by Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY
Sulaiman Abu Ghayth's pleaded not guilty to a charge of conspiring to kill Americans Friday in a brief appearance in a New York federal courtroom, but the mere presence of Osama bin Laden's son-in-law in the U.S.--a short distance from where the World Trade Center towers once stood--has revived an emotional debate over whether terror suspects should be tried in civilian court.
Republican lawmakers Friday seized on the Justice Department's decision to bring the strident al Qaeda spokesman to New York, saying that he belonged in military custody at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay.
"We are disturbed by the administration's decision to bring...a foreign member of al Qaeda charged with conspiring to kill Americans - to New York for trial in federal court,'' South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte said in a joint statement.
"The Obama Administration's lack of a war-time detention policy for foreign members of al Qaeda, as well as its refusal to detain and interrogate these individuals at Guantanamo, makes our nation less safe,'' the lawmakers said. "We are at war with al Qaeda and its affiliated groups, and America's detention policy must reflect that reality.''
Ghayth, who appeared in videos and issued proclamations immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks warning that the assaults would continue, represents the highest ranking operative set to face civilian trial in U.S. since the administration was forced to abandon a similar plan to prosecute 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed in 2010.
At that time, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly raised questions about the costs of securing such a trial, while some Sept. 11 victims' relatives suggested the prosecution would be too painful to bear and could encourage new attacks.
"While New York City must remain vigilant to continued terrorists threats against it, Abu Ghayth's apprehension and proscution promises to close another chapter in al Qaeda's notoriously violent history of killing Americans,'' Kelly said in a written statement after the charges against Ghayth were unsealed.
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