Various news sources in America and abroad are reporting that the United States has Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Salaiman Abu Ghaith, in custody.
Abu Ghaith acted as an al-Qaeda spokesman, with possible involvement in terrorist attacks against the U.S., including 9/11. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit wrote that it was “uncontroverted” on the record of that case that Abu Ghaith was bin Laden’s spokesman. (Al Kandari v. United States, 462 Fed.Appx. 1 (DC Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 132 S. Ct. 2741 (2012)).
According to CNN, Abu Ghaith appeared publicly in videos in the Middle East claiming credit on behalf of al-Qaeda for various terrorist attacks, which suggests a possible leadership position in the terrorist network. Those appearances included defending the 9/11 attack within a month of its occurrence.
Details about the capture, and whether Abu Ghaith was turned over to us with the cooperation of other governments, may come out in time. But the central issue now is how the U.S. government should act, particularly in the initial phase of its control, to maximize the receipt of useful intelligence while serving the interests of justice. It is possible that the U.S. has had access to Abu Ghaith for several weeks and has already engaged in responsible efforts to obtain intelligence or determine whether he is likely to provide intelligence.
In all events, the receipt of useful intelligence should be the paramount objective, since it is vital to the continuing effort to prevent future deadly and economically crippling attacks. Obtaining intelligence should be the first and foremost concern of the Obama Administration as it decides how to proceed with detention of Abu Ghaith and with bringing him to justice.
Heritage has previously emphasized the need for the Obama Administration to develop a durable, lawful, and effective legal framework for the detention and interrogation of high-value detainees. The Abu Ghaith capture highlights the importance of such a framework once again.