The LWOT: Senate, House edit detainee provision in defense bill

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Senate, House edit detainee provision in defense bill

Senate and House negotiators on December 12 agreed to pass a $662 billion defense bill after revising a provision requiring military custody for terrorism suspects believed to be members of al-Qaeda over which the Obama administration has threatened on several occasions to veto the massive bill (APWSJWSJNPRPoliticoPost). Rep. Adam Smith (WA-D) told reporters that the panel members "took significant steps to address the administration's concerns;" the White House has not yet responded to the news of the bill. The controversial bill faces a House vote on Wednesday, and a Senate vote could come as early as Thursday (AP). Lawfare Blog has a series of useful analyses on the changes to the detainee provisions included in the latest version of the defense bill (LawfareLawfareLawfare).

The New York Times' Scott Shane had a must-read on December 10 describing the detention of 362 people convicted on terrorism-related charges in high-security prisons all over the United States, many of whom are kept in remarkably restrictive special units (NYT). Shane reports that of the 300 terrorist convicts that have been released since 2001, an extremely small percentage have returned to militancy, and that some of the prisoners with whom the Times exchanged letters maintained their innocence or expressed remorse.

U.S. military officials on December 9 released never-before-seen images of a disciplinary block at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility known as "Five Echo," in an effort to disprove allegations that detainees being held there are subjected to inhumane conditions that violate the Geneva Convention (AP). David Remes, an attorney who represents three Guantánamo detainees, said earlier last week that "Five Echo is really a throwback to the bad old days at Guantánamo" with cells that are too small, foul-smelling, and overly lit.

The Washington D.C. Circuit Court on December 9 rejected the habeas corpus petition of Guantánamo Bay detainee Fayiz Mohammed Ahmed Al Kandari, who argued that inadmissible hearsay evidence is being used to continue his detention (Lawfare).

Right-wing extremist shoots dead Senegalese street vendors

An Italian man identified as Gianluca Casseri and known to sympathize with right-wing extremists, killed two Senegalese street vendors and wounded a third in a shooting spree in Florence on December 13 (AFPTel). The lone gunman was then also shot and killed, though it was unclear whether he had committed suicide or was killed by Italian police.

Around 50 radical Israeli settlers stormed an Israeli military base on Wednesday after hearing rumors that their settlements would be dismantled, committing acts of vandalism and arson that Defense Minister Ehud Barak called "homegrown terror" (NYTReutersWSJAPLATGuardian). One soldier suffered minor injuries and just two suspects were detained in the attack, which came just hours after another extremist Israeli settler group, the Hill Top Youth, stormed a religious monument on the Jordanian border.

A British bookseller from Birmingham, Ahmed Faraz, was found guilty on December 12 of possessing and distributing extremist material, some of which has been found in the homes of others convicted on terrorism-related charges over the past ten years (BBC).

The Obama administration is still undecided over what to do with its last remaining detainee in Iraq, Ali Musa Daqduq, who is suspected of being a member of the Lebanese Hezbollah and one of the masterminds behind a June 2007 raid in Karbala that killed five U.S. soldiers (NYT). While moving Daqduq to Guantánamo is favored by many Republicans in Washington, this option would run contrary to President Obama's promises to close the prison and would be a violation of Iraqi sovereignty if done without the (unlikely) permission of the Iraqi government.

And in Afghanistan, Canadian forces have concluded an agreement to transfer suspected Taliban detainees to U.S. custody rather than handing them over to Afghanistan's intelligence service or the notorious Sarpoza prison in Kandahar, just weeks after a United Relations report detailed widespread torture in Afghan prisons (APReuters,CBC).

White House releases domestic counterterrorism strategy

The White House on December 8 released its latest domestic counterterrorism strategy, entitled the Strategic Implementation Plan for Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States, which encourages an awareness and prevention strategy for radicalization similar to that which communities already have for gang violence, sexual offences, and school shootings (AFPNPRABC).

A Canadian-Iraqi man currently detained in Canada, Faruq Khalil Muhammad 'Isa, was indicted by a federal court in Brooklyn on charges of conspiring to kill to Americans and providing material support to terrorists (APNYTReuters). 'Isa, who was arrested in January and is fighting extradition to the United States, is suspected of assisting Tunisian jihadists to carry out suicide attacks in Iraq in 2009 that killed five U.S. service members and seven Iraqi civilians.

The defense attorneys for Tarek Mehanna, who is accused of distributing jihadist material on the Internet and traveling to Yemen in 2004 to undergo terrorist training, called an expert on Islamic law on December 9 to argue that Mehanna "wrote about the most mundane topics of Islam," and did not support one of al-Qaeda's central tenets that American civilians may be targeted because of the decisions of their government (Boston GlobeBoston Globe). The defense team is expected to wrap up its case sometime this week.

The Guardian's Paul Harris on December 12 laid out the potentially questionable case against the so-called "Newburgh Four," which involved an FBI informant posing as an extremist, who offered four impoverished African American Muslims large sums of money, vacations, and cars if they agreed to carry out a terrorist plot against U.S. military planes and Jewish targets in New York (Guardian). Lawyers for the Newburgh Four have appealed and their case will be heard early next year in a trial expected to include a close look at the methods that constitute entrapment.

Trials and Tribulations

  • The BBC has filed a court case seeking the opportunity to interview in person Babar Ahmad, who has been detained in the United Kingdom on terrorism-related charges for seven years without a trial (BBC).
  • Between 10 and 15 convicted al-Qaeda militants tunneled out of a Yemeni prison in the port city of Aden in the second such jailbreak this year (AP).
  • The British-based human rights charity, Reprieve, and partner organizations in Pakistan have said they are planning a legal assault on the CIA's drone program, beginning by sending a letter to U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter asking about his role in approving a drone strike in Pakistan's tribal areas on October 31 that allegedly killed two youths (WSJ).



