Lindsey Graham (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
By Mary Orndorff Troyan, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - A suspected terrorist captured last weekend should be interrogated as long as necessary at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday.
Graham congratulated President Barack Obama for authorizing the capture of Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, but said moving him quickly into the American court system would jeopardize access to valuable intelligence about al-Qaeda.
Graham said the suspect, who goes by the alias Abu Anas al-Libi, should be held as an enemy combatant at Guantanamo Bay before going to court. Al-Libi is currently being held aboard a Navy ship, where Republicans fear his interrogation would be limited to two months.
"This system of using Navy warships in lieu of Gitmo compromises our ability to gather intelligence because the best tool we have in intelligence gathering is time itself," Graham said.
Al-Libi has been indicted in New York on charges related to the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Tanazania and Kenya, where more than 220 people were killed, including Americans.
Graham, joined by fellow GOP Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, said the Obama administration, which is trying to close the military prison in Cuba, does not have a coherent policy on detaining and questioning high-value terrorist targets.
"This system of using Navy vessels for days or weeks... is a political choice that I think is going to undercut our national security," Graham said.
The Obama administration has not announced exactly how it plans to proceed with al-Libi's case. He was captured over the weekend in Tripoli, Libya by U.S. special forces.
"As a general rule, the government will always seek to elicit all the actionable intelligence and information we can from terrorist suspects taken into our custody," said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the president's National Security Council. "Determining when and where to prosecute individuals is a traditional and important executive branch authority that has long been exercised on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all relevant factors. Such decisions are not made arbitrarily."
Some suspects should be tried in federal court, others in military commissions, she said. But moving al-Libi to Guantanamo Bay in the meantime appears unlikely.
"The administration is seeking to close Guantanamo, not add to its population," Hayden said via email.
Graham, a longtime military lawyer in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, is one of the Senate's most influential voices on how to prosecute the war on terror. He opposes torture, and although he believes it's acceptable to hold terrorism suspects in Guantanamo, he said he's "open-minded" to an alternative.
Graham said the notion that interrogators will extract all available intelligence from al-Libi in two months is "offensive." Al-Libi's ties to al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and terrorism allegedly go back 20 years.
Republican senators said they also hope al-Libi will provide a breakthrough in the investigation into the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where four Americans were killed, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. If al-Libi believes his interrogation will last only two months, he's unlikely to cooperate, Graham said.
"This is going to come back and bite us," he said.