Interrogation: Criminal

Why No Period of Detention and Interrogation for Abu Ghaith, ala the Warsame Model?

By Robert Chesney
Thursday, March 7, 2013, 4:14 PM

As Ritika notes below, the United States has captured a senior al Qaeda figure (Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, who was the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden), and will be bringing him to the United States for prosecution in civilian court.  One important question this story raises is whether it is right to think of this as a continuation of the "Warsame model," or if instead this reflects a policy decision to steer even further away from military detention and interrogation.

The idea behind the Warsame model is simple.  As reflected in the capture, detention, interrogation, and prosecution of al-Shabaab member Ahmed Warsame, this approach combines the sequential use of (i) military or intelligence assets to capture a terrorism target overseas; (ii) a period of military detention during which time there is a non-Mirandized interrogation process implemented (at least primarily) by the High-value Interrogation Group ("HIG"); and (iii) a switch to civilian criminal prosecution on the back end in order to ensure a maximum-sustainability solution for long-term detention.  This model displeases those who would prefer to see a wholly-military process used.  In the right circumstances, however, the Warsame model is a smart, hybrid approach that serves both the short-term interest in interrogation and the long-term interest in sustainable incapacitation.

So, was the Warsame Model used here? And if not, why not?

At first blush, it does not seem it was used.  This report suggests that he was captured by Turkish authorities in early February, and held there for 33 days before being kicked out to Jordan en route to Kuwait--and then rendered to American custody while in Jordan.  This report adds that he already is in NYC, and has been there for a week. If correct, the combination of these stories suggests that we almost immediately moved him into the civilian criminal justice system.

But on close inspection that might not be a fair assessment.  Consider that 33-day stretch in Turkish custody.  It is quite possible, if not likely, that much of this time involved interrogation, and that U.S. authorities--possibly the HIG--had some involvement in or access to that interrogation.  If that is correct, it is possible too that HIG officials might have concluded that there was relatively little value to be had in having a subsequent period of U.S.-administered detention after that.

Of course, that account might not be right.  It may be that officials have decided they are not comfortable even with the limited amount of military detention at issue in the Warsame model.  Hopefully we will learn more in the days ahead; journalists should certainly be focusing their questions on this issue.