GOP senators: Put al Qaeda chief in Gitmo

Republican lawmakers on Tuesday said President Obama is putting politics ahead of national security by putting a captured al Qaeda leader on trial in the United States. [WATCH VIDEO]

The lawmakers said Obama’s refusal to send Abu Anas al-Libi to Guantánamo Bay robs the intelligence community of a golden opportunity to gain information about al Qaeda’s operations.

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“This is the highest value target we have captured in years,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence panel.

“Some folks have been in [Guantánamo] for 10 years, and we are still getting information from them,” he said.

The capture of al-Libi over the weekend has reignited the fight between Obama and congressional Republicans over the facility in Cuba.

The White House wants the prison closed by the end of Obama’s term, and on Tuesday assigned Paul Lewis, a congressional lawyer, to work with a State Department envoy on shutting down the facility.

Republican lawmakers said Obama is letting his desire to see Guantánamo closed cloud his judgment.

“In criminal [court] you are trying to solve a crime — in war you are trying to defeat the enemy,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said it would be “absolutely unacceptable” if the chance to interrogate al-Libi were sacrificed in pursuit of Obama’s first-term promise to close the prison.

“Our nation deserves better,” she said.

Graham, Chambliss and Ayotte said they are drafting a Senate resolution to block the White House from closing Guantánamo.

Republicans also plan to raise the issue during the Senate debate on the fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill, Ayotte said.

U.S. military and intelligence officials are interrogating al-Libi aboard the USS San Antonio somewhere in the Mediterranean before remanding him into federal custody to stand trial.

Prior to his capture, al-Libi was indicted in absentia by a federal court in the Southern District of New York for his alleged involvement in the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, in 1998.

Obama on Tuesday defended the decision to put al-Libi on trial, and said prosecutors have more than enough evidence to convict him.

“We know that Mr. al-Libi planned and helped execute plots that killed hundreds of people, a whole lot of Americans, and we have strong evidence of that,” Obama said during a White House press conference.

“He will be brought to justice,” Obama said.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence panel, said al-Libi will have “all the legal rights” as other defendants in the U.S. court system.

“The criminal justice system in the U.S. is a good system ... I am sure with the evidence we have right now, we would win the case,” Ruppersberger said on CNN.

“He is in our custody and he will be treated like anyone else.”

Under the rules of war, al-Libi can only be held for up to 60 days aboard the Navy ship before being handed over to the federal law enforcement.

Republicans say 60 days will barely give interrogators time to scratch the surface.

“I do not know what role Congress can play here ... but this is going to come back to bite us,” Chambliss said.