The government in Libya has called the US ambassador on the carpet over the seizure of Abu Anas al-Libi, the suspected mastermind behind the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, but the Libyan government is hardly our biggest worry. Early this morning, the US repositioned an emergency task force of 200 Marines to our naval base in Italy, on alert in case the embassy in Tripoli comes under attack from some of al-Libi’s allies:
Two hundred heavily armed Marines have been moved to the U.S. naval base at Sigonella, Italy, from their base in Spain to respond to any potential security crisis for the U.S. Embassy diplomatic mission in Libya, a U.S. military official told CNN. The move happened on Monday the official said. The move, made in coordination with the State Department, was made “as a prudent measure” in the wake of the US military raid to capture Abu Anas al Libi, the 49-year-old alleged al Qaeda operative.
Looks like the White House has learned from experience. Not to put too fine a point on this, but it’s the kind of move that should have been made to protect our consulate and other assets in Benghazi on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, especially given the environment in eastern Libya.
Those Marines might well be needed in Tripoli, too. The Russian embassy came under attack last week by radical Islamist extremists, and they have more reason now to go after the American embassy after al-Libi’s capture. The Libyan government promised to work harder to secure foreign embassies in the capital, but that’s a pretty weak promise, considering that their military couldn’t clear the street in front of its own Defense Ministry headquarters in May. By June, they couldn’t stop the fighting in the streets of Tripoli between various militias and terrorist groups. “The shores of Tripoli” reference in the Marine Corps Hymn may become a modern reality.
Meanwhile, what about al-Libi? As noted yesterday, the US is wisely treating him as a captured intelligence asset rather than a suspect in a crime, at least until they can extract all of the information they can from him. Normally this kind of work would be done at a “black site” abroad or at Guantanamo Bay, but Barack Obama refuses to use either one. Instead, the Associated Press reports, he’s decided to have the Navy provide floating Gitmos:
Instead of sending suspected terrorists to Guantanamo Bay or secret CIA “black” sites for interrogation, the Obama administration is questioning terrorists for as long as it takes aboard U.S. naval vessels.
And it’s doing it in a way that preserves the government’s ability to ultimately prosecute the suspects in civilian courts. …
Questioning suspected terrorists aboard U.S. warships in international waters is President Barack Obama’s answer to the Bush administration detention policies that candidate Obama promised to end. The strategy also makes good on Obama’s pledge to prosecute terrorists in U.S. civilian courts, which many Republicans have argued against. But it also raises questions about using “law of war” powers to circumvent the safeguards of the U.S. criminal justice system.
By holding people in secret prisons, known as black sites, the CIA was able to question them over long periods, using the harshest interrogation tactics, without giving them access to lawyers. Obama came to office without a ready replacement for those secret prisons. The concern was that if a terrorist was sent directly to court, the government might never know what intelligence he had. With the black sites closed and Obama refusing to send more people to the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, it wasn’t obvious where the U.S. would hold people for interrogation.
And that’s where the warships came in.
Does that really preserve the government’s ability to try al-Libi in federal court? The Obama administration succeeded in 2011 using this model, but Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame made it easier by pleading guilty. Allahpundit wrote about the murky issues left by Warsame’s surprising plea in 2011, but I’ll just add that the obstacles of detention and intelligence extraction to a civilian court proceeding remain whether Gitmo floats or not. The only saving grace here is that we’ve had a case on al-Libi for more than a decade, and his interrogation is likely to focus entirely on existing threats rather than his 1998 crimes. This model may have the same problems as the Gitmo/black site models if a defendant is sophisticated enough to do a Google search or hire a better lawyer than Warsame’s.