03.12.13

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Arrest And Prosecution Of Sulaiman Abu Ghayth

Last week, the Obama administration announced that Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghayth, had been brought to the United States to be prosecuted in an Article III Federal Court.  I commend the work of our Nation’s dedicated law enforcement and intelligence officials who helped bring him to justice.  And I applaud the Obama administration for its decision to prosecute him in a Federal court.  Our Nation is proud of our courts, and we Americans are not afraid to prosecute terrorists in them.  

Our Federal prosecutors have established a tremendous record in convicting over 450 terrorism-related defendants since September 11, 2001.  In contrast, the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, where some say Abu Ghayth should have been sent, remain largely untested.  There have been only eight convictions in military commissions, and on average, the sentences given to those defendants have been far shorter than the sentences handed down in Federal criminal courts.  Moreover, two of those military commission convictions were overturned just last year, and it is unclear whether a conspiracy case against Abu Ghayth could even be legally sustained in a military commission at Guantanamo Bay.  Furthermore, had he been sent to Guantanamo Bay, regardless of the outcome of a military commission proceeding against him, he would have been stuck there indefinitely and without the possibility of a Federal prosecution, as Congress has effectively blocked all transfers of detainees.

In light of the strong record of Federal court prosecutions of terrorists, and the legal uncertainties still surrounding military commissions, I am surprised to hear some criticize the decision to bring Abu Ghayth before an Article III court.  Using our justice system is not mutually exclusive with gathering intelligence.  Indeed, from public accounts, it appears that the FBI gathered information and intelligence from him for about a week before he was formally arraigned in court last week.  In fact, according to one of the prosecutors, law enforcement officials were able to obtain detailed extensive audio recordings and roughly 22 pages worth of post-arrest statements from Abu Ghayth.  And as we’ve seen in many of these types of cases, the presentment of a defendant in court does not mean that he has stopped cooperating.     

Sending another detainee to Guantanamo would have been a serious mistake, and it is clear to me that President Obama and his national security team made the right choice.  The Judiciary Committee has held several hearings on the issue of how to best handle terrorism suspects, and I am convinced that the Attorney General and the administration must have all options available concerning terrorism cases, including the ability to prosecute terrorists in Federal criminal courts.   As a former prosecutor, I have absolute faith in the abilities of our Federal courts, prosecutors, and law enforcement officials to bring terrorists to justice.  Theirs is an extraordinary record of accomplishment and I believe that they will be successful in this case as well.

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