Security Insiders Support Federal Trial for Qaida Suspect Anas al-Libi

Sara Sorcher, National Journal
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Sara Sorcher, National Journal
Oct. 22, 2013, 4:02 a.m.

Three-quar­ters of Na­tion­al Journ­al’s Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity In­siders over­whelm­ingly sup­por­ted the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­cision to bring al-Qaida op­er­at­ive Anas al-Libi to New York fed­er­al court for tri­al after the sus­pect was cap­tured from Tripoli, Libya.

Libi last week pleaded not guilty to ter­ror­ism charges. “His kid­nap­ping from a friendly coun­try was kinda du­bi­ous, to put it mildly,” one In­sider said, “but bet­ter to bring him to a fed­er­al court than to a mil­it­ary court, or one of our new secret courts.”

An open tri­al in which Libi has leg­al coun­sel will “shine pub­lic light on vi­cious ter­ror­ist activ­ity,” an­oth­er In­sider said, and “help fam­il­ies of vic­tims achieve clos­ure, and in­crease the in­ter­na­tion­al le­git­im­acy of whatever pun­ish­ment he re­ceives.”

Many In­siders hoped the move would ce­ment the trans­ition away from the use of Guantanamo Bay pris­on, which Pres­id­ent Obama has pledged to try to close. “Hope­fully it’s a move away from tor­ture, Gitmo, and black pris­on sites and a move back to the rule of law,” one In­sider said. Gitmo, an­oth­er In­sider ad­ded, “is a blight on our in­ter­na­tion­al polit­ic­al im­age. We keep tens of thou­sands of dan­ger­ous crim­in­als in our jails. We can handle al-Qaida.”

Be­cause Libi’s court case — with charges link­ing him to bomb­ings of two U.S. em­bassies in East Africa in 1998 — pred­ates 9/11, one In­sider said, “It will be a use­ful ex­per­i­ment in bal­an­cing the two re­sponse op­tions for ter­ror­ist at­tacks, one of law en­force­ment or one of mil­it­ary ac­tion. We need to do bet­ter at in­teg­rat­ing the two ap­proaches, and this case is a good one to try to do that.”

Yet 24.5 per­cent of In­siders op­posed the move. Al-Libi should be treated “as the en­emy com­batant he is, not like a bank rob­ber,” an­oth­er In­sider said. “After a much more ex­tens­ive in­ter­rog­a­tion than he was giv­en, Libi should be sent to Guantanamo with the rest of his kind, to face a mil­it­ary tribunal in a re­vamped sys­tem set up to spe­cific­ally ac­com­mod­ate tri­als of cap­tured ter­ror­ists.” Oth­er In­siders agreed that Libi, the sub­ject of a rendi­tion, should have been in­ter­rog­ated more ex­tens­ively be­fore U.S. crim­in­al-law pro­tec­tions kicked in.

Ter­ror­ists are not or­din­ary crim­in­als and should not be dealt with as such, an­oth­er In­sider ad­ded. A fed­er­al tri­al “sends a mes­sage that with clev­er law­yers, they can go free to wreak more may­hem an­oth­er day.”

Sep­ar­ately, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­cent de­cision to sus­pend some aid to Cairo — in­clud­ing high-pro­file items such as tanks and fight­er jets — will prove in­ef­fect­ive in achiev­ing Wash­ing­ton’s goal of in­flu­en­cing the Egyp­tian mil­it­ary to trans­ition to demo­cracy and re­duce vi­ol­ence in the coun­try, vir­tu­ally all of the In­siders said.

“The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sus­pen­sion of mil­it­ary aid came at an awk­ward time and only serves to un­der­cut and an­ger the Egyp­tian mil­it­ary,” one In­sider said. “The ad­min­is­tra­tion used a ‘cook­ie-cut­ter’ ap­proach to a for­eign policy de­cision when a more nu­anced ap­proach would have been much more ef­fect­ive.”

Obama has got­ten “everything wrong in Egypt,” be­gin­ning with the Cairo speech, an­oth­er In­sider said. “There is no reas­on to stop that streak now. It’s the wrong policy, and if he feels so strongly, why did he wait? One more con­fus­ing sig­nal from a for­eign policy without a rud­der.” The Egyp­tian mil­it­ary ous­ted demo­crat­ic­ally elec­ted pres­id­ent Mo­hamed Mor­si, of the Muslim Broth­er­hood, this sum­mer, and vi­ol­ence has con­tin­ued since; the crack­down on civil-so­ci­ety groups with­in the coun­try began years ago. “In both Egypt and Syr­ia, delay has had ex­actly the same ef­fect — to nar­row Amer­ic­an op­tions and in­flu­ence,” an­oth­er In­sider said. “Obama stayed on the side­lines by choice — now he has no choice.”

