The Spectacle Blog

The Peculiar Warsame Case

By on 7.5.11 | 9:50PM

The New York Times reports:

WASHINGTON - A Somali man accused of ties to two Islamist militant groups was captured by the American military in April and interrogated for months aboard a navy ship without being warned of his Miranda rights to remain silent and have a lawyer. On Tuesday, the Obama administration announced that the man has been flown to New York City to face prosecution before a civilian court.

In an indictment unsealed in the Southern District of New York, Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame was charged with nine counts related to accusations that he provided support to the Somalia-based Al Shabaab and the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Mr. Warsame was captured on April 19, and a plane carrying him arrived in New York City around midnight Monday night, officials said.

So Warsame was interrogated in military detention for two months, and then, says the Times story, "a separate group of interrogators came in for a 'law enforcement' session. They delivered a Miranda warning, but he waived his rights and continued to cooperate, the officials said."

Congress, it should be noted, has been trying to prevent this sort of thing. More from the Times:

The House of Representatives has already passed a bill that likely would prohibit the transfer of such military detainees into the United States - though the administration opposes such a restriction. In a statement, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, Republican of California, denounced the decision.

"The transfer of this terrorist detainee directly contradicts Congressional intent and the will of the American people," he said. "Congress has spoken clearly multiple times - including explicitly in pending legislation - of the perils of bringing terrorists onto U.S. soil. It is unacceptable that the administration notified Congress only after it unilaterally transferred this detainee to New York City despite multiple requests for consultation."

Robert Chesney suggests at Lawfare that this case may demonstrate the efficacy of a flexible approach to counterterrorism that combines military and civilian law enforcement options, and discourage Congress from "tying the executive branch's hands." Maybe. But here's my question: What happens if Warsame is acquitted? Will the Obama administration release him? If not, then the civilian trial is just for show, and a show-trial undermines integrity of the criminal justice system. Chesney's cobloggers, Jack Goldsmith and Benjamin Wittes, contemplated this question in the wake of the Ghaliani verdict last fall and argued for keeping indefinite military detention without trial on the table. They hastened to add that civilian trials (as well as military commissions) should also be used in cases where they're appropriate, but whether this is such a case seems debatable.

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