guilty to terror-related charges and reportedly has been cooperating with the U.S. since.
One advantage in the shipboard confinement process, advocates say, is that it avoids immediately placing terror suspects like al-Libi under the U.S. civilian court umbrella, which could severely curtail efforts at interrogation of any suspected terror figure.
Some human rights groups, though, are critical of the process because of the indefinite nature of the shipboard detentions without legal representation.
At some point, al-Libi is expected to be taken to New York to face criminal prosecution. It is not known when and if he will be given access to a lawyer.
Graham, meanwhile, has supported closing Guantanamo but only if a suitable holding site and legal detention system based on the laws of war were first set up in the U.S. Since that option has never materialized, Graham said Guantanamo Bay still remains the best confinement site for terrorists.
“The use of ships, instead of Guantanamo Bay, will greatly compromise our ability to gather intelligence from captured terrorists,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., was not available Monday, but his office released a statement saying foreign-born terrorists, such as al-Libi, should be held as enemy combatants.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.