Wash­ing­ton, one In­sider said, “over­es­tim­ates” the im­pact on oth­er coun­tries be­ha­vi­or of its “lar­gesse.” Aid as a means of lever­age has not worked in Afgh­anistan or Pakistan, the In­sider ar­gued. Sev­er­al In­siders said the move will be coun­ter­pro­duct­ive — “worse” than simply be­ing in­ef­fect­ive. “The Egyp­tians will look to China. Is that what we really want?” one In­sider said. 

Yet some In­siders who be­lieved the move would not ac­tu­ally in­flu­ence Cairo’s be­ha­vi­or said the de­cision was cor­rect to sus­pend aid. “It prob­ably won’t cause the Egyp­tians to demo­crat­ize, but we should sus­pend the aid any­way,” one In­sider said. “The ar­gu­ment that aid gives us in­flu­ence is un­der­mined by con­tinu­ing aid to a re­gime that ig­nores our policy pref­er­ences — all this does is to show oth­ers that you can do what you want and the Amer­ic­ans will still pay you any­way. That’s not in­flu­ence.”

1. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­cision to bring al-Qaida op­er­at­ive Anas al-Libi to New York fed­er­al court for tri­al was the:

(54 votes)

— Right de­cision 75.5%

— Wrong de­cision 24.5%


“Fair tri­als ne­ces­sary, even for ter­ror­ists.”

“The blen­ded use of na­tion­al se­cur­ity tools in the al-Libi case should be the mod­el for how the U.S. con­ducts coun­terter­ror­ism op­er­a­tions in the fu­ture.”

“The man is un­der fed­er­al in­dict­ment and should be brought to tri­al in a fed­er­al court.”

“This one is prob­ably jus­ti­fied to take through the courts.”

“[Gitmo] for many reas­ons is not work­ing. We need to have con­sequences as­so­ci­ated with ac­tion, and these people to be ac­count­able. Same pro­cess was used for pir­ates and worked.”

“He is ac­cused of com­mit­ting a fed­er­al crime. Art­icle III courts have re­peatedly demon­strated their abil­ity to try people ac­cused of such crimes, in­clud­ing ter­ror­ist crimes.”

“Ter­ror­ists are crim­in­als who in­stead of be­ing mo­tiv­ated by profit and greed are driv­en by ideo­logy and hate. Our justice sys­tem is well ac­quain­ted with crim­in­al ter­ror­ists and will in­vest­ig­ate, send to tri­al, and con­vict those who do harm against us and our in­terests. Once in a Su­per­max, they can con­tin­ue to be in­ter­viewed to gain in­form­a­tion about their ter­ror net­works. [Gitmo] has been and con­tin­ues to be an ex­pens­ive fail­ure.”

“This provides the ad­min­is­tra­tion with a sol­id case study for try­ing ter­ror­ists in fed­er­al courts.”

“Well ex­ecuted rendi­tion in Libya and the time aboard ship was a good idea; hop­ing they gave the team enough time; more con­cerned over the lack of ‘fin­ish’ in Somalia.”


“The po­s­i­tion the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has taken in the past in sim­il­ar cases — that it will af­ford crim­in­al tri­als to these kinds of ter­ror­ists, but has no in­ten­tion of re­leas­ing them if they are ac­quit­ted by a jury — shows what a trav­esty this ex­er­cise is.”

“Anas al-Libi should be treated as the en­emy com­batant he is, not like a bank rob­ber. After a much more ex­tens­ive in­ter­rog­a­tion than he was giv­en, Libi should be sent to Guantanamo with the rest of his kind, to face a mil­it­ary tribunal in a re­vamped sys­tem set up to spe­cific­ally ac­com­mod­ate tri­als of cap­tured ter­ror­ists.”

“He is a sig­ni­fic­ant in­tel­li­gence re­source and should be in­ter­rog­ated by [Joint Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Com­mand] and the CIA without a law­yer.”

“Wrong but con­sist­ent with the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s view that coun­terter­ror ef­forts ought to be based on law en­force­ment. Libi will be grate­ful for Mir­anda, but the na­tion’s safety will pay the price.”

2. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­cision to sus­pend some mil­it­ary aid will prove ___ in in­flu­en­cing the Egyp­tian mil­it­ary to trans­ition to demo­cracy and re­duce vi­ol­ence in the coun­try:

— In­ef­fect­ive 86%

— Ef­fect­ive 14%


“Our abil­ity to shape events in Egypt is quite lim­ited.”

“The ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­pears de­term­ined to ant­ag­on­ize all sides in Egypt. The Camp Dav­id as­sist­ance the U.S. has giv­en Egypt for more than three dec­ades is a re­ward for main­tain­ing peace with Is­rael, not a bribe con­di­tioned on demo­crat­ic be­ha­vi­or.”

“Ef­fect­ive or in­ef­fect­ive, it’s the law, and the sus­pen­sion should have been ap­plied com­pletely from the be­gin­ning.”

