The LWOT: Massive cache of Gitmo docs released

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Massive cache of Gitmo docs released

Several American and European newspapers on Sunday night released an enormous cache of documents - some obtained by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks and others from third sources - providing a wealth of information from the files of many of the 779 former and current detainees at Guantánamo Bay, stretching from 2002 until the beginning of 2009, when the Obama administration instituted its own review of the then-241 remaining detainees (NYT, NPR, Washington Post, McClatchy, Guardian, Telegraph, Le Monde, El Pais, Der Spiegel - for a round-up of coverage, see FP). The documents, primarily composed of Detainee Assessment Briefs (DAB) of over 700 detainees but also containing interrogators' memos on threat rankings, judging al Qaeda cover stories, and guidelines for judging terror links (available here), provide never-before released information on over 150 prisoners, as well as further information on all but about 75 detainees (NYT).

While the broad contours of much of the information in the documents has been previously reported, the new documents provide a more detailed look at the often contentious and subjective internal deliberations surrounding detainee evaluations (NYT, Guardian, Guardian, Miami Herald, AP, Guardian). The documents also reveal the complications surrounding detainee transfers, whereby diplomatic pressure and assurances led to the transfer of many detainees deemed "high risk" while detainees deemed innocent (150 from Afghanistan and Pakistan, for instance) sometimes took years to be cleared and repatriated (WSJ, BBC, Guardian, CNN, NPR). Around 220 detainees were deemed "dangerous" while another 380 were considered more low-level fighters (Telegraph). Additionally, around 100 detainees were deemed to have "psychiatric illnesses," and the Times reports that detainees regularly discussed suicide (Guardian, NYT).

Initial reporting on the documents does contain new data on a number of fronts:

  • The Washington Post and others trace the travel patterns of Osama bin Laden and other key al Qaeda figures before, during and after the 9/11 attacks, which includes the journey to and escape from Tora Bora, planning for future attacks (some allegedly including nuclear or chemical weapons), and the presence of several al Qaeda leaders in Karachi on the morning of 9/11 (Washington Post, Guardian, NYT, AP). Reported plots allegedly included a plan to attack London's Heathrow Airport (Der Spiegel);
  • Interrogators were told to consider links to Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) to be equivalent to links with al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hamas or Hezbollah (Guardian, Reuters, AFP, AP); 
  • At least 10 foreign governments, including China, Tunisia, Morocco, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Jordan, Algeria, Yemen and Kuwait were allowed to send agents to interrogate detainees (Guardian);
  • A Libyan former detainee now believed to be training rebels fighting dictator Muammar Qaddafi, Abu Sufian Ibrahim Ahmed Hamuda Bin Qumu, was alleged to have trained in two al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and engendered close links with the organization (NPR, NYT);
  • Khalid Sheikh Mohammed reportedly told interrogators in 2004 a nuclear bomb hidden in Europe would detonate if Osama bin Laden were killed or captured, while other detainees told their interrogators about plans, some wildly implausible and others less-so, to acquire, transport and use radiological or chemical materials (Telegraph);
  • At least three al Qaeda leaders provided information, likely coerced, about alleged plans for Dr. Aafia-Siddiqui, a U.S.-educated neuroscientist to smuggle explosives into the U.S. and possibly manufacture bioweapons (Guardian);
  • U.S. interrogators believed an al Qaeda "assassin" had also worked as an informant for British intelligence while planning and conducting attacks in Pakistan after 9/11 (Guardian, BBC);
  • Involvement with one of nine mosques around the world could be regarded as an indicator of terrorist links, including a mosque in Montreal, Canada (Globe and Mail).
  • And having a certain type of Casio wristwatch was reportedly considered "an indicator of [al Qaeda] training in the manufacture of improvised explosive devices (IEDs)" (Der Spiegel).  

British papers showed particular concern for British detainees in their coverage of the documents, and the Telegraph reports that at least 35 Guantánamo detainees were radicalized in part in Britain (Guardian, Guardian, Guardian, Telegraph). The Times and NPR have created interactive graphics showing detailed data on the detainees, including recidivism by country of origin and the repatriation of detainees of different threat levels (NYT, NYT, NPR, Guardian). And the Washington Post has a timeline of major events at Guantánamo (Washington Post).  For additional commentary on what the documents do - and don't - mean, see Foreign Policy, "The Prisoner's Dilemma" (FP).

