NEW YORK – An alleged al-Qaida member snatched off the streets in Libya and interrogated for a week aboard a U.S. warship pleaded not guilty to bombing-related charges Tuesday in a case that has renewed the debate over how quickly terrorism suspects should be turned over to the U.S. courts.
Despite calls from Republicans in Congress to send him to Guantanamo Bay for indefinite interrogation, Abu Anas al-Libi became the latest alleged terrorist to face civilian prosecution in federal court in New York, the scene of several such convictions.
Al-Libi, wearing a thick gray beard, looked frail and moved slowly as he was led into the heavily guarded courtroom in handcuffs.
The 49-year-old al-Libi was captured by U.S. commandos during an Oct. 5 military raid in Libya and questioned for a week aboard the USS San Antonio.
He was indicted more than a decade ago in the twin 1998 bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people, including a dozen Americans. If convicted, he could get life behind bars.
Republicans stepped up their criticism of President Barack Obama for his administrations handling of al-Libi, saying he should have been sent to the American prison at Guantanamo Bay for more interrogation instead of being taken to the U.S. and given access to civilian courts and the legal protections they provide.
New York Republican Rep. Peter King, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said: The real issue is the intelligence. Once he gets a lawyer, he holds the cards. ... Put it this way: Now he decides whether he will talk.
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont defended the administration, saying dozens of terrorists have been arrested and continued providing worthwhile information.