The LWOT: DoJ limits CIA torture inquiry

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Justice Department opens investigation into two CIA deaths

In separate statements June 30, CIA director Leon Panetta and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department, after a two-year independent investigation, would be opening full criminal inquiries into the deaths of two CIA detainees at Abu Ghraib in Iraq in 2003 and a prison known as the "Salt Pit" in Afghanistan in 2002 (National Journal, NYT, Post, WSJ, CNN, AFP, AP). While the investigations will focus attention on interrogation tactics used against the detainees, believed to be Manadel al-Jamadi and Gul Rahman, the Justice Department closed investigations on nearly 100 other instances of alleged abuse, including the waterboarding of three "high-value" detainees and the destruction of tapes documenting harsh interrogations (ABC, WSJ, BBC, LAT, Miami Herald).

In Senate testimony this week, former Joint Special Operations Command chief Vice Admiral William McRaven said that the United States has no set plan for detaining terrorism suspects, and that "no two cases seem to be alike" (Post, WSJ, AP, National Journal). McRaven also said in response to a question that detainees would likely not be transferred to Guantánamo Bay or prisons in Afghanistan.

The U.S. Court of Military Commissions Review on Friday upheld the conviction of former Osama bin Laden driver Salim Hamdan before a military court at Guantánamo (Miami Herald, AP, Lawfare Blog). The decision validated the legal premise behind military trials for foreign terrorism suspects, while also confirming that providing material support to terrorism, Hamdan's original charge, can be tried as a war crime.

And Carol Rosenberg reports that an Afghan prisoner who killed himself at Gitmo last month, Inayatullah, was classified as an "indefinite detainee" (Miami Herald).

White House releases new counterterrorism strategy

President Barack Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser John Brennan announced the release of the administration's counterterrorism policy (available here) on June 29, saying the United States would focus on targeting al-Qaeda, it's affiliates, and its "adherents," and claiming that the United States had successfully "decimated" the group's leadership (White House, Post, NYT, National Journal, LAT, Reuters, WSJ). The strategy also emphasizes the threat of "homegrown" radicalization, which according to the FBI is growing (AFP, Seattle Times).

This week in Dublin, Google Ideas, the Internet giant's "think tank," gathered a collection of terrorism and radicalization experts as well as former radicals in a "Summit Against Violent Extremism" or SAVE (Post, Toronto Star). The goal of the conference was to generate new ideas and uses for technology in combating all types of radicalization. Bonus read: Countering Domestic Radicalization: Lessons for Intelligence Collection and Community Outreach (NAF).

Finally this week, McClatchy reports that according to U.S. officials, intelligence recovered from bin Laden's former compound in Abbottabad indicates that the al-Qaeda leader was not actively directing the organization, and that some younger commanders in the group did not always follow bin Laden's advice (McClatchy). Since bin Laden's death Internet jihadist forums have increasingly featured "hit lists" of suggested targets for attack (Reuters).

Three New York synagogue plotters get 25 years in jail

Three men convicted of plotting to attack New York synagogues and an Air National Guard base -- James Cromitie, David Williams and Onta Williams -- were sentenced to 25 years in prison by federal judge Colleen McMahon on June 29, the minimum possible sentence (NYT, Reuters, WSJ, BBC, AFP). While McMahon called the actions of the men, arrested in an FBI sting operation, "despicable," she also criticized the situation surrounding the men's arrest, saying, "Only the government could have made a 'terrorist' out of Mr. Cromitie, whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in its scope" (NYT). Sentencing for a fourth convicted plotter, Laguerre Payen, is on hold pending a psychological evaluation.

Also in New York, the trial began this week for 23-year-old American Betim Kaziu, charged with going overseas in an alleged attempt to seek training and the chance to fight U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans (Reuters, Reuters). Kaziu's case centers around the testimony of a friend and original conspirator in the plot who became a government witness.

In Seattle, two men charged with plotting to attack a military processing center, Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif and Walli Mujahidh, were ordered detained on June 29 until their trials begin (AP). ABC reports that Abdul-Latif followed the works of radical American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, and earlier this year wanted to travel to Yemen to teach English (ABC). Friends and relatives of Mujahidh, meanwhile, insist that he suffers from mental problems (Seattle Times).

And lawyers for Kevin Harpham, an alleged white supremacist charged with attempting to bomb a Martin Luther King Jr. day parade in Spokane, declined this week to file an alibi defense as was previously expected ( His trial is scheduled to begin in August.

