Foreign Policy and the New America Foundation bring you a twice weekly brief on the legal war on terror. You can read it on foreignpolicy.com or get it delivered directly to your inbox -- just sign up here.
Tarek Mehanna convicted on all charges
An American citizen of Pakistani descent, Tarek Mehanna, was convicted on December 20 by a federal jury in Boston of four terrorism-related charges, including conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, for allegedly traveling to Yemen in 2004 to receive terrorist training as well as translating and disseminating jihadist propaganda online (AP, NYT, AFP). Mehanna could face life in prison when he is sentenced on April 12, though his lawyers plan to appeal the verdict.
Oytun Ayse Mihalik, a California resident of Turkish origin, was indicted on December 22 on charges of providing material support to terrorists for allegedly sending money to an individual in Pakistan knowing that the funds would be used to plan and carry out attacks against American troops (AP, CNN, LAT). Mihalik, who was detained at the Los Angeles International Airport on August 27 before she could board a flight to Turkey, is accused of sending $2,050 in three separate transfers over three weeks in late 2010 and early 2011.
FBI Special Agent Maged Sidaros testified in December that he insisted his team's so-called "clean" interrogation in 2010 of Mohamed Ibrahim Ahmed, an Eritrean man detained in Nigeria, be entirely independent of the "dirty" interrogation conducted by a separate American team before Sidaros' arrival (NYT). Ahmed's defense attorneys have argued that all statements made by their client were involuntary and should be ruled inadmissible, but Sidaros' claims of complete ignorance of the content of the earlier interrogation could convince the judge to admit the statements Ahmed made after waiving his Miranda rights during the "clean" interrogation.
Defense attorneys rested their case on December 21 in the hearing to decide whether or not to court-martial Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, whose charges include "aiding the enemy" for allegedly downloading hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. military and diplomatic cables and sharing them with the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks (AP). The defense portrayed Manning as "troubled," saying he shouldn't have had access to classified material or even been permitted to serve in Iraq; a senior military officer will decide whether or not he will face a court-martial. Politico's Josh Gerstein looks at the potential impact of Pfc. Manning's statement that he was paid for the files he allegedly gave to WikiLeaks (Politico).
The Los Angeles Times' Kim Murphy had a must-read on December 22 telling the story of how Alaskan Paul Rockwood Jr. went from being a friendly neighbor to a convicted terrorist, serving eight years in a federal prison for drafting a list of targets for terrorist attacks (LAT). Rockwood contends that the list was "pure fantasy," drawn up by a fellow Muslim convert he considered his friend, but who was actually an FBI informant.
Gitmo commander orders monitoring of mail
The commander of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility Rear Adm. David Woods signed an order on December 29 that requires prison staff to read mail between military commission defendants and their attorneys, a move the defense lawyers say would violate attorney-client privilege (AP, WSJ). Rear Adm. Woods ordered prison guards to seize all mail between detainees expected to face military commission trials and their attorneys when he took command in August 2011, but last month a military judge at Guantánamo ordered prison officials to stop reading mail between alleged USS Cole bombing mastermind Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and his lawyers.
Lawyers for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri filed a legal motion on December 14, which was released December 22, requesting their client be allowed to have his shackles removed during meetings with his attorneys to prepare his defense case (AP). And a federal judge on December 22 threw out a lawsuit brought by former Guantánamo detainee Abdul Rahim Abdul Razak al-Janko to seek damages for alleged torture and other abuses at detention facility, on the grounds that the federal courts don't have jurisdiction over allegations by foreigners concerning detention (Reuters).
Members of Congress demand inquiry into reported CIA-NYPD spying
A letter signed by 34 members of Congress was sent to the Department of Justice and the House Judiciary Committee on December 21 asking for an investigation into thereported collaboration between the CIA and the New York Police Department to spy on Muslims in the New York City area (AP). And New York Times reporters Charlie Savage and Scott Shane on December 20 sued the Department of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act for "at least one legal memorandum" believed to have been written by government officials on the permissibility of using targeted killing as a policy tool (CNS).
A U.S. appeals court on December 29 affirmed the constitutionality of a 2008 law granting legal immunity to telecommunication companies that helped the National Security Agency (NSA) eavesdrop on the emails and telephone conversations of Americans without a warrant (AP). And Manhattan federal judge George Daniels on December 22 ruled in a $100 billion case brought by families of 9/11 attack victims that al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Iran are liable for their roles in the deadly attacks (AP). Judge Daniels ordered a magistrate judge to handle the setting of compensatory and punitive damages, though it is extremely unlikely that any money will ever be received from the three defendants.
President Barack Obama on December 31 signed into law the controversial National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), despite "reservations" about the limits the bill places on the handling of suspected terrorist detainees (AP, AJE, LAT, NYT). He said in a signing statement that his administration "will interpret and implement" provisions in such a way that allows the government "flexibility" to combat terrorism, and "upholds the values" of the United States.
