By Gabe LaMonica
Three Republican senators are accusing the Obama administration of compromising intelligence gathering by holding Abu Anas al Libi on a Navy ship instead of sending him to the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay.
During a press conference Tuesday, Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called the detainment of al Libi on a Navy vessel in the Mediterranean Sea a "huge mistake."
Graham commended the administration's use of "boots on the ground to capture people" as a "good change in policy," but said there are "fatal flaws" in the U.S. intelligence gathering system.
"It's hard to interrogate a dead man," he said, so it's good that the administration is no longer "killing everybody by drones." But the refusal to send al Libi to Gitmo and to hold him instead at sea is "not a proper way to gather intelligence in the war on terror," Graham added.
"We know that al Libi has had at least two decades of al Qaeda experience at the highest levels," said Ayotte, who called al Libi a "potential intelligence goldmine."
Al Libi is accused of playing a key role in the 1998 twin bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and of working with Osama bin Laden directly beginning in the early 1990s. As an intermediary with Aymin al Zawahiri, he played a "critical role" in establishing al Qaeda in Libya.
Al Libi was indicted in absentia by a federal court in New York's Southern District for his involvement in the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya bombings.
Chambliss said he recognizes that al Libi has been indicted and said he ultimately "ought to be tried" in a civilian court, but information relative to current al Qaeda and al Qaeda affiliates will be lost without a long-term detention policy.
"Let's make no mistake about it. This is the highest value target we have captured in years," he said.
Under current rules of war, al Libi can only be held in military custody aboard the USS San Antonio for a certain period of time before he is transferred to federal law enforcement officials in the United States. In 2011 the U.S. detained Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame aboard the USS Boxer for two months before he was given a Miranda warning and flown to New York, where he was indicted.
The senators say this framework doesn't give interrogators in the intelligence community enough time to tap into the al Libi "goldmine."
"This system of using Navy vessels, Navy warships, in lieu of Gitmo compromises our ability to gather intelligence," Graham said.