The LWOT: Alleged Cole bomb planner arraigned at Gitmo

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Alleged Cole bomb planner arraigned at Gitmo

The alleged mastermind of the 2000 U.S.S. Cole bombing that killed 17 U.S. sailors, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was arraigned on November 9 at Guantánamo Bay, accused of murder, acts of terrorism, and conspiracy to carry out acts of terrorism and attacks on civilians, and will face a military tribunal with a potential death sentence beginning no earlier than November 2012 (AFPLATPostReutersMiami HeraldAJEBBCNYT,Tel). The military tribunal will be first of its kind begun under President Barack Obama's administration, the first under new rules designed to make the trials more transparent, and also the first trial of a detainee subjected to harsh interrogation techniques including waterboarding and mock executions. The Pentagon released the Obama administration's new guidelines for conducting military tribunals on November 7, just two days before al-Nashiri's arraignment (Miami Herald). In another unprecedented move, the arraignment was broadcast via closed-feed to a room of reporters and Defense Department officials at Guantánamo, and to victims' families at Ft. Meade, Maryland (Miami HeraldCNN).

Al-Nashiri's defense attorneys took the opportunity provided in military tribunals to question the judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, on any personal biases he may have that would influence the outcome of the trial, focusing on their argument that by sanctioning al-Nashiri's "torture," the U.S. government "forfeited its right to try him and certainly to kill him" (ReutersAFPPoliticoBBC). Colonel Pohl denied the defense's motion asking for clarification on whether al-Nashiri will be released if he is acquitted, but upheld their motion to end the monitoring of confidential mail between themselves and al-Nashiri. The Post's Peter Flinn reported on November 8 on the dozens of Gitmo detainees who have been cleared for release, but are being kept at the detention facility because of a provision in the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act that requires the Secretary of Defense to "ensure" that a freed "individual cannot engage or re-engage in any terrorist activity" (Post). And Carol Rosenberg reported on November 8 that the cost of keeping one detainee at Guantánamo Bay is more than 30 times the cost of keeping one prisoner in domestic prisons, arguably making it the most expensive prison in the world (Miami Herald).

Attorney General Eric Holder said in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on November 8 that the U.S. government needs "maximum amounts of flexibility" to defeat terrorism using "all elements of American power," including the ability to try suspected terrorists in civilian courts (AP). Attorney Gen. Holder had been asked about heavily debated provisions in a Senate defense bill, including one requiring military custody of suspects believed to be members of al-Qaeda or affiliated groups, which the White House argues would be a barrier to successful intelligence collection from the suspects.

A federal appeals court in Washington D.C. on November 10 ruled against suspected terrorist Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif's appeal for release on claims that he has been falsely imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay (CNN). However, the appeals panel ordered a lower court to look again at Latif's case to see if new evidence lends credibility to his claims. Benjamin Wittes explains why this decision is "a very big deal" (Lawfare).

Jury shown violent videos in terrorism case

Lawyers for Tarek Mehanna, who is charged with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, sought on November 4 to detract from the November 3 testimony of Mehanna's friend, Ali Aboubakr, by pointing out that he, not only Mehanna, had said he admired Osama bin Laden (AP). Mehanna is accused of travelling to Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen for terrorist training, and with distributing jihadist propaganda in the Internet with the goal of inspiring terrorist attacks. His defense attorneys were not successful in blocking the prosecution on November 7 from showing the jury violent videos allegedly translated and disseminated by Mehanna portraying suicide bombings and glorifications of the 9/11 attacks (Boston Globe). And on November 8, an FBI agent testified that Mehanna became suspicious in 2006 that one of his friends was an informant, and warned another friend in an online conversation to be careful because he was "being watched" (AP).

A suspected terrorist in custody in Germany, Abdeladim Al-Kebir, has been indicted in a federal court in New York on charges of conspiring to provide material support to al-Qaeda and plotting to use a destructive device, according to the indictment unsealed on November 10 (APReutersBBC). El-Kebir, a Moroccan, was arrested with two others in April by German police on suspicion that they were making a bomb on al-Qaeda's orders to detonate in a crowded public space.

A lawyer for Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, who is accused of attempting to build a weapon of mass destruction and plotting to attack targets in New York and elsewhere in the United States, filed notice on November 9 of his intention to use an insanity defense (AP). On November 10, the defense team also outlined their argument that the FBI's use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to conduct warrantless search and seizure in their investigation of Aldawsari was illegal, on grounds that they did not have the evidence required under FISA to prove he was the "agent of a foreign power" (Local). And the four elderly Georgia men accused of plotting bioterrorism attacks on government targets each pleaded not guilty in federal court on November 9 (Reuters).

