The LWOT: Government approves military custody for terrorist suspects

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Government approves military custody for terrorist suspects

The Obama administration agreed on December 14 not to veto the $662 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), clearing the way for a 283-136 House vote that night and a U.S. Senate vote 86-13 the following day, both in favor of the bill (APReuters,NYTAJEGuardianPostLAT). The controversial provision requiring military custody for all suspected terrorists with links to al-Qaeda, over which the White House had previously threatened a veto, has sparked outcry from civil liberties groups and other commentators (NYTNYTET). FBI Director Robert Mueller on December 14 also expressed lingering concerns that the bill's language leaves the military and FBI roles during the interrogation of terrorist suspects unclear (Politico). Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on December 15 introduced the Due Process Guarantee Act of 2011, which would ensure that Americans detained on U.S. soil could not be held indefinitely (Press Release). 

On December 15, federal prosecutors filed a civil suit seeking $480 million in penalties from the now-defunct Lebanese Canadian Bank and two Lebanese exchange companies, for allegedly helped the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah launder almost half a billion dollars in South American drug funds (NYT). The suit came two days after Lebanese national Ayman Joumaa was indicted in federal court in Virginia accused of being the ringleader of a massive international drug cartel linked to Hezbollah, in which the Lebanese Canadian Bank was complicit (AP). However, the terrorism connections were reportedly not mentioned in Joumaa's criminal indictment. The Times' Jo Becker had a must-read on December 13 on the fascinating details of the money-laundering system used by Hezbollah revealed by the bank's ledgers (NYT).

The Times' Benjamin Weiser also had a must-read this week on the trial of an Eritrean man accused of providing material support to al-Shabaab, Mohamed Ibrahim Ahmed, whose attorneys are requesting in federal court in Manhattan that a judge suppress statements that Ahmed made without being apprised of his right to remain silent and right to counsel (the U.S. government, meanwhile, says Ahmed waived his Miranda rights) (NYT). Ahmed was allegedly subjected to a "clean" interrogation by FBI agents in Nigeria nearly two years ago, days after he received a "dirty" interrogation by different FBI agents, before which he says he was not told his Miranda rights, creating a critical conflict between the need to interrogate terrorist suspects for time-sensitive intelligence and the need to build a viable criminal case to be used in civilian court.

The U.S. State Department on December 15 designated a longtime ETA leader known by his alias, Josu Ternera, as a person supporting global terrorism (AFP). Separately the State Department also designated Saleh al-Qarawi, a top leader in the Lebanese Abdullah Azzam Brigades, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (WSJ). And Politico's Josh Gerstein notes that the December 16 public hearing on the U.S. military's case against Bradley Manning, who is accused of "aiding the enemy" by leaking thousands of classified military documents to the government transparency advocacy site WikiLeaks, should reveal some details of the highly secretive case (Politico).

The trial of Tarek Mehanna, who is accused of distributing jihadist material on the Internet and traveling to Yemen in 2004 to receive terrorist training, is set to wrap up on December 16, and could provide an important precedent for what exactly constitutes material support to terrorists (Boston Globe). Mehanna's lawyers argue that he was exercising his right to free speech by translating and disseminating al-Qaeda material, and that translation of the documents alone should not constitute "material support."

Carlos the Jackal receives second life sentence

Venezuelan-born "Carlos the Jackal" was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in France on December 16 for his involvement in bomb attacks on two trains, a train station, and a newspaper office in France in 1982 and 1983 that killed 11 people and injured more than 100 (APBBCCNNDeutsche WelleTelGuardianLATReuters). The self-identified revolutionary and member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine has been serving another life sentence in France since 1997 for shooting and killing two French secret agents and a government informant in 1975.

A jury in Australia on December 16 found Australian citizens of Lebanese and Somali origin Wissam Mahmoud Fattal, Nayev El Sayed, and Saney Edow Aweys guilty of plotting to attack Sydney's Holsworthy Army Barracks with automatic rifles in an attempts to kill as many soldiers as possible (APAFPBBCSMH). Supreme Court Justice Betty King sentenced the men to 18 years in prison, telling the men "none of you, not one...recanted from any extremist view that you held," making them a continued danger to the community. 

A British Appeals Court on December 14 ordered the government to ask the United States to release Pakistani citizen Yunus Rahmatullah from the U.S.-run Bagram prison in Afghanistan, where he has been held without trial for over seven years (Guardian). Rahmatullah was detained by Britain's Special Air Service (SAS) in 2004 accused of being a member of an al-Qaeda-linked organization, and handed over to American forces, but the three-judge appeal panel ruled that his detention is unlawful.

Trials and Tribulations

  • Yemeni authorities said on December 13 that they had arrested six al-Qaeda militants in he eastern province of al-Jawf who were allegedly plotting to attack senior government officials and foreign diplomats (AP).
  • Somalia's al-Shabaab militant group and the Kenyan military are currently involved not only in a physical conflict, but also a vicious war of words over Twitter, which al-Shabaab has recently embraced and shown a proclivity for pithy, stinging tweets (NYT).
  • An alleged member of the Basque separatist group ETA is fighting extradition from the United Kingdom to Spain to face a trial for allegedly murdering a police officer, assisting several bomb attakcs, and plotting to kill the King of Spain (AFP). 

Brennan Linsley-Pool/Getty Images


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

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.

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).