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Sessions: Terrorist Murderer May Be Freed By Iraq After Release From U.S. Custody
Friday, August 3, 2012
“I urge the President and his team to act forcefully now. It may not be too late. With strong action we may be able to ensure that Daqduq is not released, that he is able to be tried for the murders he committed and the American soldiers he killed.”
WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, delivered remarks yesterday on the United States’ decision to release into Iraqi custody Ali Mussa Daqduq, a terrorist who murdered an Alabama soldier. Sessions also addressed the possible release of that terrorist by the Iraqi government and the failure of the U.S. to secure an extradition agreement for Daqduq to face justice for his acts of war and murder:
“Mr. President, it was reported today that Iraq has denied the request of the United States to extradite senior Hezbollah field commander and confessed terrorist Ali Mussa Daqduq, who was recently ordered released by the Iraqi court after our government turned him over to Iraqi custody when our troops left the country.
The Administration had years to transfer Daqduq to our detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, but because the President seemed to lack the political will to do so—I think because of campaign promises he improvidently made—one of the most dangerous, reprehensible terrorists ever in our custody will likely be allowed to go free. We should never have been in this position.
I and others saw this coming and we pleaded with the Administration not to allow it to happen. Sadly, our warnings fell on deaf ears and, sadly, we were proven correct.
Daqduq is responsible for the torture and murder of five American servicemen in Karbala, Iraq, including Private Jonathan Millican of Locust Fork, Alabama, who was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action as he attempted to protect his comrades from Daqduq’s terrorist actions outside the rules of war. Daqduq and his followers wore American uniforms—an action that he directed. His actions were clearly against the laws of war and he can be held not only as a prisoner of war but as a violator of the rules of war and can be tried and should have been tried before an American military commission.
When U.S. forces captured Daqduq, then the most senior Hezbollah figure in U.S. custody, he provided detailed testimony about the support and training provided by Iran to Iraqi insurgents and admitted to violating the laws of war. He is not a criminal defendant. He is not a member of an organized crime syndicate or some drug dealer. He is a confessed terrorist who committed atrocities against American soldiers during a war duly authorized by Congress. That makes him an unlawful enemy combatant who may be detained until the conclusion of the war or subjected to trial by a military commission. He could be imprisoned for up to life or he could be executed.
Once the military determined he was no longer of use for intelligence purposes when he was in Iraq, he should have been brought to Guantanamo Bay. That was the perfect place for him to be detained. This should have been an open-and-shut case. But President Obama and Attorney General Holder have obstinately clung to the failed law enforcement approach to counter terrorism. They just have. It has been a dispute all the way through the campaign and since they took office. They believe in treating foreign enemy combatants as normal criminal defendants entitled to U.S. constitutional protections and civilian trials. This is contrary to history and contrary to the laws of war. It is contrary to our treaty obligations. Other nations don’t do this.
The problem began when, upon taking office, the President decided to ban any new additions to the prisoner population at Guantanamo Bay. We remember that. He didn’t like Guantanamo Bay. He thought that was some bad place. So if he transferred Daqduq, or anyone else, for that matter, to Gitmo, he would anger certain of his supporters and violate some of his improvident campaign promises, one of which was to the effect that Gitmo was a cause of terrorism, not a way to prevent terrorism and prevent terrorists from murdering innocent civilians and attacking our military.
So when the report surfaced that the administration planned to transfer Daqduq to the United States for a civilian trial—that was the first report, that he would be brought here for a civilian trial—my colleagues and I wrote to the Attorney General urging him to reconsider and try him before a military commission. For a time, the Attorney General appeared to have relented. But a few months later, it was reported that instead of transferring him to Gitmo, the administration decided to release Daqduq to Iraqi custody.
This time, we wrote to Secretary of Defense Panetta asking him to reconsider that decision. We warned that the Iraqi Government previously had released terrorists who later returned to the battlefield to kill American servicemen. Yet as the deadline for the United States withdrawal from Iraq approached, it became clear the President had no intention of removing Daqduq from Iraq.
The President then struck a deal with Prime Minister al-Maliki to charge Daqduq before an Iraqi criminal court for his acts of terrorism, forgery, and illegal entry, and other offenses.
Now the Iraqi court has had a trial and ordered him released, in spite of the volume of evidence turned over by the United States to be used in the trial, including his uncoerced confessions detailing his role in training the insurgents and his role in the Karbala massacre that I referred to. It appears that it is only a matter of time before he will now be set free.
Recent press reports indicate that the Iraqi authorities are trying to find a way to release Daqduq without angering the White House or embarrassing the President ahead of the election. Well, no one should be surprised that Iraq will not turn him over. We were concerned from the beginning that this would happen.
The Administration knew well before it handed over Daqduq that its decision was an abdication of its responsibility to prosecute a terrorist for war crimes against American soldiers—the murder of American soldiers. The Administration knew if the Iraqi courts failed to bring him to justice, we may never get a second chance. That was known. And they knew that Iraq would not agree to an extradition request. That has been their policy. So the fact of the matter is we wouldn’t be in this position if we had tried Daqduq before a military commission when we had the opportunity. But now, not only is justice perverted, but he could be returned to the battlefield to kill more Americans, Iraqis, and others.
Unfortunately, Daqduq was not the first, nor will he be the last, example of this administration’s unwillingness to confront dangerous terrorists effectively and to process them effectively.
In July of 2009, Senator Jon Kyl and I wrote President Obama urging him to adhere to this Nation’s longstanding policy of not negotiating with terrorists and not to release the Khazali brothers—two of the top Iraqi terrorists trained by Daqduq who were complicit in the Karbala massacre in 2009; but they went forward—in exchange for the release of British hostages held by the terrorist organization called the League of the Righteous.
