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The Good and the Bad of the Warsame Case

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July 6, 2011

First, the good: with today’s news of charges being brought against terrorism suspect Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame in federal criminal court in New York, the Obama administration is acting on its Attorney General’s stated belief that our criminal justice system is the best and most appropriate place to try such suspects.

We couldn’t agree more. As we’ve pointed out repeatedly, the military commissions at Guantanamo just don’t work. Since the passage of the Military Commissions Act in 2006, a whopping six commission cases have been completed — accompanied by significant controversy of the rules and the outcomes. On the other hand, federal criminal courts have successfully convicted hundreds of terrorism suspects without any jeopardy to national security. Not much of a contest, is it?

As Hina Shamsi, Director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a statement today: “Unlike the discredited military commissions, federal courts are able to achieve justice and unquestionably have jurisdiction over the material support and conspiracy crimes with which Warsame is charged.”

But here’s the bad news: the Obama administration held Warsame, a criminal suspect, in military custody on a Navy ship for more than two months for interrogation. Apparently, the administration continues to assert worldwide war detention authority wherever terrorism suspects are found.

And holding a suspect in unlawful military detention for more than two months isn’t good for the case against Warsame. As Hina points out: “The government could have obtained intelligence through law enforcement rather than military interrogation, as it successfully has in hundreds of terrorism cases, without jeopardizing its criminal case.”

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