By incarcerating and interrogating at sea the man captured in Libya as a suspect in the Benghazi consulate attack, the Obama administration is reaching back to a tactic used during the Bush era.
The so-called American Taliban, John Walker Lindh, was kept aboard the amphibious assault ship the USS Peleliu in 2001 and the USS Bataan until Jan. 22, 2002, while the Bush administration decided what to do with the 20-year-old California native labeled prisoner 001 in the war on terror.
On the ship, U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty wrote in an April 2, 2002, court filing, “he was given regular and nourishing meals and unlimited water; he was permitted to talk with his fellow detainees; and he was repeatedly queried by Peleliu personnel whether there was anything else he needed.”
Lindh was ultimately brought to U.S. shores for a federal trial, and an eventual plea agreement that could leave him locked up until 2019, but another detainee at sea was apparently David Hicks, an Australian “enemy combatant” who was brought to Guantánamo the day the prison opened as Detainee 002.
According to a U.S. military intelligence report written at Guantánamo on Sept. 17, 2004, Hicks, captured by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, “was turned over to U.S. Forces and incarcerated on the USS Pettiloo.”
Guantánamo’s prison commander, Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, signed the document.
It was the Peleliu, according to Australian journalist Leigh Sales, who describes in her book, Detainee 002: The Case of David Hicks, how Australian government officials got to see him aboard the warship.
“The terms were very restrictive,” she wrote in a chapter called “Waltzing with Washington.” Hicks would get “no consular assistance whatsoever,” she wrote. Nor could they offer him legal advice or read him his rights.
It took nearly two years before Hicks got a lawyer — a U.S. Marine major who helped him plead guilty in exchange for his release in 2007. Hicks married and lives in Australia now, as does the Marine who set up a law practice there after leaving the U.S. service.
The London-based legal defense group Reprieve put a spotlight on the policy of interrogating at sea in a 2008 report that identified the Peleliu and the USS Bataan as at-sea interrogations sites.
The group’s legal director, Clive Stafford Smith, called the tactic a way to keep “misconduct as far as possible from the prying eyes of the media and lawyers.” Reprieve called them “floating prisons,” and said the practice was illegal.
The Obama administration apparently did not agree and adopted the same strategy two years ago after the U.S. military captured Somali Ahmed Abdulkadr Warsame in the Gulf of Aden.
Warsame was interrogated for two months at sea “consistent with the Army Field Manual,” according to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman. Then he was transferred to New York, where he was read his Miranda rights. He waived them, talked some more and ultimately pleaded guilty to aiding the terror groups al-Shabaab and al-Qaida of the Arabian Peninsula.
Last year, U.S. Special Forces captured Libyan Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, 49, in Tripoli, Libya, as a U.S. terror suspect.
He was known as Abu Anas al Libi, and made the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list as a former resident of the United Kingdom under indictment in New York for his alleged involvement in the Aug. 7, 1998, bombings of U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya.
He was captured Oct. 5, and interrogated aboard the USS San Antonio in the Mediterranean Sea. U.S. Special Forces and brought him to New York 10 days later for medical treatment and arraignment.
Portions of this report are from a story originally posted on Oct. 8, 2013, and are being updated in light of the latest detention of a terror suspect at sea.