“It’s good to see that the president and the attorney general now seem to share my belief in the effectiveness of the world’s greatest judicial system and its ability to keep the American people safe,” said former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., the leading voice in the Obama administration for using civilian courts. “Their previous positions were political and counterproductive.”
Mr. Damache’s transfer represents a collision of the Trump administration’s tough rhetoric and the reality of fighting terrorism in 2017. Though Mr. Trump has promised to fill Guantánamo Bay with “bad dudes,” nations worldwide, including America’s most important allies, have come to regard the prison there as a legal morass and a symbol of American abuse and mistreatment.
Mr. Damache, 52, a dual Algerian and Irish citizen, was arrested in Ireland in 2010. But he was released after an Irish judge rejected a request from the United States to extradite him. He was arrested again in 2015 in Spain. Under Mr. Obama, the Justice Department began seeking his extradition, and that effort continued under Mr. Trump. Had the Trump administration insisted on bringing Mr. Damache to Guantánamo Bay, it would have met strong opposition from Europe.
Mr. Damache was wanted in connection with a failed attempt to kill a Swedish cartoonist who had depicted the Prophet Muhammad with a dog’s body. His identity surfaced in the high-profile case of Colleen LaRose, who became known as “Jihad Jane.” Ms. LaRose, of Pennsburg, Pa., pleaded guilty in 2011 to providing support to a terrorist group, conspiring to murder a foreigner and lying to the F.B.I. She was sentenced in 2014 to 10 years in prison.
Wearing a black button-down shirt and jeans, Mr. Damache appeared before a federal judge and waived his right for a swift arraignment. He said he had no cash or assets, owned no property or vehicle and had no bank account. He told a judge he wanted to speak with the Irish embassy.
“I need my legal representative that has been recommended by the Irish ambassador,” Mr. Damache said. A court-appointed lawyer, Joseph Mancano, had no comment on the Trump administration’s decision to bring the case to civilian court.
Mr. Damache was charged with conspiracy to support terrorists and attempted identity theft to facilitate an act of international terrorism. He is due back in court on Aug. 28.
It was not clear whether the Damache case represents a formal policy shift, but career prosecutors and F.B.I. agents have tried to make the case inside the Justice Department for using civilian courts, arguing that the Trump administration’s rigid stance made it hard to bring terrorists to justice. Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general and a career federal prosecutor, told Congress before his confirmation that he supported using federal courts for terrorism prosecutions.
Agents and prosecutors hope Mr. Damache’s case is the first of many transfers to the United States. Counterterrorism officials are trying to resolve the case of a Qaeda suspect being held in Yemen and have other similar cases in the pipeline.