WASHINGTON — Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano Tuesday brushed off criticism of the Obama administration's decision to try high-profile terrorism suspects in the United States, arguing the courts have the expertise to handle the trials and that the suspects have been properly interrogated before their day in court.
The decision to try Ibrahim Suleiman Adnan Adam Harun, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith — the son-in-law of Osama Bin Laden — and other terror suspects has reignited a decade-old fight over whether terrorists should stand trial in civilian courts or be taken to Guantanamo Bay where they can be interrogated at length before facing a military tribunal.
For instance, in a statement following the indictment of Harun, Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte harshly criticized the administration, arguing in a joint statement they had "undermined our nation's intelligence collection efforts and made our country less safe."
"When we place individuals like Harun and Sulaiman abu Ghayth in our civilian legal system, read them their Miranda Rights, and focus on prosecution rather than intelligence collection, we miss valuable information that will prevent future attacks," the senators added.
But during a breakfast with reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, Napolitano rejected those concerns.
"We have a variety of techniques, excellent ways to get whatever intel individuals have and have to share. Quite frankly we've tried a number of terror suspects in [civilian] courts, particularly the southern district of New York. There's an expertise, a real expertise that's been developed there. They've actually done more trials there than at Gitmo and they have gotten what I believe to be very, very goods results from a security and a law enforcement perspective," Napolitano said.
The former Arizona governor argued that DHS' multi-agency "high value intelligence group" has adequate capabilities to secure the sort of intelligence from suspects that can help prevent future attacks and locate suspects.
"Let's say you arrest or find someone who's been active in the bomb making field, part where aviation is concerned, we'd want to know what he learned, where he learned it, how he did it how he would do it so we can identify how we'd find it and translate that into something that a TSA screener or someone screening at the last point of departure in the united states would recognize … something that could be translated into actual actionable" intelligence, Napolitano said.
John Stanton is a senior national correspondent for BuzzFeed News. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
Contact John Stanton at email@example.com.
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