Britain arrests terrorism suspect

British police this week arrested a London man, Shabaaz Hussain, on charges that he sought to fund and play a role in acts of terrorism (BBC). Britain's Home Office released statistics this week that terrorism arrests last year were only half of what they'd been in 2009, dropping from 209 to 125 (Telegraph, Independent). British authorities remain concerned, however, about the high number of convicted terrorists recently released or scheduled to be released soon (Guardian). 

Also this week, Britain's Equalities and Human Rights Commission said that the interrogation guidance for terrorism detainees given to MI5 and MI6 officers is "unlawful" and puts agents at a risk for criminal charges (Guardian).

Trials and Tribulations 

  • The AP this week has a must-read article on the growing problem of prison radicalization in Indonesia (AP).  
  • The U.S. military launched the first known drone strike last week against two leaders in the  Somali militant group al-Shabaab, who reportedly have ties to the radical American cleric Awlaki (Post, AJE, Tel, Reuters). Lawfare Blog's Robert Chesney looks at the possible legal consequences of the expanded drone campaign (Lawfare Blog).   
  • The Special Tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri handed down indictments June 30 against four senior Hezbollah officials, raising the possibility of renewed instability in Lebanon (Guardian, AFP, AP).  
  • A Mauritanian army officer confirmed this weekend that 15 suspected members of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and two Malian soldiers were killed in a raid on an AQIM camp in Mali's Wagadou Forest, near the Mauritanian border (AFP, CNN, AP). The Malian army also said that it captured nine alleged AQIM fighters (Reuters). 
  • After a heated debate, Germany's parliament this week passed a four-year extension of the country's anti-terrorism law, which was passed after 9/11 and scheduled to expire this year (Deutsche Welle, Reuters, AP).  
  • The first person convicted under Canada's post-9/11 anti-terrorism law, Mohammed Momin Khawaja, has been given the chance to appeal his conviction and eventual life sentence, raising the possibility of a constitutional challenge to the law (National Post, Reuters, AFP).  
  • An Egyptian military court  on June 28 ordered a retrial for Mohammed al-Zawahiri, the brother of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was released after nearly a decade in prison in March but was swiftly re-arrested (AP, Reuters, AFP). 
  • An Iraqi court on June 26 sentenced the wife of slain Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri to 20 years in prison for involvement in terrorism (CNN).  
  • Moroccan authorities delayed until August 18 the trial of seven suspects in the April 28 bombing of Marrakech's Cafe Argana, which killed 18 people (AP, Reuters).

Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images


The LWOT: Two arrested in Seattle terror plot; Guantánamo gets a new prosecutor

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.

FBI disrupts alleged "homegrown" terror plot

The FBI and Seattle Police on Wednesday arrested two American citizens and Muslim converts, Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif and Walli Mujahidh, on charges that they allegedly planned to attack a military processing center south of Seattle with guns and grenades (DoJ, Guardian, BBC, ABC, CNN, AFP, Reuters, LAT). Police learned of the plot after Abdul-Latif is said to have contacted a Seattle Muslim in late May about obtaining weapons, who then notified the police and became an informant in the plot (SeattlePi, Reuters, CNN).

According to the criminal complaint, the informant recorded the men speaking approvingly about the Ft. Hood attacks and expressing a desire to kill U.S. soldiers in response to abuses the men said were committed against Muslims by the American military in Afghanistan and elsewhere; the informant allegedly supplied inert weapons to Abdul-Latif and Mujahidh before their arrest, including assault rifles and grenades (CNN, Bloomberg, Politico). The two suspects, who according to ABC News met and converted to Islam in prison, are expected in court next week for a detention hearing (ABC, Reuters).

Marine reservist charged in shootings raises terrorism questions

Prosecutors on June 23 charged Marine Corps reservist Yonathan Melaku in connection with five shootings at military installations last year, after he was arrested early last Friday in Arlington National Cemetary under suspicious circumstances (Post, NYT, ABC, CNN, Post, CBS/AP, NPR). Melaku was arrested with a backpack containing baggies with what he claimed was ammonium nitrate (though NPR reports that the material was inert), as well as a notebook containing the words "Taliban" and "al Qaeda," and a search of his apartment reportedly revealed a checklist of items necessary to fashion a  timer for an explosive device (NPR, CNN, Post, WSJ, ABC).