Alleged terrorism supporter Barry Walter Bujol Jr. told a federal district judge in Houston on November 7 that he never intended to join al-Qaeda, but only wanted to leave the United States because he disagrees with U.S. foreign policy and wanted to become a better Muslim (AP). Bujol is accused of attempting to sneak out of the United States with restricted military documents, money, and equipment, to join al-Qaeda after seeking advice on jihad from slain radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. An FBI informant, identified as Mohammed al-Desari, testified against Bujol on November 9 from behind a partition and wearing a black mask to protect his identity (AP). Tapes were played of alleged conversations recorded during the FBI's two-year investigation between Bujol and al-Desari, in which Bujol expresses his desire to fight against U.S. troops in Afghanistan and plans to join al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

The AP's Chris Hawley reported on November 8 on the difficulties New York Muslims may face if they decide to take legal action against the New York Police Department (NYPD) with regard to allegations made by the AP that the NYPD illegally monitored and gathered intelligence on Muslim communities without evidence of wrongdoing (AP). Hawley says that changes to U.S. privacy laws, the creation of the Patriot Act, and the expansion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in the wake of 9/11 have restricted individuals' ability to prove the government has violated their privacy.

"Carlos the Jackal" on trial in Paris

"Carlos the Jackal," whose real name is Illich Ramírez Sánchez and who is already serving a life sentence for a triple murder in 1975, went on trial in Paris on November 7 for his involvement in four bombings on two trains, a train station, and a newspaper office in France in 1982 and 1983 that killed eleven people and injured over 100 (CNN,LATDeutsche WelleNYTTelReuters). When the judge asked the Venezuelan-born, 62-year-old Ramírez what his profession is, he answered in accented French, "I am a professional revolutionary, of the Leninist tradition," and claimed that former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had given him Palestinian nationality, before launching into a tirade on the "racist, Zionist state of Israel" (BBCGuardianPostReuters). Ramírez's wife and lawyer, Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, whom he married while in prison in 2001, said her husband was in a "fighting mood" and that she is prepared to prove his innocence. Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who has previously praised Ramírez as a "revolutionary fighter," called on the court to respect Ramírez's rights (ReutersAP).

A German federal prosecutors' spokesman announced on November 10 that a German-Afghan man identified as Ahmad Wali Siddiqui was charged on November 2 with membership in the extremist group the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and al-Qaeda, and accused of training in Pakistan with both groups in 2009 and 2010 in order to wage jihad (AP).

Trials and Tribulations

  • Eight suspected militants went on trial in Jakarta, Indonesia on November 9 accused of involvement in a suicide bomb attack on a mosque in Cirebon, West Java, which injured at least 28 people (Jakarta Post).
  • Three consecutive bomb blasts at a busy market in Baghdad killed at least eight people on November 6, but no group has yet claimed responsibility (AJE).
  • A leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Mokhtar Belmokhtar, confirmed worries that his group had obtained weapons from Libya after the ouster of Moammar Gaddafi, saying in an interview with a Mauritanian newspaper that "it's totally natural we benefited from Libyan arms in such conditions" (APReuters).

U.S. Navy/Getty Images


The LWOT: Georgia men charged with bioterrorism plot

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.

Georgia men charged with bioterrorism plot

Four elderly men identified as Frederick Thomas, Dan Roberts, Ray Adams and Samuel Crump were arrested by FBI officers on November 1 in their hometown of Toccoa, Georgia for allegedly plotting to blow up government buildings and assassinate officials using ricin, a powerful toxin derived from castor beans (NYT, Post, BBC, CBS/AP, LAT, CNN, Reuters, AFP, Tel). The FBI conducted a several month-long surveillance operation, during which a confidential informant recorded the alleged ringleader Thomas saying he "could shoot ATF and IRS all day," as Adams and Crump allegedly attempted to obtain castor beans, with plans to spread ricin across Washington, Atlanta, and New Orleans among other cities. Roberts and Thomas were also charged with attempting to purchase an explosive device and an illegal silencer (AP, LAT).

The suspects told the informant that they had been inspired by a violent online novel written by right-wing militia member-turned-blogger and Fox News commentator Mike Vanderboegh (AP, LAT). The novel tells the story of a violent conflict between militia members and a government that they see as being too strict on gun control, and Vanderboegh writes in his introduction that it was intended to be a "cautionary tale" as well as a "field manual...and call to arms." All four suspects, believed to be members of a fringe Georgia militia group, appeared in court on November 2 and were remanded into custody without bail at least until a hearing on November 9 (Reuters, CNN, CBS/AP).

