* GOP accuses White House of attempt to "civilianize" war
* Obama aides say FBI, Justice inquiries could be damaged
* One suspect held by military had suite of cells
By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON, Nov 23 A Senate plan requiring that
all foreign al Qaeda suspects found in the United States be
turned over to the military instead of civilian law enforcement
could gravely damage U.S. counter-terrorism investigations, the
Obama administration warned.
Top administration officials charged that the plan would
set up new hurdles for U.S. investigators - particularly at the
FBI and the Justice Department - and would raise questions as
to how and when they must involve the military.
Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Armed Services
Committee, in a rare display of bipartisanship, approved the
provision earlier this month as part of an important defense
bill. It could be voted on by the full Senate early next week.
Officials said that if the current plan is approved by both
the House and Senate, Obama aides will recommend a presidential
veto of the entire defense bill, which contains many other
vital defense-related provisions.
"Agents and prosecutors should not have to spend their time
worrying about citizenship status and whether and how to get a
waiver signed by the Secretary of Defense in order to thwart an
al Qaeda plot against the homeland," Lisa Monaco, assistant
attorney general for national security, told Reuters.
"Rather than provide new tools and flexibility for FBI
operators and our intelligence professionals, this legislation
creates new procedures and paperwork for FBI agents,
intelligence lawyers and counter-terrorism prosecutors," she
Currently, suspects detained in the United States normally
go into the civilian justice system, while those caught
overseas are held under U.S. military jurisdiction.
The dispute appears to be about more than just bureaucratic
turf battles, and risks reopening bitter disputes over handling
militant suspects that in some cases have taken a decade to
NO 'MIRANDA' REQUIRED
One prominent Republican backer of the plan, Senator
Lindsay Graham, said that in his view, the Obama administration
has been too eager to process al Qaeda suspects caught in the
United States through the civilian criminal justice system.
This usually involves them quickly being given the
mandatory "Miranda" warnings about their rights to legal
counsel and to remain silent, he said.
Requiring that the administration transfer foreign al Qaeda
suspects into military custody, Graham said in an interview on
Wednesday, would give investigators time to interrogate
suspects and gather intelligence about potential plots without
giving them warnings which might cause them to stop talking.
"Military custody is the best place for intelligence
gathering," Graham said, adding that Congress was "fed up" with
administration moves to "civilianize" what some legislators
still regard principally as a war against militants.
A congressional aide close to backers of the committee plan
insisted that it gives the administration the freedom to make a
determination on military custody.
"If the FBI is investigating, they investigate. No ongoing
surveillance, intelligence gathering or interrogation is
interrupted" under the bill's provisions, the aide insisted.
Under the plan, unanimously approved by the committee,
military custody requirements would apply both to suspects
detained by U.S. forces overseas, and to suspects alleged to be
connected to al Qaeda or an "associated force" of foreign
nationality who are detained on U.S. soil.
Al Qaeda suspects of U.S. nationality or residency arrested
in the United States. would still be processed through the
civilian court system.
After complaints from the White House, the Armed Services
Committee tweaked its proposal to include a provision
authorizing the administration to formally waive the military
custody provisions in cases where it deems that national
security would benefit from such a move.
As an example of how military handling of detainees is not
an intelligence-producing panacea, law enforcement officials
cited the case of an alleged al Qaeda "sleeper agent" of Saudi
and Qatari nationality who was picked up in the United States
after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
According to the officials, Ali al-Marri was initially
arrested as a material witness, then charged in civilian courts
with credit card and identity fraud violations. But in 2003,
President George W. Bush designated al-Marri as an "enemy
combatant" and had him transferred to a military brig in South
Instead of being treated harshly, U.S. officials said, al
Marri was given a suite of cells at the military prison,
complete with his own Islamic library and exercise equipment.
Despite repeated questioning by military interrogators over
several years, the officials said, al Marri never provided them
with any information.
However, the officials said, after President Obama in 2009
ordered that al Marri's case be reviewed, he was subsequently
transferred back into the civilian court system.
He eventually pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in
which he admitted dealings with alleged top al Qaeda operative
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his involvement in alleged research
into chemical weapons on al Qaeda's behalf. However, he did not
give prosecutors or civilian investigators additional