Top Gitmo lawyer backs civilian trial for al-Libi

GUANTÁNAMO BAY— The best option to try captured al Qaeda leader Abu Anas al-Libi is civilian, not military, court, says the top U.S. military lawyer prosecuting the 9/11 counterterrorism case here. 

ADVERTISEMENT
"It remains true as ever that in many cases, federal courts [should] be the more feasible and better choice" to handle U.S. counterterrorism cases, rather than military tribunals, Brig. Gen. Mark Martins told reporters on Monday. 

"Based on law and on strength-of-interest and efficiency factors," the use of military-led tribunals to prosecute counterterrorism cases only fits a "a narrow but critical category of cases," Martins said in a press briefing in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. 

An arraignment hearing for al-Libi is scheduled for Tuesday in federal court in the Southern District of New York, stemming from his involvement in multiple attacks in Africa in the late 1990s. 

Administration officials consulted with Martins and his legal team on whether the al Qaeda leader should be transferred to the military facility in Cuba to stand trial. 

The White House's decision to hand al-Libi over to the Justice Department for trial was the best option, Martins said. 

"I concurred with the forum that was selected" for the al-Libi case, said the one-star general. 

Al-Libi was indicted in absentia for his role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. 

Members of 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, known as Delta Force, took custody of al-Libi during a daylight capture mission in Tripoli in early October. 

The Libyan national arrived on American shores last Monday, after being interrogated by U.S. military and intelligence officials aboard the U.S.S. San Antonio somewhere in the Mediterranean for a week and a half. 

Martins declined to comment on what specific feedback and recommendations he gave to the the Pentagon, Justice Department and intelligence community on how the al-Libi case should be carried out. 

But he did note his office is routinely consulted on pending counterterrorism cases. 

Martins's comments run counter to claims made by several congressional Republicans that President Obama made a serious mistake by allowing al-Libi to be tried in civilian court. 

Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has called the White House decision to try al-Libi in civilian court "despicable." 

Trying al-Libi and other terror suspects in civilian court, while pushing for Guantánamo's closure, "is a blatant unwillingness to confront global terrorism and it only emboldens our enemies to continue their despicable acts against humanity," Inhofe said in a statement earlier this year. 

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said it would be “absolutely unacceptable” if the chance to interrogate al-Libi was sacrificed in pursuit of Obama’s first-term promise to close the prison, shortly after his capture by U.S. forces. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) echoed Ayotte and Inhofe's concerns, noting that "in criminal [court] you are trying to solve a crime — in war you are trying to defeat the enemy."

However, Martins said the move did not indicate a policy change in the Obama administration's handling of counterterror cases, adding the al-Libi's civilian case was "the appropriate decision."