Alleged al Qaeda operative pleads not guilty to terrorism charges

Al-Libi, 49, entered the courtroom Tuesday in handcuffs and looking frail, according to the Associated Press. His court-appointed attorney entered the plea for him, and the judge order he remain detained as a flight risk.

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Al-Libi is charged of helping plan the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, where more than 200 people were killed.

The Obama administration’s decision to transfer him from military custody into the federal court system has been criticized by Republicans, who argue that valuable intelligence gathering is lost and terrorism suspects should be sent to the military detention facility at Guantánamo Bay.

“Now that he is on U.S. soil, he will be read his Miranda rights making it much more difficult to gather intelligence to prevent future attacks,” Senate Armed Services ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said in a statement Tuesday.

“If al-Libi were instead detained in Guantanamo Bay, he could be held for the duration of hostilities, his interrogation could continue, and still stand trial,” he said.

The Obama administration, which has vowed to close Guantánamo Bay, has moved several recent captured terrorism suspects into the federal judicial system, rather than trying them in a military tribunal.

The White House and many Democrats argue the federal system is better equipped to prosecute terrorism cases, and that moving them into federal custody doesn’t lead to lost intelligence.

The Obama administration has kept the military tribunal system in place for alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others at Guantánamo, after abandoning an initial plan to try Mohammed in federal court.

In the al-Libi case, his family denies he has any connection to al Qaeda.

"The presumption of innocence is not a small technicality here," al-Libi’s attorney, David Patton, told the AP in email.

"In a 150-page indictment, Mr. [al-Libi] is mentioned in a mere three paragraphs relating to conduct in 1993 and 1994 and nothing since. The allegation is that he met with al Qaeda members about a possible bombing of the American embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, that ended up taking place five years later in 1998. There is no allegation that he had any connection to al-Qaida after 1994, and he is eager to move forward with the legal process in this case," Patton said.