The prosecution of a Somali national accused of supporting Al-Qaeda is now headed for trial in a federal court, where it belonged all along. The Obama administration finally made the right decision over the usual self-serving objections of grandstanding senators from both parties. But it is troubling that the administration delayed this step for almost two months. During those months, Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, who was seized by American forces in international waters, was secretly held in extralegal detention on a United States naval vessel. There, he was interrogated without being read the Miranda rights that apply to all federal criminal prosecutions. After weeks of military investigation, a separate team of law enforcement officials concluded that he was not a legitimate candidate for military detention and trial. They read him his rights. He promptly waived them and continued cooperating with his captors, but it may prove hard to disentangle those later statements, fully admissible in court, from his earlier, inadmissible ones. Approving his secret interrogation at sea gave the administration a convenient alternative to sending him to Guantnamo Bay, Cuba. That would have made trial in a civilian court nearly impossible, because Congress has inexcusably hamstrung the justice system by barring the use of funds to transfer prisoners from the detention camp. Any suggestion that moving Warsame to civilian court shows weakness against terrorism is absurd. Had Warsame been brought before a military commission, prosecutors would have had to prove that he was either an actual member of Al-Qaeda or was personally involved in plotting attacks on the United States. But Warsame is not accused of any actual terrorist acts, just material support of Al-Qaeda and its alleged Somali affiliate, the Shabab. In a civilian court, proving material support for the Shabab alone would be enough to convict. Conviction on all counts of material support carries a possible life sentence. So Warsames trial can proceed, but at an unfortunate cost. President Obama has created yet another parallel system of unlimited detention and interrogation without rights outside the constitutional norms that served us well for more than two centuries before the Bush administration carelessly and needlessly tossed them aside for terrorism cases after Sept 11, 2001. The Obama administration justifies its handling of the Warsame case under the laws of war. But Warsame was not picked up on any recognised battlefield. The administration claims continuing authority for military detention, interrogation and trial. This applies not just to battlefield detentions, where it is often appropriate, but to detentions anywhere, and not just to personal involvement in violent attacks, but to a broad range of offences directly or indirectly related to terrorism. That is far too broad a claim. Two important goals must guide terrorist-related cases - eliciting information to thwart future plots and punishing the guilty. The overwhelming evidence from the past decade is that both are most reliably served by lawful interrogation and prosecution in civilian courts. Hundreds of accused terrorists have been convicted in civilian courts since 9/11. Only six - none of them major Qaeda figures - have been convicted in the military commissions carelessly confected by the Bush administration and renewed, with significantly stricter rules and procedures, by the Obama administration. Obama came to office vowing to stop these costly travesties of justice that so damaged Americas international reputation. But he has steadily retreated, sometimes in the face of political opposition, sometimes on his own. Now he is drifting toward establishing his own system of extralegal detention and tainted questioning. It is time to stop that drift and return to a constitutional system of law enforcement. NY Times