The LWOT: Attorney General says U.S. can target Americans

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Attorney General says U.S. can target Americans

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on March 5 defended the legal permissibility of targeting "a senior operational leader of a foreign terrorist organization with which the United States is at war - even if that individual happens to be a U.S. citizen," in a speech at the Northwestern University School of Law (Reuters, LAT, NYT, AFP, WSJ, Tel). Holder rejected critics' contention that U.S. citizens should always be granted their right to due process by saying that as enemy combatants, the targets are subject to the international laws of war instead of U.S. domestic law.

Two U.S. legislators, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) introduced a bill on March 8 that would neutralize the detainee provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) approved last year (WSJ, CNN, AP). The bill seeks to ensure that terrorist suspects captured on U.S. soil can be tried in civilian courts, and are not automatically transferred to military custody.

The Associated Press investigative team updates its series of reports on the New York City Police Department today with an article revealing that the NYPD maintained secret documents on businesses owned by second- and third-generation Americans solely because they are Muslim (AP). The NYPD has received criticism from several sides this week, including Muslim community leaders, lawmakers, and even the FBI. The top FBI official in New Jersey, Michael Ward, said on March 7 that his officials' hard work building up a relationship with local Muslim-American communities is being jeopardized by the news that the NYPD was targeting Muslims in the area for surveillance (AP). And Attorney General Holder said Thursday that he finds the reports "disturbing," and that they are "under review at the Justice Department" (Politico).

Muslim community leaders in New Jersey met with the state's Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa on March 3 to discuss reports that the NYPD's targeted surveillance was carried out in New Jersey, too, while NYPD commissioner Raymond Kelly defended the department's actions in a speech at Fordham Law School (AP). Many of the state's Muslim civil society organizations have called for an official state investigation of the reports, while others have defended the NYPD's surveillance as "good police work" (WSJ, AP).

Brooklyn native sentenced to 27 years in prison

Convicted terrorist supporter Betim Kaziu received a 27-year jail sentence from a U.S. District judge in his native Brooklyn on March 3, after being found guilty by a jury last year of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists by travelling to the Middle East with the intention of waging violent jihad against U.S. soldiers in either Afghanistan, Iraq, or the Balkans (AP, Reuters).

A Pakistani-born teenager, Mohammad Hassan Khalid, who was arrested last year as a 17-year-old high school student for allegedly conspiring with convicted terrorist supporter Colleen LaRose to raise money and recruit others to wage violent jihad in Europe and South Asia, now plans to plead guilty, according to court papers filed on March 5 (AP). Khalid allegedly met LaRose, better known as Jihad Jane, in an online chat room when he was just 15, and had previously pleaded not guilty to agreeing to assist in her plans to attack Western targets in the name of Islam.

A former U.S. soldier, Craig Baxam, was indicted on March 7 on charges of attempting to provide material support for a terrorist organization for trying to join the Somali militant group al-Shabaab (AP). Baxam was arrested in January upon his return to the United States from Africa.

Navy selects new Gitmo commander

The Navy on March 2 selected Rear Adm. John W. Smith Jr., a helicopter pilot who supported the relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina, as the next commander of the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay (McClatchy). Adm. Smith will become the 12th commander of Joint Task Force- Guantánamo, replacing Rear Adm. David Woods, who will move to a post in San Diego sometime this summer.

The office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) released a report on March 5 claiming that just 16% of the 599 detainees that have been released from Guantánamo since it was opened are "confirmed of reengaging" in militant activities (AP, Reuters). A further 12%, however, are "suspected of reengaging."

The Associated Press reports that despite human rights groups' concerns over the restrictions placed on prisoners' rights at Guantánamo Bay, legal scholars say the military tribunals held there so far have resulted in lighter-than-expected sentences (AP). The AP has also compiled a list of the convictions and guilty pleas Gitmo has seen in the past decade (AP).

Norway's Breivik indicted on murder, terrorism charges

The self-confessed perpetrator of a bomb attack and shooting spree in Norway last July, Anders Behring Breivik, was indicted on murder and terrorism charges on March 7, though prosecutors say they will request he be committed to a mental facility instead of jail, unless another expert contradicts an initial diagnosis of psychosis (AP, AJE, Reuters, WSJ, CNN, Tel, AFP). The attack was the deadliest in Norway's peacetime history, killing 77 people, whom Breivik had deemed "traitors" for allowing the Islamization of Norwegian society.

Indonesia's West Jakarta District Court on March 5 sentenced seven radical Islamic militants, including group leader Pepi Fernando, who received an 18-year jail term for sending a series of mail bombs that injured several people, and for masterminding a foiled attack on a church (Jakarta Post, AFP, AP). And on March 6, the West Jakarta District Court rejected a motion filed by the alleged mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings, Umar Patek, to dismiss his charges because Indonesia's 2003 anti-terrorism law cannot be applied retroactively (Jakarta Globe).

Kenyan officials have confirmed that a woman wanted for her role in plotting a bomb attack in Kenya last year is Samantha Lewthwaite, the widow of 7/7 suicide bomber Jermaine Lindsay (AP, Tel, Tel). Lewthwaite was last seen crossing the Kenyan border into Tanzania with her three young children, and authorities believe she has fled to restive Somalia, where she has links with the al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab.

Indian police on March 7 said they had detained Syed Mohammed Kazmi, an Indian journalist working for an Iranian publication, in connection with the February 13 bomb attack targeting an Israeli diplomat's wife (BBC, WSJ, AP, NYT, Reuters, AJE, TOI, TOI). Indian media outlets report that Kazmi has confessed to being in touch with the Iranian perpetrators and helping them plot the attacks, the next of which was reportedly going to be the Israeli Embassy.

