The LWOT: Obama considers ignoring Congressional Gitmo ban; UK to modify but continue control orders

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Obama could fight Gitmo ban through signing statements

The investigative journalism website ProPublica reported Jan. 3 that President Barack Obama was considering issuing a "signing statement" declaring his intention not to abide by provisions of a new defense spending bill limiting his authority to transfer Guantánamo Bay detainees to the United States for trial, or transferring them to third countries (ProPublica, NYT, Washington Post). These statements gained attention during the Bush administration, which issued 150 such statements asserting broad executive authority, something that many current Obama officials criticized at the time (ABC, New Yorker).

The Obama administration has attacked the provisions, calling them an infringement on the Executive's authority. However, as Charlie Savage reports, some administration aides are urging that President Obama strongly criticize the provisions after signing the bill into law, but stop short of declaring his intention to ignore them (NYT). Instead, he could challenge the provisions' constitutionality in court, wait until next September when the provisions expire to resume detainee transfers or proceed with possible civilian trials, or begin trying Guantánamo detainees in military commissions at the base.

In an open letter, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) urged Obama not to issue a signing statement, but instead to use money from other departments to proceed with transfers, or veto the bill outright (NYT). And Lawfare Blog's Benjamin Wittes argued that if closing Guantánamo is as serious a national security priority as Obama says, then he should fight encroachments on his authority by Congress - or stop talking about how important it is to close the prison (Lawfare Blog).

And the Department of Defense announced Jan. 6 that it had repatriated Gitmo detainee Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed (also known as Saed Farhi) to his native Algeria, the first detainee transfer since September (DoD). Mohammed was originally ordered released by a federal judge last November, but was part of a group of Algerians who fought repatriation, fearing targeting at the hands of extremists and punishment from the Algerian government for their time at Gitmo. Carol Rosenberg reports that Mohammed's's transfer headed off a possible Supreme Court case to determine if a federal judge could oversee assurances made to the State Department that repatriated detainees will be safe from harm (Miami Herald). 

Mohammed's transfer brings the number of detainees at the prison to 173. His counsel before the Supreme Court, David Remes, told Lawfare Blog that (Lawfare Blog):

This was a stealth transfer. The government shipped Mr. Mohammed back to Algeria against his will-the second involuntary transfer of an Algerian in the past six months-giving us no advance notice and therefore no chance to resist.

UK to modify, but keep, control orders

Britain's Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg announced today that the United Kingdom would seek to modify but keep in use controversial control orders, an anti-terrorism tool adopted in 2005 which allows British ministers to subject a "small number" of suspected terrorists to a series of restrictions on their movement and communications (Telegraph). The position signals a change from Clegg's previous blanket opposition to control orders, and Britain's coalition government this week publicly and acrimoniously debated their future and effectiveness, threatening to pull the government apart at the seams (Guardian, Telegraph, Guardian, BBC).

The debate took place as authorities in the United Kingdom have raised the alert level in the country to "severe" following intelligence reports of planning for a "Mumbai-style" attack near London, with a focus on aviation and mass transit (CNN, Bloomberg, Telegraph, AP). The Telegraph on Jan. 5 reported that three men arrested for allegedly planning an attack on the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in Denmark are thought by British authorities to have links to two UK men part of a network set up by terrorist leader Ilyas Kashmiri (Telegraph).

Der Spiegel reports today in German, citing the Arabic journal Al-Arabiyya, that Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has claimed to have trained Swedish suicide bomber Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, who wounded two and killed himself in an explosion in Stockholm Dec. 11, for three months in the city of Mosul (Der Spiegel). For more on possible AQI links to the Stockholm Attack, see Brian Fishman, "Al Qaeda in Iraq's Swedish Connections" (FP). The Telegraph this week interviews al-Abdaly's widow, and reveals that a slideshow and recording of al-Abdaly's suicide message was posted to his YouTube account after his death (Telegraph).

And during the opening day of a Paris trial for eight men alleged to have been involved in armed robberies to fund terrorist groups, court documents reported that one of the defendants, Farid Boukemiche, sheltered many British extremists at a café he owned in the French city of Roubaix (Telegraph).The café allegedly served as a safe house for British al Qaeda militants, part of a network of men Boukemiche reportedly met while in Britain in the 1990's.

