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GOP leaders voice 'grave misgivings' to Obama over key terror trial in civilian court

 

The Republican chairmen of four congressional committees, with oversight for intelligence, the armed services, the judiciary and foreign affairs, have told President Obama they have "grave misgivings" about his administration's decision to send Usama bin Laden's brother-in-law to a federal court for criminal prosecution.

The lawmakers voiced their concerns to Obama in a letter obtained by Fox News.

"I've found in visiting Guantanamo, in visiting the prisons in Afghanistan that we have ways of getting information. We have people that are highly trained that can sit down and get these people's confidence and they learn a lot or can learn a lot unless we shut them off with attorneys," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon said.

He and Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee; Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the Judiciary Committee are now requesting a briefing from the nation's top intelligence officer, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, to explain how the administration's apparent rush to bring Sulaiman Abu Ghaith to a criminal court is in the national security interest.

Abu Ghaith, who is an alleged senior Al Qaeda member who served as spokesman for bin Laden, lived in Iran for a decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks with other members of the bin Laden family and his inner circle. It is still unknown whether they were under house arrest or free to operate as guests of the regime.

Abu Ghaith's capture is described by the Republican congressmen as a "significant opportunity to acquire substantial, critical intelligence" including information on the network's regional strategy and its relationship with Tehran.

After leaving Iran for Turkey, Abu Ghaith was deported to Jordan, where he was eventually transferred from Jordanian to U.S. custody in March. In their letter to the White House, the congressmen state that they have little confidence that the intelligence community, as well as interrogators, were given enough time to build a rapport with bin Laden's son-in-law to learn everything he knew.

"The failure to provide an adequate mechanism for the United States to acquire sensitive intelligence information from Abu Ghaith prior to Mirandizing him and brining him to criminal court suggests a fundamental lack of a coherent security strategy, " the congressmen wrote in the two-page letter dated Friday.

One of the lingering questions of the 9/11 Commission was why the majority of "muscle hijackers" who overcame the passengers and flight crews passed through Iran from Pakistan to reach the Afghan training camps. A new report by the Kronos advisory group being circulated to lawmakers, called "Iran and The Global Jihad," assesses that Al Qaeda set up a management council or "shadow shura" because it understood "America's decades-long aversion" to conflict with Iran.

A leading terrorism analyst says there is also a larger issue at play. As reported by the Long War Journal, Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, says only 17 of the documents confiscated from the compound in Pakistan where bin Laden was found and killed in May 2011 have been made public.  

"The release of the Bin Laden documents was highly selective, and those that were given to the public only highlighted the antagonistic episodes between the two (Iran and Al Qaeda). The documents that were released to the public didn't show the history of collusion and we know for a fact that - that history of collusion is in fact in the documents," Joscelyn said.

Joscelyn said that while career intelligence officers and treasury officials are actively pursing Al Qaeda and designating operatives inside the Iranian government, he said other parts of the government that are more "politicized" want to declare Al Qaeda on the decline.

"If Al Qaeda is operating in Iranian territory and has this core pipeline, as the Treasury Department says, then it makes it much more difficult to declare Al Qaeda dead," he said.

Joscelyn also points to the fact that the administration has apparently relied on the bin Laden documents to list a handful of Iranian entities as terrorist organizations, which allows the Treasury to freeze their assets, among other punitive actions.

"I've been told that the bin Laden documents were part of what was used for the series of designations that came out the U.S. Treasury Department and State Department,"  Joscelyn explained.  "The Obama administration only released to the public those documents that show tensions between the two (Iran and Al Qaeda) and didn't release to the public those documents that show the two colluding."

On Monday, a federal plea agreement was unsealed in the case of Ahmed Warsame, a member of the Al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia. Warsame was captured in April 2011 and held at sea for more than two months, before he was transferred to a New York City court in December 2011. While a press release from the U.S. attorney's office and FBI hailed Warsame's cooperation and the intelligence gathered as a "watershed,"  Rep. McKeon said neither the Warsame nor the Abu Ghaith cases were anything to celebrate.

"We've captured thousands and don't have enough ships to park them over there and put them one at a time on a ship," he said. "We are not equipped to do that on a ship. That one (Warsame) was a unique case that worked out well and I am glad it did, but again, it is not a policy builder."

Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.