But in the midst of a major budget debate in Washington, the matter got little attention.
The White House, which once fought back against such criticism, now shows little interest in renewing a debate that proved to be a political distraction.
So the administration said nothing when al-Libi arrived in the United States on Saturday. Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, issued a two-sentence statement Monday, saying only that al-Libi was due in court to answer charges dating back more than a decade.
Al-Libi, whose full name is Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, is accused of helping plan and conduct surveillance for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa.
"A federal civilian criminal trial is by far the safest and the one that would raise the least complex set of legal problems for the administration," said Steve Vladick, a professor at American University law school.
That's because al-Libi was indicted more than a decade ago, which meant the government did not need any evidence it gathered against him during his interrogation.
Intelligence officials questioned him for a week aboard the USS San Antonio. Interrogations at sea have replaced CIA "black sites" as the U.S. government's preferred method for holding suspected terrorists and questioning them without access to lawyers.
Al-Libi's al-Qaida ties date back to the terrorist group's early years, according to court documents. That would make him a valuable source of information about the group's history.
In an interview last week on the PBS program "NewsHour," Lisa Monaco, the president's homeland security adviser, said the first priority in capturing al-Libi was to get intelligence.
"I think what it shows is a very clear strategy by the U.S. government to use all the tools, frankly, in our toolbox to disrupt threats, to go after — consistent with the rule of law — individuals who pose a threat, to get intelligence and then ultimately to make a decision about what the best disposition is," Monaco said.
So far, in every instance that the Obama administration has had a terrorist suspect in custody, it has found the best disposition was the federal court system.