Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a member of al Qaeda's senior command and son-in-law to Osama bin Laden, plead not guilty to terrorism charges on Friday during an appearance in federal court in New York.
But the White House's decision to move him through the federal courts and not the military tribunals set up under the previous George W. Bush administration ha angered a number of top Senate Republicans.
“Military detention for enemy combatants has been the rule, not the exception. By processing terrorists like [Ghaith] through civilian courts, the administration risks missing important opportunities to gather intelligence to prevent future attacks and save lives," according to a joint statement by Sens. Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteFEC commissioner to Trump: Prove voter fraud Live coverage: Day three of Supreme Court nominee hearing Lewandowski saw no evidence of voter fraud in New Hampshire MORE (R-N.H.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamA real national security budget would fully fund State Department Gorsuch rewrites playbook for confirmation hearings Dem senator: House Intel chairman may have revealed classified info MORE (R.S.C.) and John McCainJohn McCainOvernight Defense: General warns State Department cuts would hurt military | Bergdahl lawyers appeal Trump motion | Senators demand action after nude photo scandal Senate lawmakers eye hearing next week for Air Force secretary: report House Intel chairman under fire from all sides MORE (R-Ariz.)
"We are at war with al Qaeda and its affiliated groups, and America’s detention policy must reflect that reality," the lawmakers added Friday.
Bin Laden's son-in-law is one of the few top al Qaeda leaders U.S. officials have taken into custody under the White House's increasingly aggressive counterterrorism campaign against al Qaeda and various factions of the radical Islamic terror group.
That campaign has depended heavily on the use of targeted killings of suspected terrorists via armed drone strikes across the globe, particularly in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.
Those terror suspects who have been captured are currently being housed at the U.S. base in Guantanamo, awaiting trial before the military tribunals there.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other accused 9/11 conspirators are still undergoing pretrial hearings for their military tribunal case in Cuba.
However, recent accusations of wiretapping and surveillance by government officials on terror suspects and their legal counsel, a breach of attorney-client privilege, have case a shadow over the proceedings.
Such accusations have called into question whether is it possible for those suspected to receive a fair trial under the tribunal process.
That said, keeping such high-level terror suspects inside the United States and allowing them access to the federal court system "clearly contravenes the will of the American people," according to Ayotte, Graham and McCain.
The White House's refusal to move Ghaith to Guantanamo is purely political, reflecting President Obama's previous promise in 2008 to shut down the tribunals there, according to Senate Minority Whip John CornynJohn CornynPaul: Pence should oversee Senate ObamaCare repeal votes Senate GOP hedges on ObamaCare repeal timeline GOP senator: 'We still need to figure out what the president was talking about' on wiretapping MORE (R-Texas) said in his own statement.
"The President may not like it, but the fact remains — Gitmo is still up and running. And as long as it is, it’s the only place where we should be detaining America’s most dangerous enemy combatants — period," he said.
To that end, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Healthcare: Trump threatens to leave ObamaCare in place if GOP bill fails Senate GOP hedges on ObamaCare repeal timeline Chao: Trump tapped into 'a strain of anxiety,' 'fear' MORE (R-Ky.) said by keeping Abu Ghaith under wraps in the Justice Department, the CIA and other intelligence agencies are being denied critical access to a top terror suspect.
"Our intelligence community and military are laboring to understand the structure, threat and communications methods of al Qaeda [and] affiliates," McConnell said in a statement Friday. "They deserve the same access to intelligence and methods of defeating the enemy available to the team that found Bin Laden."
Bin Laden was killed by U.S. special operations forces during a raid on his compound in Abottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011.
"Abu Ghaith has sworn to kill Americans, and he likely possesses information that could prevent harm to America and its allies. He is an enemy combatant and should be held in military custody," McConnell said.