U.S. Commandos scored a tactical victory against Al Qaeda by swooping into Libya and capturing Abu Anas al-Libi earlier this month, a former Bin Laden confidant and terror kingpin. Now President Obama must follow through with a strategic win.
That means extracting valuable intelligence from al-Libi, whose name literally means “the Libyan,” about his two decades of terror insider experience as an Al Qaeda computer expert and co-conspirator of plots against U.S. interests. Al-Libi is believed to have been involved in plots across Africa and the Middle East, including against our Kenya and Tanzania Embassies in 1998 which killed 224 people.
But getting that treasure trove of information depends on our strategy to pry it from a hardened warrior.
And so far, the Obama administration is failing us.
Instead of whisking al-Libi to Guantanamo where he could be interrogated by the military and CIA for as long as it takes to get actionable intelligence – and then try him by military commission as an enemy combatant, Mr. Obama first decided to hold him aboard the amphibious transport ship USS San Antonio, and later try him in a New York federal courtroom.
Mr. Obama’s resistance is entirely based on politics, which he is putting above national security. Again.
First, let's look at the move to put him on the Navy ship.
While holding key terror suspects captured overseas on a Navy ship makes sense temporarily, therein lies the long term problem -- everybody knows it’s just a temporary landing place, including the detainee. Al-Libi has likely been inclined to bide his time and wait till he arrived in the United States to speak with a civilian lawyer.
Second, about justice.
Obama’s counter-terrorism strategy often resembles a hybrid of police work and war. Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a leader of Somalia’s Al Qaeda ally, Al Shabaab was captured in 2011 and held aboard a Navy ship for two months. But then Obama ordered his transfer to federal court in New York where he would be afforded a full range of Constitutional Rights.
Ironically, Obama champions a concept that gives foreign enemy combatants trying to kill Americans, with generous legal protections designed by our Founding Fathers to protect Americans.
What would George Washington would say?
Third, on the interrogations.
Let’s face it, al-Libi’s time on a ship likely didn't require much toughness. Mr. Obama banned coercive interrogation techniques within 48 hours of his January 2009 inauguration. -- Al-Libi could face rougher treatment from police departments across the country for robbing a liquor store.
Sure, he may decide to cooperate with investigators over a hamburger and fries. Some FBI agents have the knack of getting guys to reveal meaningful information via polite conversations, but that strategy can take considerable time as the interrogator-detainee form a tight bond. While that’s great to help prosecutors secure convictions in court, it could take years, and won't stop imminent attacks.
So what’s wrong with sending al-Libi to Guantanamo?
Mr. Obama’s resistance is entirely based on politics, which he is putting above national security.
Let’s understand that although Gitmo had a rocky start in 2002, it remains in the crosshairs of history’s largest propaganda campaign.
Left-leaning defense lawyers, so-called human rights activists, key media and politicians, both in the U.S. and overseas, worked tirelessly to convince the world that Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists at Gitmo were actually the victims.
They conveniently ignore the fact that detainees collectively killed countless thousands of civilians worldwide, including on Sept. 11, 2001, in the mass-casualty bombings at our East African Embassies, at a Bali nightclub, and the Jakarta Marriott, and during Afghanistan’s civil war.
And with the exception of isolated incidents impacting a grand total of 1% of the total detainee population, the rest have been treated with kid gloves.
Gitmo and military commissions have played a vital role in defending America as we remain at war.
Just as we held Nazis as enemy combatants in 1943, we should continue holding Al Qaeda terrorists and affiliates in the same status.
Al-Libi should join them at Gitmo -- starting today.
J.D. Gordon is a retired Navy Commander who served as a Pentagon spokesman in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2005-09. He serves as senior adviser to several Washingtonbased think tanks.