Trials and Tribulations

  •  The New York Times has a must-read story about 19-year old American Gulet Mohamed, who has been detained for two weeks in Kuwait and allegedly beaten, while being reportedly threatened and questioned repeatedly with regards to his travels in Yemen and Somalia in 2009 (NYT).
  • On Jan. 4 Rep. Peter King (R-NY), the incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, hit back at the New York Times for an op-ed critical of King's plans to hold hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims and the cooperation of Muslim leaders (The Hill). And the Department of Justice is readying itself for an expected onslaught of oversight from incoming House Republicans (CNN, Washington Post).
  • The AP reports this week on a new military targeting center being set up by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) to coordinate intelligence and operations for targeting terrorists around the world (AP).
  • Moroccan authorities claimed this week to have broken up a terror cell linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) planning bank robberies and attacks on Moroccan security forces, in addition to setting up a "rear base" for operations in the disputed territory of Western Sahara (NYT, AP).
  • A federal grand jury on Jan. 5 indicted Virginia man Awais Younis on charges of interstate threatening communication after he posted threats to bomb Washington's Metro on Facebook (Washington Post).
  • Passengers on a flight from Oslo to Istanbul this week subdued an attempted hijacker, who reportedly tried to force entry into the plane's cockpit and claimed to have a bomb (Reuters). Police have not identified the motives for the attempted hijacking.
  • Serdar Tatar, convicted in 2008 of plotting to attack the Fort Dix military base and training in the Pocono Mountains, is suing prison officials in New Jersey on the grounds that they allowed Tatar to be attacked by his then-cellmate and co-conspirator, Dritan Duka, in 2008 (AP).

Virginie Montet/AFP/Getty Images


The LWOT: Terror arrests roil Europe; Obama considers indefinite detention review process

Foreign Policy and the New America Foundation bring you a twice weekly brief on the legal war on terror. You can read it on or get it delivered directly to your inbox -- just sign up here.

Danish and Swedish police disrupt "imminent" plot

The heads of Denmark's security and intelligence agency PET and the Swedish security police agency SAPO announced Dec. 29 that authorities had disrupted an "imminent" terrorist attack against the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, whose 2005 publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad sparked deadly protests around the world (BBC, NYT, AJE, LAT). Five men were arrested in the two countries in connection with the alleged plot, including three Swedish citizens, a Tunisian and an Iraqi, and three of the men arrested in Denmark were reportedly found with a submachine gun, a silenced pistol, ammunition, and plastic ties that could be used to bind wrists (Reuters, VOA). Both countries reportedly cooperated in a several-month investigation to track the alleged plotters, three of whom were followed by security agents as they drove into Denmark from Sweden Dec. 28 (AP).

Authorities allege that the men were planning a "Mumbai-style" attack before Jan. 1, and intended to storm the paper's offices and "kill as many possible" (AJE, Reuters).Danish police released the Iraqi due to insufficient evidence, but charged three men with planning a terrorist attack and possessing illegal weapons; a fourth man remains in detention in Sweden in connection with the plot (VOA, AP). The suspects in Denmark pled not guilty, and will be held for a month pending further investigation (LAT, WSJ).

The plotters were allegedly connected with international terrorist networks, and authorities are investigating possible links with a previous plot against the paper involving senior terrorist leader Ilyas Kashmiri and American David Coleman Headley (Der Spiegel, NYT). Several of the alleged plotters were reportedly on the radar of Swedish police, and one, Munir Awad, had been arrested twice before in Somalia and Pakistan. Awad reportedly took a 2009 trip to Pakistan with several others, including former Guantánamo Bay detainee Mehdi Muhammad Gazali, and CNN reports that Pakistani authorities suspected the men were traveling to North Waziristan to meet with "terrorist operatives" (CNN, AFP).

UK charges nine in terrorism plan

A UK court on Dec. 27 remanded to custody nine men arrested Dec. 20 in an anti-terrorism sweep, after prosecutors charged the men with preparing a terrorist attack and conspiracy to cause explosions (NYT, VOA, Guardian). Authorities allege that the men scouted targets including the U.S. Embassy in London and the London Stock Exchange, in addition to several other prominent sites (Telegraph, LAT, Reuters, AFP). Three of the men detained in the Dec. 20 sweep have been released without charge, and the nine men will appear in court again on Jan. 14.

According to British prosecutors, the men possessed copies of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's English-language "Inspire" magazine, and had tested "incendiary materials" (Washington Post). Britain's Telegraph reported before the charges that some of the men traveled to Pakistan to receive militant training, and that three of the suspects were radicalized while in prison, according to a neighbor (Telegraph, Telegraph).

In an end-of-the-year message, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said the threat from terrorism was "as serious as it has ever been" (Telegraph). And British police have asked for a replacement of the controversial "stop and search" powers deemed illegal by a British court, while a coalition of human rights organizations are protesting Britain's continued use of control orders to curtail the movements and activities of terrorism suspects without charging them with a crime (Guardian, Guardian, Independent).

Catch and release in the Netherlands

Dutch police Dec. 25 arrested 12 Somali men in the port city of Rotterdam after receiving intelligence that, "a number of Somalis wanted to commit a terrorist attack in the Netherlands in the near future" (AFP, AP, AJE). Police searched several locations linked to the men, aged 19 to 48, but turned up no weapons or explosives (CNN). However, subsequent interrogations and investigations revealed no conclusive evidence of a plot, and by Dec. 30 all 12 had been released, though three are still considered "suspects" (CNN, Reuters, AFP, Deutsche Welle).