“It prob­ably won’t cause the Egyp­tians to demo­crat­ize, but we should sus­pend the aid any­way. The ar­gu­ment that aid gives us in­flu­ence is un­der­mined by con­tinu­ing aid to a re­gime that ig­nores our policy pref­er­ences—all this does is to show oth­ers that you can do what you want and the Amer­ic­ans will still pay you any­way. That’s not in­flu­ence.”

“The sus­pen­sion of some U.S. mil­it­ary aid will not have im­me­di­ate ef­fect on the mil­it­ary re­gime, but will en­cour­age op­pon­ents to see an op­por­tun­ity to gain more in­ter­na­tion­al sup­port if they pur­sue demo­crat­ic change.”

“The aid sus­pen­sion is driv­en by do­mest­ic polit­ic­al reas­ons and has little chance of help­ing move Egypt in a more pos­it­ive dir­ec­tion.”

“This move doesn’t get the ad­min­is­tra­tion much—they have lost lever­age; should have done this soon­er, if they wanted to cut off aid.”

“The sus­pen­sion will also hurt our abil­ity to in­flu­ence the Egyp­tian lead­er­ship.”

“But it was still the right thing to do, as a state­ment of the U.S. po­s­i­tion.”

“Pub­lic em­barass­ment is rarely a high prob­ab­il­ity shot.”

“While I think it is too early to see, I fear that giv­ing ra­tion­al thought to a cur­rently ir­ra­tion­al situ­ation may not fore­cast the ac­tu­al res­ults re­gard­ing what the fu­ture holds.”

“The Egyp­tian mil­it­ary will take this ac­tion as a be­tray­al while we are still pay­ing Is­rael.”

“The Egyp­tian mil­it­ary has set its own course and will not al­low the Muslim Broth­er­hood to re­gain power. What the United States does or doesn’t do in re­sponse will not al­ter this real­ity.”

“It will hurt their crony mil­it­ary in­dus­tri­al com­plex but not enough to bend them to our well. Sanc­tions don’t work and this is just an­oth­er sanc­tion.”

“The Saudi and oth­er Middle East­ern dic­tat­or­ships will make up the dif­fer­ence. It is simply a ‘feel good’ polit­ic­al ges­ture from an ad­min­is­tra­tion des­per­ately try­ing to be a ‘play­er’ in Egypt.”

“In­ef­fect­ive but cor­rect. We should have cut off the aid a long time ago, but in­er­tia is a power­ful force in U.S. for­eign policy. Also, U.S. law ought to be fol­lowed where pos­sible, and it’s pos­sible here.”

“Hope­fully man­aged care­fully be­low the sur­face, but real risk of erod­ing in­flu­ence with the last in­sti­tu­tion of stature and in­vit­ing chaos to fill the void.”

Na­tion­al Journ­al’s Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity In­siders Poll is a peri­od­ic sur­vey of more than 100 de­fense and for­eign policy ex­perts. They in­clude: Gor­don Adams, Charles Al­len, Thad Al­len, James Bam­ford, Dav­id Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Ber­gen, Samuel “Sandy” Ber­ger, Dav­id Ber­teau, Steph­en Biddle, Nancy Bird­sall, Mari­on Blakey, Kit Bond, Stu­art Bowen, Paula Broad­well, Mike Breen, Mark Brun­ner, Steven Bucci, Nich­olas Burns, Dan By­man, James Jay Cara­fano, Phil­lip Carter, Wendy Cham­ber­lin, Mi­chael Cher­toff, Frank Cil­luffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clem­ons, Joseph Collins, Wil­li­am Court­ney, Lorne Cran­er, Ro­ger Cres­sey, Gregory Dahl­berg, Robert Dan­in, Richard Dan­zig, Daniel Drezn­er, Mack­en­zie Eaglen, Paul Eaton, An­drew Ex­um, Wil­li­am Fal­lon, Eric Farns­worth, Jacques Gansler, Steph­en Gan­yard, Daniel Goure, Mark Green, Mike Green, Mark Gun­zinger, John Hamre, Jim Harp­er, Mi­chael Hay­den, Mi­chael Her­son, Pete Hoek­stra, Bruce Hoff­man, Linda Hud­son, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Don­ald Ker­rick, Rachel Klein­feld, Lawrence Korb, Dav­id Kramer, An­drew Kre­pinev­ich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, James Lind­say, Justin Lo­gan, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Ron­ald Marks, Bri­an Mc­Caf­frey, Steven Metz, Frank­lin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kev­in Neal­er, Mi­chael Oates, Thomas Pick­er­ing, Paul Pil­lar, Larry Pri­or, Steph­en Rade­maker, Marc Rai­mondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Ro­ten­berg, Frank Rug­giero, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Steph­en Ses­t­an­ovich, Sarah Se­wall, Mat­thew Sher­man, Jen­nifer Sims, Con­stan­ze Stelzen­müller, Frances Town­send, Mick Train­or, Su­z­anne Spauld­ing, Ted Stroup, Richard Wil­helm, Tamara Wittes, Dov Za­kheim, and Juan Za­r­ate.



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