WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans demanded answers Thursday from the Justice Department and Pentagon for why a Hezbollah suspect accused in the death of five US soldiers was transferred to Iraqi custody before being charged with war crimes.
In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee wanted assurances US officials would seek to keep Ali Musa Daqduq behind bars, even as an Iraqi court ruled the Hezbollah commander be released over lack of evidence.
“Now an Iraqi court has cleared Daqduq of any criminal charges under Iraqi law and, as we and many other observers had feared, may be set free without being held to account for his crimes against the United States and its soldiers,” they wrote.
US lawmakers have long expressed interest in Daqduq, and his transfer to Iraq custody in December as US forces exited Iraq sparked a political furor in Washington.
Committee ranking Republican Chuck Grassley was incensed that while Congress was briefed on Daqduq’s imminent release to Iraqi custody, “they never mentioned that the administration was considering (war crimes) charges, which were filed approximately two weeks later,” he wrote in the letter, citing a report by The New York Times.
“Either the administration was purposefully withholding information from Congress or it had not done the due diligence required to file charges in a serious case against a dangerous terrorist,” he added.
“If the administration was serious in pursuing Daqduq, officials had many years when they could have brought charges against him, yet the administration waited until he was not available to prosecute.”
The Republicans demanded a copy of the military commission charge sheet against Daqduq, an explanation of why the Iraqi prosecution failed, and whether there were US efforts to have him transferred back to US custody or extradited to the United States.
They also demanded an explanation of why US briefers “failed to indicate that criminal charges were prepared but not presented to a military commission prior to turning Daqduq over to the Iraqi government.”
US-led forces captured Daqduq in 2007. At the time, the United States accused Iranian special forces of using the Shiite militant group Hezbollah to train Iraqi extremists and of planning the 2007 attack.
[Image via Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons licensed]