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell and Amb. Dan Fried, the U.S. envoy charged with closing Guantánamo, condemned the document release, saying (NYT):

Both the previous and the current Administrations have made every effort to act with the utmost care and diligence in transferring detainees from Guantanamo. ... Both Administrations have made the protection of American citizens the top priority and we are concerned that the disclosure of these documents could be damaging to those efforts.

The Washington Post's Anne Kornblut notes this morning that various organizations and politicians from across the political spectrum have used the new documents to bolster long-held positions about Guantánamo (Washington Post). 172 prisoners remain at Gitmo, and this weekend's Washington Post also has a must-read detailing the chronology and reasons behind President Obama's failure to close the prison (Washington Post, Guardian). And a defiant U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in a speech on Apr. 25 laid out the four "essential" priorities for the Justice Department, including "protecting Americans from terrorism at home and abroad" (Washington Post, CNN).

Trials and Tribulations

  • Federal prosecutors filed a superseding indictment (available here) on Apr. 25 charging four men with involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks; purported Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) figure and attack coordinator Sajid Mir, Abu Qahafa, Mazhar Iqbal, and a man known only as "Major Iqbal" (AP).
  • International forces in Afghanistan reportedly killed a senior al Qaeda figure in the country, a Saudi named Abdul Ghani or Abu Hafs al-Najdi, two weeks ago in the country's east (BBC, AP, Reuters). Coalition forces also arrested a purported leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in the northern Kunduz province last Friday (NYT).
  • Indonesian authorities arrested a 20th man in connection with recent bomb plots targeting moderate Muslims and Christians in the country, as authorities grow concerned about the involvement of older militant groups in the new wave of attacks and plots (AP, Jakarta Post, VOA).
  • Three suspected Northern Irish dissidents appeared in court yesterday after they were allegedly caught with weapons last Friday, one of three weapons seizures in Northern Ireland in the past several days (BBC, Guardian, AP).
  • Iran and Iraq signed an extradition agreement on Apr. 24 that may lead to members of the banned Mujahideen-e-Khalq organization being sent to Iran to face charges there (Reuters).
  • Investigators have named a suspect in the attempted bombing of a Colorado shopping mall last week, Earl Albert Moore, but said the incident was likely not related to the 12th anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings, which took place nearby (AP).

Virginie Montet/AFP/Getty Images


The LWOT: Pakistan arrests two Frenchmen for terror involvement

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.

Pakistan arrests two French citizens linked to Indonesian terrorists

French and Pakistani officials confirmed Apr. 14 that two Frenchmen, identified by Reuters to be Sharaf Din and Zohaib Afzal, both of Pakistani descent (earlier reports referred to one of the suspects as a convert to Islam), were arrested in Lahore in early January after meeting with al Qaeda faciliator Tahir Shehzad, whose arrest produced information that helped lead Pakistani authorities to arrest Indonesian terrorist Umar Patek, a key figure in the al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah, in late January (Reuters, AFP).  The men were allegedly planning to travel to Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal agency with Patek to seek training and possibly to meet with senior al Qaeda officials, though French officials said they were unsure the Frenchmen knew Patek (AP). French officials believe at most 20 to 30 French citizens are currently in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region currently. And the Associated Press has new details about Patek's arrest in Abbottabad, Pakistan (AP).

In other al Qaeda-related news, a rare video of the group's no. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri appeared yesterday, in which Zawahiri lauded the continued uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa but called on Muslims to reject Western intervention in Libya (ABC, AFP). And a growing number of messages on jihadi Internet forums have called on Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to attack France over the country's ban on the niqab, which went into effect on Apr. 11 (Reuters).