U.S. readies indefinite detention review process, Senate bans Gitmo closure

The Washington Post reported Dec. 21 that Obama administration officials have been preparing an Executive Order for the President's consideration that would establish formal means for Guantánamo detainees held indefinitely to periodically challenge their incarceration (Washington Post). While administration officials argue that such a review process would be more adversarial than those set up under the Bush administration (and suspended under Obama), some see the new process as another sign of the entrenchment of indefinite detention in the U.S. judicial system (NYT, AP, Bloomberg, Guardian, LAT).

The news raised further doubts about the administration's willingness or ability to follow through on its often-repeated promise to close the prison at Guantánamo, doubts bolstered when the Senate Dec. 22 passed a defense authorization bill with language banning funds for the transfer or detainees to civilian trial or detention in the United States (AFP, BBC, NPR). In a pre-holiday press conference, President Barack Obama reiterated that closing Gitmo was still a priority for his administration (Lawfare Blog). But in a press conference held Dec. 26, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledged that it would "be a while" until Gitmo was closed, and that some detainees, "regrettably, will have to be indefinitely detained" (AFP, Washington Post, Telegraph).

President Obama used a recess appointment Dec. 29 to appoint James Cole, an outspoken defender of civilian trials for terrorism suspects, to the position of deputy attorney general and head of the Justice Department's national security department, a move that has drawn strenuous objections from leading Congressional Republicans (Reuters, AP, The Hill).

Carol Rosenberg last week detailed the U.S. effort, first discussed in documents released by the website WikiLeaks, to stop an investigation by powerful Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzón to investigate torture complaints against senior Bush administration officials, including then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez (Miami Herald). Polish prosecutors last week revealed that the U.S. government refused last year a request for cooperation in a probe of the alleged torture of detainees at a U.S. secret prison that once operated in Poland (AFP, Harper's). And late last month the Red Cross helped facilitate video conference calls for the families of Yemeni Gitmo detainees to communicate with their relatives held at the prison (CNN, ABC).

Trials and Tribulations

  •  A powerful car bomb struck a Coptic Christian church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria on New Year's Day, killing 25 worshippers at mass and provoking clashes between Copts and Muslims, as well as calls for unity and protests from both Copts and Muslims against the government's handling of security for its minorities (NYT, AFP, LAT, Guardian, AJE, McClatchy, TIME). Copts have also been reportedly threatened by radical Islamists in Germany and Canada, with unidentified users of a major jihadist forum posting pictures and addresses of 100 Copts and other Arab Christians (Toronto Sun, AFP).
  • Al Qaeda has allegedly produced and begun circulating on the Internet an English-language manual, "The Explosives Course," on the assembly and deployment of explosives made from everyday materials (Telegraph).The manual's unidentified authors claim that they were students of Abu Khabab al-Misri, who ran al Qaeda's Derunta camp before 9/11, and conducted experiments with various poisons and chemicals. Al-Misri was reportedly killed in a drone strike in 2008. 
  • The Washington Post reports that the U.S. government has made it easier to place an individual on a terrorism watch list, sometimes with evidence from a single "credible" source (Washington Post).
  • A federal grand jury Dec. 24 filed an indictment against American Abdel Hameed Shehadeh, charging that he made false statements to the FBI regarding alleged efforts to join insurgent forces in Pakistan and Iraq (CNN). The Wall Street Journal reports this morning on a draft report by New York State Intelligence, which tracks basic terrorist "pedigree" trends, and found that over half of those arrested in a selection terrorism plots and cases in the US had prior criminal records (WSJ).
  • A Paris court began the trial January 3 of eight men charged with staging a series of armed robberies in order to raise money for Muslim extremist movements abroad (France 24, AFP).
  • In Indonesia, prosecutors asked for the death penalty on the first day of trial for Abdullah Sunata, a top terrorism suspect accused of buying weapons for the group Al Qaeda in Aceh, as well as involvement in a series of plots and attacks against security forces in the country (VOA).
  • Moroccan authorities announced December 27 that they had arrested six men with "expertise in explosives" who were allegedly plotting to attack foreign and domestic targets (AP, Reuters).
  • The Australian government late last month issued a formal apology and paid a "substantial" settlement to a doctor, Mohammed Haneef, wrongfully detained by the police in the wake of the 2007 attack on Glasgow's airport (Guardian).
  • Letter bombs exploded at the Swiss and Chilean Embassies in Rome Dec. 23, and another at the Greek Embassy was defused, in what police suspect was a show of solidarity with jailed Greek anarchists (AP).

Mads Nissen/AFP/Getty Images