US turns over Hezbollah prisoner to Iraqi government

The U.S. handed over a Hezbollah prisoner suspected of being involved in the deaths of five U.S. soldiers to the Iraqi government Friday, as U.S. troops prepare to leave the country, the White House said.

The Obama administration had been pushing Iraq to allow the U.S. to keep Ali Musa Daqduq in U.S. custody, and President Obama discussed it with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki when he visited the White House Monday, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

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But the Iraqi government wouldn’t agree to let the U.S. taking Daqduq out of Iraq, and the U.S. legally had to transfer him to Iraqi custody under the security agreement negotiated by the Bush administration in 2008, Vietor said.

The decision to hand the last prisoner in U.S. custody over to the Iraqis was blasted by Republicans and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) Friday, who had wanted him transferred to Guantánamo Bay for a military tribunal.

A statement from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Lieberman and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called the move “disgraceful.”

“Coming on the heels of the Administration's failure to maintain a small American military presence in Iraq to support the fragile peace there, this failure to keep a committed murderer of Americans in U.S. custody sends exactly the wrong message to our allies and enemies in the region,” the statement said.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said: “Given Iraq’s history of releasing detainees, I expect it is only a matter of time before this terrorist will be back on the battlefield.”

Vietor said that the administration did not want to send any more detainees to Guantanamo, and the U.S. had discussed transferring him to a U.S. military commission.

“The president has been clear that he believes it’s in our national security interest to close the detention facility of Guantanamo Bay, not add to the population,” Vietor said.

Vietor said the Iraqis have given assurances to the administration that Daqduq will be tried for his crimes.

Daqduq is accused of organizing a 2007 raid in Karbala, Iraq, where five U.S. soldiers were killed.

Under the security agreement with Iraq, the U.S. must return all prisoners to Iraqi custody as it leaves the country. The U.S. marked the end of the Iraq war Thursday and is in the process of withdrawing the final troops from the country by the end of the month.