LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The top-ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate wants two Iraqis facing terrorism-related charges in Kentucky sent to the prison at Guantanamo Bay rather than allow them to face trial in a civilian court.
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, spoke on the Senate floor Tuesday morning and called 30-year-old Waad Ramadan Alwan and 23-year-old Mohanad Shareef Hammadi "foreign fighters" who should be subject to the same system as combatants caught on a battlefield.
McConnell said sending the men to the facility on the southeastern tip of Cuba is the best way to ensure that there will be no disruptions that could come with a civilian trial.
"Send them to Guantanamo where they belong. Get these terrorists out of the civilian system — and out of our backyards," McConnell said. "And give them the justice they deserve."
Alwan and Hammadi are charged in a 23-count indictment with conspiring to send weapons and money to Al-Qaida in Iraq. Alwan is also charged with attacking American soldiers in Iraq. A grand jury in Bowling Green charged the men last month.
Hammadi's attorney, Jim Earhart, told The Associated Press that both men were legally in the country and should be afforded the same rights as anyone else legally in the United States.
"There simply is no exception to that, nor do we expect one for our citizens overseas," Earhart said. "It's a two-way street. You've got to be careful when you go there."
Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department, said the department coordinated with intelligence agencies and the U.S. Department of Defense during the probe and both Alwan and Hammadi underwent "extensive interrogation" after waiving their Miranda rights. Hundreds of people have been convicted in federal courts on terrorism-related charges since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and none have prompted retaliatory attacks, Boyd said.
"The successful investigation, arrests, and interrogation in this case show the effectiveness of our intelligence and law enforcement authorities in bringing terrorists to justice and preventing them from harming the American people," Boyd said. "Abandoning those proven methods would do nothing but risk the safety of the American people."
Scott Wendelsdorf, the federal public defender representing Alwan, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday. The White House press office referred questions to the Justice Department.
Alwan is charged with conspiracy to kill a United States national, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to provide material support to terrorists. Hammadi is charged with attempting to provide material support to terrorists and knowingly transferring, possessing or exporting a device designed or intended to launch or guide a rocket or missile.
Authorities say the weapons and money from Alwan and Hammadi didn't make it to Iraq because of a tightly controlled undercover investigation. The FBI said in an affidavit that Alwan spoke of setting roadside bombs near Bayji, Iraq from 2003 through 2006. The FBI said investigators found his fingerprints on an unexploded bomb, but didn't match the prints to Alwan until January.
No trial date has been set for the men. Attorneys in the case are scheduled to speak with U.S. District Judge Thomas B. Russell on June 21 about how the case will proceed.
Alwan and Hammadi were admitted into the United States with refugee status in 2009. Homeland Security officials have said the men slipped through cracks in the system that have since been fixed.
McConnell said Kentucky residents don't want Alwan and Hammadi treated like "common criminals in their own backyards."
"They don't want foreign fighters to be afforded all the legal rights and privileges of U.S. citizens," McConnell said.
The use of the facility at Guantanamo Bay has been politically charged since the Bush administration began sending captured combatants to the military post on the eastern edge of Cuba in 2001. President Barack Obama has pledged to close the prison, which houses about 170 detainees.
McConnell called the prison the "perfect solution" for cases like the one involving Alwan and Hammadi and ensure that Kentucky doesn't cover the cost of added security and potential disturbances should the two men go to trial.
"Sending them to Gitmo is the only way to ensure that they will not enjoy all the rights and privileges of U.S. citizens," McConnell said. "Sending them to Gitmo is the only way we can be certain there won't be retaliatory attacks in Kentucky."
McConnell's GOP colleague, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, has called for hearings into how Alwan and Hammadi got refugee status.
Associated Press reporter Brett Barrouquere is on Twitter: http://twitter.com/BBarrouquereAP