By Sarah Aarthun and Adam Levine
A Lebanese militant accused of involvement in the deaths of five U.S. soldiers in Iraq was handed over to Iraqi authorities Friday after U.S. officials received assurances that he will be brought to trial, according to a White House spokesman.
Ali Mussa Daqduq has been in U.S. military detention in Iraq since 2007 as an "enemy combatant." His case had become a tug of war between Iraq and the Obama administration as the Iraqis gave no indication they would allow Daqduq to leave the country. The case became even more urgent in recent weeks as the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq neared completion. Daqduq could not be held without trial once the U.S. mission ended - a milestone that was officially marked Thursday during a ceremony in Baghdad.
Tommy Vietor, the White House National Security Council spokesman, acknowledged Friday the difficulties in negotiations, noting that discussions continue to determine "with the Iraqis the best way to ensure that he faces justice."
Daqduq was accused of organizing a kidnapping in the Iraqi city of Karbala in January 2007 that left five U.S. soldiers dead. After he was captured months later, Daqduq pretended to be a deaf-mute, according to U.S. intelligence officials. But officials identified him as a 24-year veteran of the militant group Hezbollah who had commanded a special operations unit and been sent to Iraq to develop "Special Groups" within the Shiite militia.
"Because of the president's concerns about the crimes Daqduq is alleged to have committed, we worked a wide range of options consistent with U.S. and Iraqi law to affect his transfer to a U.S. military commission," Vietor said Friday. "We did so because we felt that was the fastest possible way to bring him to justice. We are continuing to discuss this case with the Iraqis, and as of this morning, he has been transferred to Iraqi custody."
A group of U.S. senators called the administration's handling of the Daqduq case "disgraceful."
"This failure to keep a committed murderer of Americans in U.S. custody sends exactly the wrong message to our allies and enemies in the region," said a statement by Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona; Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky; Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent; and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina.
U.S. intelligence officials have said Daqduq has admitted to working with the Quds Force, a branch of Iran's Revolutionary Guard.
Vietor said Friday that the United States didn't have the legal option of rendering Daqduq to a U.S. military commission because it would have been in violation of a security agreement with the Iraqis that requires the assent of the Iraqi government to transfer individuals into or out of the country.
"We take this case very seriously, and for that reason have sought and received assurances that he will be tried for his crimes," Vietor said.