Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, stood before a federal judge in New York on Friday, accused of one count of conspiracy to commit terrorism. Three lawyers were appointed to represent him, and he was advised of his rights.
He pled not guilty.
The proceeding raises this crucial question: Is the Obama administration, which brought the accused to court, more concerned about upholding U.S. criminal procedure than obtaining useful intelligence on the nation’s enemies?
Abu Ghaith is a rare bird — only a relatively few high-ranking al-Qaida operatives have been captured by the U.S. since President Obama took office.
Only one of those was interrogated, and not at Guantanamo, which Congress has designated as the proper place to detain and question captured terror suspects.
Maybe Abu Ghaith has useful information for our side. Maybe not.
The best way to find out would have been to treat him as an “unlawful combatant” and send him to Guantanamo for interrogation, as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., pointed out on Thursday.
However, judging from the limited number of al-Qaida operatives captured during the Obama presidency, this administration doesn’t seem to put a high priority on interrogation of terrorists. Instead, the White House appears to favor the more direct — and less informative? — approach of liquidating them, often with drone strikes.
Abu Ghaith is a Kuwait native who joined bin Laden’s al-Qaida organization in Afghanistan and became its spokesman — and the leader’s son-in-law. He routinely boasted about the carnage inflicted on 9/11.
He was seized by the FBI in Jordan on Thursday as he was being exiled from Turkey to Kuwait.
U.S. officials have said he was living in Iran for the past decade as one of a number of al-Qaida members who took refuge there after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.
Surely he might have useful information on how he was treated in Iran, how al-Qaida members stayed in contact and related intelligence.
Before his arrest and arraignment this week he had never lived in the U.S.
Yet now he has been given the protections of the U.S. Constitution and three lawyers to advise him that he does not have to speak a single word.
The administration apparently believes this a worthy demonstration of its respect for the rule of law. Indeed, it took bipartisan objections from members of Congress to dissuade the White House from trying 9/11 Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York.
And granting a major al-Qaida figure who never even lived in America citizen-like rights at a trial in New York is an odd way to wage war on terror.