A team of military, intelligence and Justice Department interrogators has been sent to the USS San Antonio in international waters to question terror suspect Abu Anas al-Libi, who was captured in Libya over the weekend, two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press on Monday.
Al-Libi was indicted in 2000 for his involvement in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa. He is currently being held in military custody aboard the Navy ship under the laws of war, which means a person can be captured and held indefinitely as an enemy combatant, one of the officials said. The White House would not discuss its plans for prosecution.
As of Monday, al-Libi had not been read his Miranda rights — which includes the rights to remain silent and speak with an attorney. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation.
The interrogators sent to question al-Libi are part of a group of interrogators called the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group. The group was created by the Obama administration in 2009 to juggle the need to extract intelligence from captured suspected terrorists and preserve evidence for a criminal trial. It’s part of President Barack Obama’s strategy to prosecute terrorists in U.S. civilian courts.
“As a general rule, the government will always seek to elicit all the actionable intelligence and information we can from terrorist suspects taken into our custody,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said. “Determining when and where to prosecute individuals is a traditional and important executive branch authority that has long been exercised on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all relevant factors — such decisions are not made arbitrarily.”
In 2011, the U.S. captured Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a Somali citizen suspected of helping support and train al-Qaida-linked terrorists. Warsame was questioned aboard a warship for two months before he was brought to the U.S. to face charges. He pleaded guilty earlier this year and agreed to tell the FBI what he knew about terror threats and, if necessary, testify for the government.
Under interrogation, Warsame gave up what officials called important intelligence about al-Qaida in Yemen and its relationship with al-Shabab militants in Somalia. Because those sessions were conducted before Warsame was read his Miranda rights, the intelligence could be used to underpin military strikes or CIA actions but were not admissible in court. After that interrogation was complete, the FBI stepped in and started the questioning over in a way that could be used in court. After the FBI read Warsame his rights, he opted to keep talking for days, helping the government build its case.
It was unclear Monday when al-Libi would be brought to the U.S. to face trial or whether there would be additional charges.
The Obama administration has said it can hold high value detainees on a ship for as long as it needs to. During his confirmation hearing in June 2011 to be the head of U.S. Special Operations Command, Adm. William McRaven said the U.S. could keep a detainee on a ship for as long as it takes to determine whether the U.S. could prosecute the suspect in civilian court or if the U.S. could return the suspect to another country.
The FBI and CIA had been tracking al-Libi for years, two former U.S. intelligence officials said. Both former officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak about the case.
Officials said after 9/11 that al-Libi had been living in Iran for several years. He then moved to Pakistan before he returned to Libya prior to Moammar Gadhafi’s government falling. He went back to Africa to be reunited with his family.
Once the fighting ended, the U.S. intelligence community began focusing on trying to capture al-Libi, the former official said, adding that the U.S. Army’s Delta Force worked with local Libyans to apprehend al-Libi. One of the New York FBI’s counterterrorism squads, CT-6 — that focuses on Africa, played a significant role in the capture.