Their background in terrorist plotting notwithstanding, the six Muslim men arrested earlier this week on charges of plotting to kill soldiers stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey will be charged as criminals rather than “enemy combatants.” In addition, despite evidence that at least one of the six arrested men came to the United States under a “visa waiver” program, the White House signaled it would not touch programs that permit foreigners under special circumstances to enter the U.S. without a visa.
At today’s afternoon briefing for White House reporters, I asked Press Secretary Tony Snow whether the “Fort Dix Six” would be charged as criminals or enemy combatants.
“That’s not a question for me,” replied Snow, “Direct it to the U.S. Attorney.”
Later in the day, I did precisely that and contacted the office of U.S. Attorney Christopher Christi in Camden, New Jersey, which is overseeing the prosecution of the six.
“They are charged as criminals in the complaints,” Greg Reinert, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney told me. (A day after their arraignment at the U.S. Courthouse in Camden, five face charges of conspiring to kill American military personnel, which carry a possible life sentence; the sixth, Agron Abdullahu, faces lesser charges which carry a sentence of up to ten years).
When I asked the reason why the six, all of whom have a background in terrorism, were not charged as “enemy combatants” during the war on terrorism, Reinert replied: “I don’t know” and added that the decision “came from higher-ups.” As to who the “higher-ups” were, he suggested the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and cited the criminal complaints signed by John Ryan, special agent of the FBI.
Along with the status of the charges against the six, I asked Snow whether the arrest would have any impact on the “visa waiver” policy, a special loophole for foreigners under which defendant Agron Abdullahu entered the U.S. from Kosovo (allegedly out of fear from retribution from Serbians during the war in the Balkans in the 1990’s).
“Again the President’s visa waiver — that is a separate debate, obviously,” said Snow, not explaining why it was separate froim the case of Abdullahu, “The President has noted all along that when it comes to matters of border security and visas, you take a good hard look at national security, national security interests, and we continue to do it.
“What he [Bush] is also trying to do is to come up with metrics that are going to permit us to have tamper-proof IDs, so you can know who’s in the country, you can track them. So there are a whole series of things that are embedded in this but — and that debate is ongoing in the United States Senate.”