Administration official testifies on Gitmo recidivism

In testimony Apr. 14 before the House Armed Services Committee, Amb. Dan Fried, the U.S. envoy responsible for coordinating the closure of Guantánamo Bay, told the committee that of the 68 prisoners released from Guantánamo under President Barack Obama, only three had returned to militancy (McClatchy, CNN). The new figures represent a significant drop from the 79 detainees out of 532 released by President George W. Bush the government claims have returned to militancy. Many of the alleged recidivists' names have not been revealed, making it difficult to check government claims. Bonus: How many Gitmo alumni take up arms? (FP)

Lawyers for five Uighur detainees ordered free nearly two and a half years ago have filed a new plea with the Supreme Court in the case known as Kiyemba v. Obama, seeking the courts to force their release into the United States and arguing that the 2008 ruling that gave courts the power to free Guantánamo detainees has been "nullified" (SCOTUS Blog). The government shot back on Apr. 13 arguing that the writ of habeas corpus was effective at Guantánamo, and that the Uighurs had refused opportunities to resettle in third countries (SCOTUS Blog).

Also this week, a Spanish judge rejected a request to investigate six former senior Bush administration officials for establishing a legal framework for abuse at Guantánamo (AP).

Rana may say he was working for ISI at trial

Court documents indicate that Chicago resident and Canadian citizen Tahawwur Hussain Rana, who will go on trial in May for providing support to the 2008 Mumbai attackers, will argue that he did not know about the planned bombings but believed he was working for Pakistan's powerful intelligence service, the ISI, when he provided the cover identity used by David Coleman Headley to scout targets in Mumbai (Globe and Mail, Press Trust of India). The Indian government is reportedly considering signing onto a lawsuit being filed in the United States by the families of two Americans killed in the attacks, usually attributed to the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) (Times of India). Adm. Robert Willard, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, testified before Congress this week that LeT was expanding its reach and ambitions beyond South Asia (Reuters, AP).

Also this week, A Pakistani man living in Massachusetts who was arrested last May for giving money to failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad pled guilty to immigration and illegal money-transfer charges, and will be deported to Pakistan (AP, NY1). 

Convicted terrorist and one-time "dirty bomb" suspect Jose Padilla this week appealed the ruling throwing out his lawsuit against the United States for abuse he says he sustained while imprisoned at the U.S. Navy brig at Charleston, SC (AP). And two Somali women arrested in Minnesota last year on charges that they raised money for the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab organization, Amina Ali and Hawo Hassan, will go on trial Oct. 3 (AP). 

Trials and Tribulations

  • A suspected suicide bomber in Indonesia attacked a mosque on a police compound in Cirebon, West Java on Apr. 15, wounding up to 28 people, mostly police officers (BBC). This is the first suicide attack to hit Indonesia since attacks on two luxury hotels in 2009. 
  • Hamas security forces have found the body of an Italian pro-Palestinian activist in the Gaza Strip a day after he was kidnapped by the radical salafist militant group Tawhid and Jihad, who demanded the release of their imprisoned leader in return for the Italian's release (NYT). Hamas officials said the man had been hanged.
  • The Telegraph reports this week that Britain's internal security service MI5 is altering its tactics in some domestic radicalization cases, confronting some suspected radicals preemptively in order to "scare them into abandoning potential plots" (Telegraph).  
  • Two people arrested in relation to the bombing Apr. 11 of Minsk's main metro station confessed to the bombings on Apr. 13, as Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko said he would examine opposition parties for possible links to the bombing (NYT, AJE, Reuters, WSJ). Belarus on Apr. 14 made public closed-circuit TV footage purportedly showing the bomber minutes before the blast (BBC).
  • The trial of eight Germans, including one woman, on charges of translating and distributing German-language terrorist propaganda over the internet and incitement to violence began Apr. 12 in Munich (Deutsche Welle).
  • Turkish authorities this week reportedly arrested 40 members of al Qaeda and Hezbollah, including the man Turkish officials called the head of al Qaeda in Turkey, Halis Bayancuk ( Reuters).
  • Spanish security forces on Apr. 14 seized 1.6 tons of explosives during an operation against the Basque separatist group ETA, the biggest ever seizure in an operation against the group (AFP).
  • Jordan on Apr. 12 released from prison four members of a banned radical Islamist group that has been linked to plots against the U.S. and Israeli embassies in the country, after the group's members threatened major protests (AP).
  • Morocco's King Mohammed VI has pardoned or cut the sentences of 190 prisoners, including many imprisoned under the country's strict anti-terrorism laws (AFP).
  • A man arrested this week for detonating a bomb in front of a Santa Monica synagogue was sent back to California from Ohio on Apr. 13 (AFP, Reuters).