Lawyers for Oregon teen Mohamed Osman Mohamud, charged with allegedly plotting to bomb Portland's Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, have filed a request for the FBI's classified surveillance records in the case (AP). The lawyers allege that federal authorities tracked Mohamud as a minor, and  may have improperly obtained evidence against him (

In New York on June 21, federal prosecutors filed charges against Kosovar Arid Uka, who allegedly shot and killed two U.S. airmen outside Germany's Frankfurt Airport in early March (FBI, CNN, DW, Reuters). And Norwegian investigators came to New York this week to interview two confessed al-Qaeda-linked terrorism plotters, Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay, as well as Bryant Neal Vinas, who has confessed to training and fighting with the terror group (AP, NY1).

An Ohio court on June 22 sentenced Amera Akl to 40 months in prison for her role in plotting to send hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Lebanese group Hezbollah (WSJ, AP). A judge in Minnesota this week refused to dismiss the charges filed against Somali women Amina Ali and Hawo Hassan for allegedly providing material support to the militant group al-Shabaab (AP). And prosecutors in Texas have filed a request for evidence in the case of Saudi student Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, who stands accused of trying to assemble a bomb from legally-available chemicals (

Senate committee approves detention bill

The Senate Armed Services Committee approved by a 25-1 vote last week a new bill governing detention practices for terrorism suspects (Politico, Lawfare Blog, Lawfare Blog, NYT). The compromise bill would notably mandate military detention for non-American "high value" al-Qaeda terrorists planning attacks against the United States (though such detention could be reversed by the secretary of defense), permanently prohibit the use of military funds for moving detainees from Guantánamo Bay to the United States for trial, tighten restrictions on detainee transfers from Guantánamo, and set up a review system before a military judge for "long-term" detainees at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan (NYT).

The White House this week pushed back against a similar House detention bill, writing in a seven-page policy paper that the bill attempts to "micromanage" defense policy and could foster perceptions that the United States is in an endless war against al-Qaeda and other groups (Politico). And in a confirmation hearing Thursday to head the CIA, Gen. David Petraeus asked lawmakers to devise a uniform standard of interrogation for terrorism suspects, and suggested that "special" techniques that go beyond those in the Army Field Manual could be used in certain cases (LAT, AP).

On Thursday, the Pentagon appointed Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, currently the head of the Rule of Law Field Force in Afghanistan, to be the new chief prosecutor at Guantánamo (Miami Herald, AP, DoD, Post). Martins, considered one of the army's top lawyers, wrote a series of lengthy posts for Lawfare Blog last year dealing with legal issues in war and rule of law promotion in Afghanistan (Lawfare Blog). And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) this week continued his public spat with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder over whether terrorism suspects should be held and tried in military or civilian judicial systems (National Journal, NPR, The Hill, Lawfare Blog). 

Finally this week, a federal judge denied the habeas petition of Afghan detainee and former Taliban figure Khairullah Khairkhwa, despite a request for his release from Afghanistan's High Peace Council, which is tasked with promoting reconciliation with the Taliban (AP, Lawfare Blog).

Trials and Tribulations

  • A New York court last Friday formally dismissed charges filed against slain al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 1998 (NYT).  
  • The Somali militant group al-Shabaab pledged its support to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a statement released last weekend, and affirmed that, "we are part of [al-Qaeda]" (CNN). And the Department of Justice in a lawsuit revealed that Abu Tayyeb, an al-Qaeda member, allegedly invested $27 million through a Chicago trading firm in 2005, losing up to $20 million of the money through poor investment choices (AP, Chicago Tribune).   
  • In Yemen this week, 62 suspected al-Qaeda militants escaped from prison through a 50-ft tunnel, after other fighters staged a coordinated assault on the compound (AP, Tel, Post, Reuters, BBC, AJE, NYT).  
  • A Jakarta court convicted three men of plotting terrorist attacks on June 21, while the trial of major terrorism suspect Abu Tholut began Monday (CBS, Jakarta Post, AP).  
  • Der Spiegel this week examines the case of a German detained by Austrian authorities after he allegedly returned from receiving militant training in Afghanistan (Der Spiegel, AP). 
  • A major increase in the past few weeks of attacks by the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram has raised questions about the group possibly receiving advanced training from militants in other countries (BBC).  

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images