Military jail for ‘terrorists’ opposed

WASHINGTON, Nov 29, (AP): The head of the FBI voiced significant misgivings Monday about requiring military custody for captured terror suspects, arguing that the divisive provision in a sweeping defense bill could hinder terrorism investigations.

In a letter to lawmakers, FBI Director Robert Mueller detailed his objections to the provision that mandates military custody of a suspect deemed to be a member of al-Qaeda or its affiliates and involved in plotting or committing attacks against the United States. The White House has threatened a veto because of that provisioin and language in the bill that limit the administration’s ability to transfer suspected terrorists.

“Because the proposed legislation applies to certain persons detained in the United States, the legislation may adversely impact our ability to continue ongoing international terrorism investigations before or after arrest, derive intelligence from those investigations and may raise extraneous issues in any future prosecution of a person covered” by the provision, Mueller wrote.

The FBI director said the legislation would add a substantial amount of uncertainty as to actions that should be followed in a terrorism investigation in the United States. Mueller also said the provision could restrict the FBI from using a grand jury to gather records or subpoena witnesses.
“The legislation ... will inhibit our ability to convince covered arrestees to cooperate immediately, and provide critical intelligence,” Mueller said.

Proponents of the provision have defended the legislation, pointing out that it includes a waiver that allows the administration to decide a suspect’s fate as well as who should be covered by the requirement.

In an op-ed Monday in The Washington Post, Senate Armed Services Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, a Democrat, and the panel’s top Republican, Sen. John McCain, wrote that the bill’s provisions on detainees “represent a careful, bipartisan effort to provide the executive branch the clear authority, tools and flexibility of action it needs to defend us against the threat posed by al-Qaeda.”

Mueller described the waiver as too cumbersome, requiring that it be obtained from the defense secretary in consultation with the secretary of state and the director of National Intelligence with a certification to Congress.

“These limited exceptions ... fail to recognize the reality of a counterterrorism investigation,” Mueller wrote. “Building rapport with, and convincing a covered individual to cooperate once arrested, is a delicate and time-sensitive skill that transcends any one interrogation session.”

The Senate resumed work on the massive defense bill Monday with the dispute over the detention policy looming large. Not only has it drawn a veto threat, but the provision has divided senior Senate Democrats, pitting Levin against leaders of the Intelligence and Judiciary committees.
Congress and the administration have been at odds since Obama took office over how to handle captured terror suspects. The administration insists that lawmakers are trying to limit the military, law enforcement and intelligence agents after they have succeeded in killing Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki, delivering two body blows to al-Qaeda.

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