McConnell slams decision to grant terror suspect civilian trial

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPressure builds for coronavirus relief with no clear path to deal Top GOP senator warns government funding deal unlikely this week Criminal justice groups offer support for Durbin amid fight for Judiciary spot MORE (Ky.) on Wednesday slammed President Obama’s decision to transport a suspected Somali terrorist to New York for trial in a civilian court.

“It’s astonishing that this Administration is determined to give foreign fighters all the rights and privileges of U.S. citizens regardless of where they are captured,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.


McConnell noted incredulously that U.S. counterterrorism officials have read the suspect, Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, his Miranda rights and afforded him the legal protections of a U.S. citizen.  

McConnell has made it one of his top priorities to oppose efforts to close the Guantánamo Bay prison camp and transport suspected terrorists to the U.S. for trial in domestic civilian courts, as propsed by the Obama administration.

“It has become abundantly clear that the administration has no intention of utilizing Guantánamo unless an enemy combatant is already being held there,” McConnell said. “Instead, the administration has purposefully imported a terrorist into the U.S. and is providing him all the rights of U.S. citizens in court.”

Warsame was captured in mid-April and has since been held and interrogated aboard a U.S. naval vessel. He has been charged with nine counts of giving support to al Shabaab in Somalia and to al Qaeda.

McConnell charged the administration’s “ideological rigidity” is “harming” national security, and said Warsame and all other captured foreign enemy combatants should be sent to Guantánamo. 

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who at the time was director of the CIA, told members of the Senate Intelligence panel earlier this year that terrorist Osama bin Laden would be held at Guantánamo if captured alive.

McConnell, however, questioned whether the Obama administration even has the policies in place to transfer and hold a high-level suspected terrorist at Guantánamo.

“Over time, it became clear that the administration did not have a policy in place that could address this circumstance,” he said.

McConnell argued the administration’s decision to try Warsame in the federal court for the Southern District of New York revealed the president’s true preference for dealing with suspected terrorists.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinCriminal justice groups offer support for Durbin amid fight for Judiciary spot The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms Overnight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases MORE (Ill.) took to the floor after McConnell to defend Obama.

Durbin chided McConnell for neglecting to mention that since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, more than 400 suspected terrorists have been tried domestically in criminal courts and Article III constitutional courts.

“They have been tried in our courts and convicted,” Durbin said. “They are serving time in the prisons of the United States of America.”

Durbin noted suspected terrorists have been tried in civilian courts under the administrations of both former President George W. Bush and Obama.

“So to argue that we cannot successfully convict a terrorist in the United States, as Sen. McConnell did this morning, is to ignore reality,” Durbin said.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsBipartisan, bicameral group unveils 8 billion coronavirus proposal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms Biden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate MORE (Maine), the centrist Republican who serves as ranking member on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, has sided with McConnell in the argument.

"A foreign national who fought on behalf of al Shabaab in Somali — and who was captured by our military overseas — should be tried in a military commission, not a federal civilian court in New York or anywhere else in our country,” Collins said in a statement Wednesday. 

“While decisions on the proper tribunal should be made on a case-by-case basis, this case does not appear to be a close call,” Collins added.