The LWOT: AP report describes secret CIA prison in Romania

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.

AP report describes secret CIA prison in Romania

Adam Goldman on December 8 revealed hitherto unknown details of a purported CIA "black site" prison in the Romanian capital city of Bucharest, including its location and details of the cells that are reportedly set on springs to disorient the suspected terrorist detainees secretly held there (AP). Current Romanian officials at the prison still deny that the CIA ever used their facility, in which detainees were reportedly subjected to sleep deprivation, slapping, and stress positions, though former officials who provided the details insist waterboarding was not performed in Romania.

In what may appear to be a curious decision, the State Department reportedly rejected a request by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act for official copies of 23 cables related to the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, rendition, and other issues, on the grounds that the cables are still confidential, even though they have been available online at the WikiLeaks website since August 2010 (NYT). Ben Wizner, litigation director of the ACLU's national security project, said, "in part the request was to expose the absurdity of the U.S. secrecy regime," but also touches on the graver issue of government officials invoking the state secrets privilege to block lawsuits that seek to challenge counterterrorism procedures. The U.S. Army has reportedly disciplined 15 people in connection with the case of Pvt. Bradley Manning, who is accused of providing WikiLeaks with thousands of classified military documents (Politico).  

The Senate and House on December 8 began conference committee talks to settle differences in their respective version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which the Obama administration has threatened to veto over provisions concerning suspected terrorist detainees (C-SPAN). Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said on December 6 that members of Congress would try to address some of the detainee-related concerns voiced by FBI Director Robert Mueller (Hill). Lawfare Blog's Benjamin Wittes has a very informative two-part comparison of the Senate and House versions of the controversial bill (LawfareLawfare).

The U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has launched a program called the Cyber Fast Track, which funds research on Internet hacking carried out by independent information-technology firms (Politico). The idea is to eliminate the bureaucracy faced by the government when trying to get new programs off the ground by simply outsourcing research that may protect sensitive government computer systems from attacks.

And Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said in opening remarks at his hearing on December 7 on the purported threat to the U.S. military posed by homegrown Islamic extremists, that he has seen "alarming new developments" proving the increase in said threat (Politico). New America's own Peter Bergen and Andrew Lebovich pointed out on the same day that data reveals the significant risk posed by non-jihadist terrorist plots against the U.S. government and law enforcement, which is "surely also worthy of the scrutiny of Congress" (CNN).  

Letter bomb sent to Deutsche Bank CEO

A suspicious envelope addressed to the CEO of Deutsche Bank, Josef Ackermann, was intercepted by scanners at the company's mailroom and found to be a letter bomb, which was later claimed by an Italian anarchist group, the Federazione Anarchica Informale (FAI) (Deutsche WelleReutersNYTAPAFP). The bomb was safely defused by German police, who say a letter from the FAI found with the bomb mentions "three explosions against bankers, banks, fleas and bloodsuckers," leaving officials on the lookout for two other letter bombs that may have been sent.

Also in Germany, a German man identified only as Halil S. was arrested on December 8 for his suspected involvement in what is being called the "Duesseldorf Cell," an alleged al-Qaeda-linked group accused of plotting a bomb attack on a crowded public area in Germany (APDeutsche Welle). According to prosecutor spokesman Marcus Koehler, Halil S. is "strongly suspected to have followed up on the attack plans despite the arrest of the other members" in April of this year.

Guilty plea in Seattle terror plot

Walli Mujahidh, one of two men accused of plotting to attack a military recruitment center in Seattle with machine guns and grenades, pleaded guilty on December 8 to conspiracy and weapons charges (ReutersAFPAPCNN). The plot was brought to the attention of authorities when a long-time friend of Mujahidh's accused co-conspirator, Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif, was asked to supply weapons for the attack, but instead went to the police and became a paid informant in an FBI sting operation. The two men were arrested in June when they arrived at a warehouse in Seattle to pick up machine guns they planned to use in the attack (AP).

Joshua John Clough, one of nine alleged militia members accused of conspiring to kill a police officer in Michigan and then attack the funeral procession with explosives, pleaded guilty on December 5 to weapons charges and to being a member of the anti-government Hutaree militia (WSJReutersAP). Clough, who was arrested in April 2010, pleaded guilty to avoid being convicted on far more serious terrorism charges, according to his attorney.  

Prosecutors in the case of Tarek Mehanna, who is accused of distributing jihadist material on the Internet and traveling to Yemen in 2004 to undergo terrorist training, rested their case on December 7, as the defense called their first witness (AP). Mehanna's attorneys called a Yale University associate professor and expert on al-Qaeda and Islamic law, to show that their client's views are actually far more moderate than those of the terrorists he is accused of trying to support (Boston Globe).

Trials and Tribulations

  • Turkish police on December 7 arrested 16 suspected members of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party on suspicion of organizing acts of terror and recruiting for a terrorist organization (Zaman).
  • The chief judge for the Southern District of New York testified on December 8 that $170 million budget cuts to New York State courts have hindered security measures that are important to courts that hold some of the nation's largest terrorism trials (CNS).
  • The election victory claimed by Morocco's moderate Islamist party is seen by some as an opportunity to reform the country's corrupt justice system, which has in the past seen suspected terrorists and critical journalists convicted by a single phone call from a powerful official (AP).