Trials and Tribulations

  • A federal judge on March 5 refused to move the trial of Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif, who is accused of conspiring to attack a Seattle military recruiting center with Walli Mujahidh, who pleaded guilty in December (AP).
  • Four men went on trial in New Delhi on March 4 accused of running an illegal money-transferring network used to fund terrorists in Kashmir (TOI).
  • Three suspected members of the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah were reportedly detained in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, Malaysia before being deported to their native Singapore late last month (Local).

John Gress/Getty Images


The LWOT: Obama sidesteps NDAA detainee provisions

Foreign Policy and the New America Foundation bring you a 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.

Obama sidesteps NDAA detainee provision

President Barack Obama on February 28 issued guidelines for situations in which the FBI, instead of the military, can retain custody of an al-Qaeda-linked terrorism suspect who is not a U.S. citizen (APAFPWSJCNNNYT). The new guidelines effectively nullify the detainee provisions in the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act that mandated military custody for any terrorism suspect believed to have ties to al-Qaeda, in a move that angered many of the Republicans who supported the provisions.

A Pakistani-born former resident of Baltimore and current Guantánamo Bay detainee, Majid Khan, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to being a courier for al-Qaeda and training to carry out suicide attacks, becoming the first high-value detainee to accept a plea deal, which guarantees Khan a lighter sentence in exchange for his testimony against other terrorist suspects (AP, BBC, NYT, ET, AJE, CNN, Reuters, Post, Miami Herald). The Post's Peter Finn examined on March 1 the impact this plea deal could have on the debate over using military commissions to prosecute terrorist suspects versus using civilian courts (Post).

Guantánamo commander Rear Adm. David Woods said on March 1 that a copy of the English-language jihadist magazine Inspire previously reported to have been found in the detention camp never actually made it into the hands of any detainees (Miami Herald). His statement came as a bit of a surprise because in January a military prosecutor used the presence of the magazine in the camp as justification for Woods' controversial policy of inspecting mail sent to the detainees from their attorneys.

Cairo airport authorities mistake man for al-Qaeda leader

Authorities at the Cairo International Airport on February 29 arrested a man who arrived from Pakistan by the name Mohammad Ibrahim Makkawi, the same name listed as an alias of al-Qaeda leader Saif al-Adel (APPostCNN). Egyptian authorities later clarified that Makkawi was not Saif al-Adel, but was wanted for questioning in Egypt over his involvement with an Egyptian jihadist group that fought against the regime of former president Hosni Mubarak in the early nineties.

Indian police on February 29 arrested two men accused of planning to bomb public places in the capital city of New Delhi, and alleged to belong to a local terrorist cell sponsored by the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (APBBCHindustan TimesDawn). Both suspects were identified as Indian nationals, and were carrying explosives and coded messages when they were seized.

Authorities in Nairobi are hunting for a woman suspected of planning a terrorist attack against civilians in Mombasa last December, who has used three different identities, including that of Samantha Lewthwaite, the widow of one of the 7/7 London Underground suicide bombers Germaine Lindsey (GuardianIndependentTelAP). A senior police officer in Nairobi said the woman is "not a small fish," and plays a significant role in an al-Shabaab-linked terrorist cell in Kenya.

Jose Pimentel indicted in state court

Jose Pimentel, who was arrested last year as he allegedly got close to completing three pipe bombs he planned to detonate in New York City, has been formally indicted by a grand jury in Manhattan on charges of weapons possession and conspiracy as a crime of terrorism, authorities said on February 29 (NYTReutersAFP). Pimentel is a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from the Dominican Republic, who converted to Islam and went by the name Muhammad Yusuf, and is described as a "lone wolf" by police. The BBC featured a story on February 29 on the increasing use by U.S. authorities of undercover sting operations to catch suspected terrorists (BBC).

Iraqi refugee Mohaned Shareef Hammadi, who is accused of conspiring to send weapons from the United States to al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), allegedly boasted to a confidential informant about having worked with insurgents in Iraq placing IEDs in order to kill U.S. soldiers, according to an FBI search warrant application obtained by the Associated Press (AP). Hammadi is scheduled to go on trial in Bowling Green, Kentucky accused of 12 charges on July 30, while his co-conspirator Waad Ramadan Alwan pleaded guilty to 23 terrorism-related charges in December, and was to be sentenced on April 3, though his lawyers have requested a sentencing delay (AP).   

The New York City Police Department is coming under increasing scrutiny for its secret surveillance of Muslims living in the Northeast, revealed in a series of articles written by the Associated Press' investigative team, which detail the motivations and tactics involved in police monitoring of mosques, Muslim student groups, and cafes frequented by Muslims (APNPR). Several civil rights groups, as well as government officials, have called for formal investigations into the legality of the NYPD's actions, as it was revealed on February 27 that millions of dollars in White House funds might have been helped pay for the surveillance efforts (AP). NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly on February 27 defended his department's intelligence program, accusing critics of having "short memories as to what happened here in 2001 (NYT). And U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said on February 28 that the Justice Department will review the allegations to decide whether they warrant an official investigation (AP).

Trials and Tribulations

  • A French court on February 27 tried three men in absentia who are accused of carrying out a gun and grenade attack on a Greek cruise ship in 1988 that killed nine people, three of whom were French citizens (APAFP).
  • The prosecutor of a U.N.-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri on March 2 filed a new indictment adding a fifth suspect to the list of Lebanese Hezbollah members thought to be responsible for the attack (Reuters).
  • Indonesia's top court on February 28 reinstated a 15-year jail term assigned to radical Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who has been a vocal supporter of violent jihad against the United States (TelJakarta GlobeAFP).

Dennis Brack-Pool/Getty Images