President Obama authorized the Khazalis’ release as part of what the Iraqi Government called its “reconciliation efforts” with insurgent groups.
But in reality, this release was a thinly veiled ploy to use Iraq as a middleman in a terrorist-for-hostage exchange in direct violation of President Reagan’s policy not to negotiate with terrorists. In fact, there was an Executive order he issued to that effect.
When Iraq released the Khazalis to the League of the Righteous, the terrorist group responded by releasing five British hostages, but, sadly, four of them had already been executed. Qais Khazali immediately, upon his release, resumed his position as leader of the terrorist group and orchestrated the kidnapping of a U.S. civilian contractor in Baghdad less than a month after his release, and Abdul Reza Shahlai, an Iranian Quds Force officer now in Iraq—the Quds Force is one of the most loyal and vicious parts of the Iranian regime—helped Khazali and Daqduq plan the Karbala massacre and helped coordinate the attempt to assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States on U.S. soil. Do you remember that? That is the same guy.
Despite this alarming track record and the obvious lessons to be learned from its previous mistakes, the Administration recently insisted on engaging in negotiations with the Taliban to release five terrorist detainees from Guantanamo Bay—detainees who were categorized previously as “too dangerous to transfer” by the administration’s own Guantanamo Review Task Force—and they were to be released in exchange for the Taliban’s promise in Afghanistan to “begin” talks with the Afghan Government.
Negotiating, I suggest, with terrorists is not a profitable enterprise, and in effect that is what that was. Three of the five have ties to al-Qaida. Another met with Iranian officials on behalf of the Taliban immediately following 9/11 to discuss Iran’s offer of weapons and support to attack U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Another detainee then under consideration, Mohammad Fazl, is a close friend of the supreme Taliban commander, Mullah Omar, who is accused of killing thousands of Afghan Shiites, and who was responsible for the prison revolt that claimed the life of CIA Officer Johnny Michael Spann, the first American killed in Afghanistan and, incidentally, another brave Alabamian.
As time has passed, it has become clear that the policy of not negotiating with terrorists is sound and essential, and the Administration’s actions in violation of that policy have failed and they are dangerous.
Indeed, the Administration’s failed terrorist detention policies appear to have led to a policy that favors killing rather than capture and interrogation of enemy combatants. It is an odd event, but it does appear to have some truth to it.
So today we face a situation in Afghanistan that is similar to that which we faced in Iraq in 2009. Parwan Prison currently houses roughly 2,000 to 3,000 individuals, including high-value detainees.
In August 2011, the Washington Post reported: ‘U.S. officials say that giving Afghans control over the fates of suspected insurgents would allow dangerous Taliban fighters to slip through the cracks of an undeveloped legal system.’
I will tell you what that means. It means they will not be able to keep them in those jails. History shows that. They will get their way out of there—through violence, through bribery, through threats, or some other mechanism, and that is what is continuing to happen. It is a big concern of the military. As a former Federal prosecutor, who observed this particular issue over the years in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has been a source of concern to me.
In March of this year, the Administration agreed to a gradual transfer of control of the prison to the Afghan government over a period of 6 months, with the United States holding veto power over the release of certain prisoners. However, the Washington Post reported in May of this year that the Administration has been secretly releasing high-value detainees held in Afghanistan in exchange for certain “promises of support” from leaders of insurgent groups.
Now, how long do you think that will last? Once we release the prisoner, they are out, but the promises by some Taliban or some terrorists are not going to be honored. Not only do some of these prisoners have ties to Iran or al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations that continue to attack our troops, but their release is not even conditioned on them severing their contact with the insurgent groups.
According to the Washington Post, the Administration has approved these releases in part because they do not require congressional approval. That is what they report. It also has been reported that the Administration is attempting to repatriate some of the 50 most dangerous militants over which the United States currently retains custody to Pakistan and other Arab countries—this in the face of reports from the Director of National Intelligence that nearly 28 percent of former Gitmo detainees are either confirmed or suspected to have returned to the battlefield to attack America and our allies. Twenty-eight percent. How many are doing so and we have not yet proven that they have been in the game? I suspect many more than that 28 percent.
So the question inevitably arises: When American detention operations in Afghanistan come to an end, where will the Administration take those 50 or so dangerous prisoners, assuming it has not already negotiated with other insurgent groups for their release? If they are not going to release them, what are they going to do with them?
Once again, the Administration has kicked the can down the road, just as it did in Iraq, which eventually culminated in the Daqduq mess.
The country cannot afford to continue down this dangerous path, especially in light of the impending withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan and the Administration’s agreement to transfer detainees in U.S. custody to the Kabul government. The same unacceptable result will surely occur.
The President is the Commander-in-Chief. He has serious responsibilities, and one is to defend the honor, the dignity, and the credibility of the United States. I do not believe we are doing so when we are dealing with terrorists who double-cross us at every turn. He has a duty to those magnificent troops who have answered his call to go into harm’s way to execute U.S. policy.
Part of that duty is not to give away what they have fought and bled for. That includes not giving up prisoners whom these soldiers have, at great risk and effort, captured—terrorists who seek to destroy what we have, terrorists we have worked so hard to capture, terrorists who may return to kill more Americans and more Afghans.
This policy cannot be defended. It has to end. So I urge the President and his team to act forcefully now. It may not be too late. With strong action we may be able to ensure that Daqduq is not released, that he is able to be tried for the murders he committed and the American soldiers he killed.”
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