“There was a fair amount of debate because some of the intel guys didn’t want to stop the interrogation,” said a former administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal government deliberations. “Others were getting antsy because they thought the longer you hold the guy and don’t Mirandize him, the worse off you are” if prosecutors try him in federal court.
In late June 2011, after two months of interrogation, the president’s national security advisers made the call. A team of FBI agents gave Warsame a Miranda warning, advising him of his right to remain silent and his right to counsel. “Then there was a kind of hold-your-breath moment,” the former official said.
Warsame waived his rights and continued to talk.
In that instant, the Obama administration may have preserved its ability to use the federal courts to prosecute high-value terrorists captured overseas.
Warsame was detained in April 2011, the same month that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. abandoned a criminal civilian trial in New York for Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Holder sent the case back to a military commission at Guantanamo Bay. On Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats were insisting that all terrorists captured overseas be sent to the military detention center in Cuba.
But inside the administration, senior lawyers calculated that Warsame could be interrogated for actionable intelligence while preparations were underway to bring him to federal court in New York for prosecution. For an administration that is determined not to add to the detainee population at Guantanamo, the handling of the Somali’s case has become something of a template for other terrorism suspects captured overseas.
Detainees are first held under the laws of war and questioned by an interagency team of interrogators, including military, intelligence and law enforcement personnel, without being advised of their rights. At some point, the interrogation is halted and — in the parlance of prosecutors — a “clean break” is established before a fresh team of only FBI agents informs the prisoner of his right to counsel. Shortly afterward, the suspect is put on a plane and flown to a federal district, most often New York, for trial.