Terror suspect is brought to US for trial, breaking a Trump vow

With Damache's transfer, Attorney General Jeff Sessions adopted a strategy that he vehemently opposed when it was carried out under President Barack Obama.
With Damache's transfer, Attorney General Jeff Sessions adopted a strategy that he vehemently opposed when it was carried out under President Barack Obama. PHOTO: REUTERS

PHILADELPHIA (NYTIMES) - The Trump administration has brought a man suspected of belonging to Al-Qaeda to the United States to face trial in federal court, backing off its hard-line position that terrorism suspects should be sent to the naval prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, rather than to civilian courtrooms.

The suspect, Ali Charaf Damache, a dual Algerian and Irish citizen, was transferred from Spain and appeared on Friday (July 21) in federal court in Philadelphia, making him the first foreigner brought to the United States to face terrorism charges under President Donald Trump.

The authorities believe Damache was an Al-Qaeda recruiter. He was charged with helping plot to kill a Swedish cartoonist who depicted the Prophet Muhammad in cartoons.

With Damache's transfer, Attorney General Jeff Sessions adopted a strategy that he vehemently opposed when it was carried out under President Barack Obama.

Sessions said for years that terrorism suspects should be held and prosecuted at Guantánamo Bay. He has said that terrorists did not deserve the same legal rights as common criminals and that such trials were too dangerous to hold on US soil.

On Friday, Sessions gave a speech one block away from the Philadelphia courthouse where Damache appeared and did not address the case.

The Justice Department issued only a brief news release and a spokesman, Ian Prior, said in a statement that Damache was indicted in 2011 in federal court but did not acknowledge the attorney general's yearslong criticism or answer questions about whether those opinions have changed.

Damache, 52, was arrested in Ireland in 2010, but he was released after an Irish judge rejected a request from the US to extradite him. He was arrested again in 2015 in Spain. Under Obama, the Justice Department began seeking his extradition, and that effort continued under Trump.

Had the Trump administration insisted on bringing Damache to Guantánamo Bay, it would have met strong opposition in Europe. The US' closest allies refuse to participate in any effort to bring new prisoners to Guantánamo. They have come to regard the prison there as a legal morass and a symbol of American abuse and mistreatment.