Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame has appeared in a civilian court in New York after being held on a US warship offshore for two months following his capture. While in detention the Somali man was questioned in line with the Geneva Convention, but he was not read his rights, officials said.
He has been charged with providing support to the Yemen-based militant group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and to Somalia’s al-Shabab militant.
He has pleaded not guilty of all nine charges. If convicted, he faces life in prison.
Mr Warsame is the first foreign terrorism suspect to be flown to the US for trial.
Captured on 10 April in the Gulf of Aden, in the waters between Somalia and Yemen, Mr Warsame was then transferred to a US Navy ship where he faced questioning by US interrogators “for intelligence purposes for more than two months” before being read his Miranda rights, US prosecutors said in a statement.
Under US law Miranda rights must be read to all suspects in order to inform them that they have the right to remain silent, that they can have access to a lawyer and that anything they say can be used in court.
Reporters were told that the interrogation sessions were “very, very productive” and that Mr Warsame gave up what was described as important evidence about the relationship between the two militant groups.
He was questioned at sea because interrogators “believed that moving him to another facility would interrupt the process and risk ending the intelligence flow”, a senior official told the Washington Post.
According to court papers Mr Warsame waived his right to remain silent.
Believed to be in his mid-20s, he was flown to New York City on Monday around midnight, officials said.
Mr Warsame case could have political consequences in the US. After his election president Obama pledged to close Guantanamo and the CIA’s network of secret prisons abroad. He also said he wanted civilian courts to prosecute terror suspects.
But these plans have met with marked opposition in Congress, where the decision to move Mr Warsame to the US has sparked further criticism.
The Obama administration’s decision was denounced by the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Howard P. McKeon, Republican of California. In a statement he said : “The transfer of this terrorist detainee directly contradicts Congressional intent and the will of the American people.”
“Congress has spoken clearly multiple times — including explicitly in pending legislation — of the perils of bringing terrorists onto U.S. soil. It is unacceptable that the administration notified Congress only after it unilaterally transferred this detainee to New York City despite multiple requests for consultation.”
According to Senator Susan Collins, the senior Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, a foreign national captured overseas by the military “should be tried in a military commission, not a federal civilian court in New York or anywhere else in our country”.
However officials said a civilian court was a better fit because its prosecutors will only need to prove that Mr Warsame provided support to the two groups, as both are designated terrorist organizations. But a military court would need to prove that the commission has jurisdiction over him, which means trying to establish that he was part of Al Qaeda or was personally engaged in hostilities against the US or its allies.
During a Senate hearing last week, Vice Adm. William H. McRaven, who until recently was in charge of the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, said that detainees are sometimes kept on Navy ships until the Justice Department can build a case against them, or they are transferred to other countries for detention.
On Tuesday another senior administration official explained that such detentions are extremely rare. He also said that there are no other detainees currently held on US ships offshore.