Captured al Qaeda leader can be held indefinitely, says U.S.

Members of 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, also known as Delta Force, captured the Libyan national, wanted for his involvement in a slew of bombings in Africa, during a daylight capture mission in Tripoli.

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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.

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.

While U.S. interrogators might not have to comply with that timeline, the official noted that al-Libi would have to be handed over to Justice Department officials sooner rather than later, or risk possible Geneva Convention violations.

That sooner than later approach has several Senate Republicans concerned the United States might sacrifice a golden intelligence opportunity. 

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

Critics say Obama’s refusal to send al-Libi to Guantánamo Bay robs the intelligence community of a crucial opening to gain information about al Qaeda’s operations.

President Obama is letting his desire to see Guantánamo closed cloud his judgment, according to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) 

“In criminal [court] you are trying to solve a crime — in war, you are trying to defeat the enemy,” Graham said. 

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” in the federal, not military, courts, Obama said.