The Obama administration’s decision to try former al Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a relative of Osama bin Laden, in a New York federal court has sparked an uproar that it could compromise classified intelligence.
They say the administration is putting New York at risk of terrorist attack by holding the trial there and warn security costs will run in the millions of dollars.
“Gitmo, a naval vessel, Guam, anywhere other than New York, and anything other than a civilian trial. Safety is one issue, convenience to otherwise innocent people who live and work near the U.S. district court,” Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) told Fox’s Greta Van Susteren.
Gowdy said a military tribunal would offer distinct advantages over a civilian jury trial, namely that military courts are made up of military officers and don’t require unanimous jury verdicts for conviction.
But Gowdy said his bigger concern is the difference in the discovery process between military and civilian courts.
In a federal court, Abu Ghaith could gain insights into the sources of methods of classified operations by demanding a thorough accounting of the evidence in discovery, Gowdy said.
“Imagine he fires his attorneys and says I'm going to represent myself, so give me all the evidence there is. Is there any guarantee that he's going to keep that discovery, some of which may be classified, from getting in the wrong hands?” Gowdy asked. “We've seen that happen before in civilian trials. So why would we take that risk?”
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Abu Ghaith, Bin Laden’s son-in-law, was captured in Jordan last week.
Republican senators have also criticized the administration’s decision.
“We are disturbed by the Administration’s decision to bring Sulaiman Abu Ghaith—a foreign member of al Qaeda charged with conspiring to kill Americans – to New York for trial in federal court,” Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in an updated statement Friday.
“The Obama Administration’s lack of a war-time detention policy for foreign members of al Qaeda, as well as its refusal to detain and interrogate these individuals at Guantanamo, makes our nation less safe,” the said.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blasted the administration’s decision.
“At Guantanamo, he could be held as a detainee and fulsomely and continuously interrogated without having to overcome the objections of his civilian lawyers,” McConnell said in a statement Friday.
The White House has pushed back strongly against the criticism and argues the national intelligence community agrees with the call to try of Abu Ghaith in New York.
“There is broad consensus across the United States government. At the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the intelligence community agrees the best way to protect our national security interests is to prosecute Abu Ghaith in an Article III court,” deputy White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Friday.
Earnest noted that federal courts convicted and sentenced Faisal Shahzad, who attempted to blow up a car bomb in Times Square, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called underwear bomber who tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines Flight to New York on Christmas Day in 2009.