A federal appeals court in Atlanta upheld the convictions of five members of the so-called Liberty City Seven, who were sentenced in late 2009 to between six and 14 years in jail for conspiracy to provide material support to al-Qaeda (Miami Herald). The five men argued in their appeal that the replacement of a juror during their trial in April 2009 was grounds for a retrial. And a U.S. District judge in Anchorage, Alaska refused on October 31 to move the trial of three alleged right-wing militia members accused of illegal arms possession to another location out of "safety concerns," though it is unclear whose safety he is concerned about (AP).

A friend of alleged terrorist supporter Tarek Mehanna, who is accused of attempting to train with militants in Yemen in 2004 and translating and disseminating extremist material on the Internet, testified in court on Thursday that Mehanna referred to former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden as a "friend" and "as being [his] real father, in a sense," and spoke of watching videos of suicide bombers and hostage beheadings with Mehanna (AP).  

Russian arms dealer guilty on all charges

A federal jury in Manhattan convicted Russian arms dealer Victor Bout on November 2 of four counts of conspiring to supply weapons to the banned militant group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to kill Americans (Post, WSJ, BBC, Guardian, NYT, AP). The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) led at least a year-long sting operation, during which it convinced two federal informants to contact Bout about a potential weapons purchase on behalf of FARC in order to get Bout out of Russia to Thailand, where he was arrested in 2008. Russia has vowed to return Bout to the "motherland" and questioned the "validity of the judicial decision" as well as the legality of Bout's extradition from Thailand to the United States (Guardian, Tel).

A Turkish court on November 1 charged 23 people, including a university professor and a publisher, with "membership of an armed terrorist group" for their alleged links to the banned separatist group the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) (AP, Reuters, NYT). The international literary community has decried the detention of publisher Ragip Zarakolu, whose publishing house Belge has long pushed the limits of Turkish law by publishing controversial books by Greek, Armenian and Kurdish authors (Guardian, LAT). They see Zarakolu as a champion of political and academic freedom, and have called for his immediate release.

Gitmo authorities reading attorney-client mail

In a November 1 letter to the deputy assistant secretary of defense for rule of law and detainee policy William Lietzau, nine lawyers representing inmates at Guantánamo Bay accused authorities at the detention facility of reading confidential communication between the attorneys and their clients (Post, WSJ). A military official said that new Guantánamo commander Rear Adm. David Woods changed the policy last month to allow officials to check the legal relevance of all detainee communications, a move the defense attorneys have pledged to fight to "the fullest extent" in court.

The military prosecutors of the alleged U.S.S. Cole bombing mastermind Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri refused to accede to the defense attorneys' request to promise the release of their client if he is acquitted, saying that as an "unlawful enemy combatant" al-Nashiri can be held as long as hostilities continue (Politico, Miami Herald, NYT). And Canadian-born detainee Omar Khadr officially requested his transfer to a Canadian jail on October 31 as part of a plea deal he accepted in October 2010, when he pleaded guilty to throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. serviceman (AFP).

Former Gitmo guard Specialist Brandon Neely reveals in an interview with CNN correspondent Jenifer Fenton the shocking incidents of detainee abuse he witnessed at the facility, including beating and hogtying detainees thought to be resisting, but who according to Neely were later revealed to be under the impression they were being executed (CNN). Fenton also interviewed former detainees who corroborate Specialist Neely's reports of maltreatment, one of whom spent eight years at Gitmo on what he says was false evidence before he was released in 2009 (CNN). And the former chief prosecutor for the U.S. government at Guantánamo Bay Air Force Col. (ret.) Morris Davis told a human rights conference last week that the Bush administration set up a "law-free zone" at Guantánamo, and described the interrogation techniques used at the detention center as "torture" (Guardian).

Trials and Tribulations

  • The Somali militant group al-Shabaab posted a suicide message on the Internet on October 30 believed to be from Somali-American Abdisalan Hussein Ali, claiming that Ali was one of two suicide bombers who attacked African Union and Somali troops the previous day, killing at least a dozen people (NYT, LAT, CNN, AP, AFP, Tel). The FBI has said it is looking for evidence that Ali was indeed involved in the attack.
  • British intelligence officials believe over 100 British residents have been trained by and have fought with al-Shabaab, and around 40 of them are currently active in Somalia (Guardian).
  • An Ethiopian court on November 3 dropped a charge against two Swedish journalists of conspiring to commit acts of terrorism, but the suspects still face two charges of supporting Ethiopian separatist group the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) (Reuters, AFP, BBC, CNN).

David McNew/Getty Images