The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) is reportedly implementing a new airport screening process called PreCheck, which looks to streamline airport security procedures by using travelers' backgrounds to determine their threat level, and have trained 3,000 agents to identify suspicious behavior by passengers (NYT). The background information required for PreCheck includes frequency of travel and how one paid for the ticket among other details, but critics worry that this could allow sleeper terrorists to go undetected, or that behavioral analysis could encourage racial profiling.
For the first time, a U.S. government advisory board has asked scientific journals to censor some details of experiments in which scientists created a strain of the deadly A(H5N1) virus, which causes bird flu, that can be easily transmitted through the air, for fear of the being used by terrorists to cause epidemics (NYT). Journal editors say they are cooperating with the government's request, and do not consider it to be censorship as long as the information is made available to other important scientists around the world for further research.
Swedish journalists sentenced for terrorism in Ethiopia
An Ethiopian court on December 21 convicted two Swedish journalists of supporting terrorism after they were captured in July by Ethiopian troops during a clash with an ethnic Somali rebel group, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), considered by the country's authorities to be a terrorist organization (AP, Reuters, AFP, AJE, CNN). Reporter Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson admitted to entering Ethiopia illegally, but insisted that they were only collecting news, while Sweden immediately called for their release and the United States expressed "concern" over their conviction (Tel, AFP). The ONLF, to no avail, also called for the release of the "innocent Swedish journalists;" the two were sentenced to 11 years in prison each on December 27, sparking outcry from international rights groups (AFP, Reuters, AP, Guardian, BBC, CNN,Independent).
Mauritania on December 28 issued an international warrant for the arrest of Mustapha Ould Limam Chafi, an opponent of Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, for allegedly financing and sharing intelligence with terrorist groups in the Sahel (AFP). Warrants were also issued for three Mauritanians believed to be leaders in al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or its splinter groups: Hamada Ould Mohamed Kheirou, Elhacen Ould Khlil and Vawaz Ould Ahmed. Mustapha Ould Limam Chafi called the accusations against him "unacceptable defamation," and plans to sue President Abdel Aziz (AFP).
Chinese police officers on December 28 killed seven men they called "kidnappers" and "terrorists" in a remote area of Xinjiang Province in order to free two hostages taken by the men, who purportedly kidnapped two herdsmen and forced them to guide the group through the mountains so they could receive jihadist training in Central Asia (AP, Tel,LAT, Reuters, BBC, NYT). However, Radio Free Asia later reported that the group may have actually consisted of Chinese Muslim Uighurs attempting to flee persecution in their home country (NYT, CNN, RFA).
A Tajik court on December 26 convicted 53 people, 43 of whom were identified as members of the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), on terrorism charges for their alleged involvement in a September 2010 suicide car bomb attack (Reuters).
Student arrested at U.K. airport
An unnamed Pakistani student was arrested at Birmingham International Airport in the United Kingdom on December 20 after arriving on a flight from Dubai "on suspicion of being in possession of a document likely to be of use to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism," according to a police statement (AFP, Tel, AP,Independent). The 22-year-old was released on bail the following day, as he was not considered an immediate danger to the community (BBC).
British judges on December 22 told the government it has four weeks to secure the release of Yunus Rahmatullah, a Pakistani man held by U.S. forces in Afghanistan originally accused of membership in Lashkar-e-Taiba, but cleared for release last year (AP). The ruling came in response to a habeas corpus petition by the U.K. legal charity Reprieve, on the grounds that the evidence against Rahmatullah is insufficient for his detention.
CNN's Nic Robertson and Paul Cruickshank reported on December 30 that al-Qaeda's central leadership has sent veteran militants, including a man formerly detained in Britain on terrorism charges, to Libya in order to establish a jihadist force there (CNN). The man, identified only as "AA," was detained under a "control order" in the United Kingdom following the July 2005 London terrorist attacks, but left Britain in late 2009 when the order lapsed, and has reportedly been able to mobilize 200 fighters so far in Libya.
Trials and Tribulations
- Authorities in Bangkok, Thailand detained, released on bail, and then again detained "Red Shirt" leader Arisman Pongruangrong, who is accused of terrorism for his role in the violent 2010 political rallies, during which more than 90 people were killed (AFP).
- Two people were arrested in Nigeria on December 27 in connection with a series of explosions on Christmas Day that targeted church-goers near the capital city of Abuja, killing at least 35 people (Bloomberg, AP, NPR).
- Argentina on December 28 signed into law a broad definition of terrorism that allows authorities to punish anyone who "terrorizes" the population, sparking fears that the law could be abused for political reasons (Reuters).
William B. Plowman/Getty Images