The LWOT: Obama to resume Gitmo trials; Supreme court declines habeas case

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Virginie Montet/AFP/Getty Images
Virginie Montet/AFP/Getty Images

Obama to resume Gitmo trials

 Charlie Savage reported Jan. 20 that U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will soon authorize new military commissions trials at Guantánamo Bay for several detainees, including "high-value" detainee Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the 2000 U.S.S. Cole bombing (NYT). The move is yet another sign that Guantánamo will be open for the foreseeable future, in the face of political pressure against closing the prison and pursuing civilian trials for detainees (WSJ, AFP). 

Nashiri’s case presents challenges for any future commission, due to his torture during CIA interrogations at secret sites in Poland and Thailand (Guardian, RFE/RL). Nashiri’s treatment while in CIA custody is currently under investigation in Poland, where Nashiri was granted "victim status" in October 2010. His trial will also test jurisdictional rules and the looser military commissions statutes regarding the admission of hearsay evidence (NYT).   

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder authorized Nashiri’s military trial along with four others last year, as well as five civilian trials for Guantánamo detainees. Orders for trial will likely also be filed for Ahmed al-Darbi, accused of plotting an attack against oil tankers in the Straits of Hormuz, and an Afghan named Obaydullah, accused of planting explosives that targeted American forces (ProPublica). Only one of the civilian trials, that of Ahmed Khalfain Ghailani, has gone forward, and a federal judge heard arguments from Ghailani’s lawyers Jan. 20, seeking a new trial for their client (CNN, NYT, VOA, AP).  

Supreme Court declines habeas case

The Supreme Court on Jan. 18 declined to hear the habeas petition of Yemeni Gitmo detainee Mohammed al-Adahi, letting stand a D.C. Circuit court reversal of a 2009 order freeing al-Adahi (AP, CSM, Bloomberg). The reversal could help set precedent on several evidentiary rules for evaluating habeas petitions, and Lawfare Blog’s Benjamin Wittes writes that (Lawfare Blog):

The Supreme Court’s unwillingness to hear the case suggests a comfort level with letting the D.C. Circuit continue writing the rules of these habeas cases and a lack of interest in getting down and dirty with the nitty gritty of detention.

In a statement Jan. 18, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Buck McKeon (R-MO) spoke out in favor of Gitmo, saying, "I would like to see if we have detainees in other parts of the world that we can’t seem to decide what to do with, that would be a place for them" (CNN, Lawfare Blog).

Lawyers for five former detainees currently on trial on terrorism charges in France, Ridouane Khalid, Khaled Ben Mustafa, Brahim Yadel, Nizar Sassi and Mourad Benchellali, used documents released by the website WikiLeaks in court on Thursday to argue for their clients’ acquittal (The Canadian Press). And the Swiss government this week denied a claim in a document released by WikiLeaks that the Swiss, in discussions with the U.S. government, linked Swiss cooperation on resettling two Gitmo detainees and Iran sanctions to a U.S. lawsuit against the bank UBS AG (WSJ).  

Report offers new evidence in Daniel Pearl killing

A lengthy investigation by students and instructors at Georgetown University and the Center for Public Integrity has provided new details into the 2002 kidnapping and killing of Wall Street Journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan, unearthing evidence to support 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s 2007 claim to have killed the journalist himself (BBC, CNN, Guardian, NYT). Using "vein matching" the researchers linked the hand in the video of Pearl’s killing to a photograph of KSM taken at Guantánamo. The investigation also found that 14 out of 27 of the individuals involved in the plot are free and that some key figures in the plot, such as Briton Omar Sheikh, could be released from prison due to the use of tainted or false evidence by Pakistani prosecutors (BBC, Telegraph, The Canadian Press).

The report also details how Pearl was originally kidnapped by Sheikh and others from the group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, before al Qaeda figures including KSM and Saif al-Adel took over the operation, dooming Pearl to his brutal murder (Washington Post).

U.S., Britain target Pakistani Taliban

The U.S. State Department announced Jan. 20 that it had designated top Pakistani Taliban commander Qari Hussain a "specially designated global terrorist" freezing any assets in the United States and forbidding Americans from helping Hussain or engaging in trade with him (CNN, Politico, AP). Hussain is notorious for his viciousness and is allegedly a major trainer of suicide bombers for the Pakistani Taliban, reportedly specializing in training children for those operations. He is believed to have been responsible for training the suicide bomber who killed seven CIA agents at their base in Eastern Afghanistan in late 2009 (WSJ).  

The designation comes after British Home Secretary Theresa May on Jan. 18 moved to ban the Pakistani Taliban (Reuters, AP).  

MLK Day march targeted by backpack bomb

City workers in Spokane, Washington on Jan. 18 discovered what the FBI has described as a "viable" explosive that could have caused "multiple casualties" along the planned route for a Martin Luther King Day parade (ABC, NYT, LAT, VOA). The local FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force is investigating the attempted bombing, and the intended target cast suspicion on the reportedly 15 Washington-based white supremacist groups (Washington Post, MSNBC).

Though he has not been in court since pleading guilty last February to plotting coordinated suicide attacks against the New York Subway, Najibullah Zazi may be called to testify against his father, charged with obstructing the investigation into his son, and Adis Medunjanin, charged with being a co-conspirator in Zazi’s plot (The Canadian Press). Zazi is in prison awaiting his June 24 sentencing hearing, at which he is likely to receive life imprisonment.

A federal appeals court this week upheld the 2009 conviction and life sentence of Oussamma Kassir, who attempted to set up a training camp in Oregon in 1999 and 2000 for al Qaeda operatives to train with firearms for attacks in Europe (AP).

And a decision by Rep. Peter King (R-NY), the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, not to include certain critics of American Muslim leaders as witnesses in his upcoming hearings on American Muslim radicalization has sparked protest from some of those excluded from the hearings, including Steve Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, who wrote an angry letter to King in response (Politico).

Trials and Tribulations

  • After suing the U.S. government for not allowing him to leave Kuwait, where he was detained at the behest of U.S. authorities (and allegedly beaten), American Gulet Mohamed reportedly was set to arrive at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, D.C. this morning (Washington Post, CNN).
  • British Home Office Minister Damian Greene announced to parliament on Jan. 20 that the government would let lapse laws allowing the detention of terrorism suspects for 28 days without charge (BBC, CNN, Guardian, Reuters). Terror suspects after Monday can be held for 14 days without charge. Britain’s governing coalition is expected to announce other reforms to controversial anti-terrorism practices next week.
  • Canadian police on Jan. 19 arrested Faruq Khalil Muhammad ‘Isa on a U.S. warrant for allegedly giving support to an unnamed transnational terrorist network responsible for a 2009 suicide bombing at a U.S. base in Mosul, Iraq which killed five American soldiers (FBI, CNN, AP, Toronto Sun).
  • Both the Taliban and Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency the ISI denied reports this week, broken by the Washington Post’s Jeff Stein, that Taliban leader Mullah Omar had been taken to a Karachi hospital by the ISI to have emergency heart surgery (AP, AFP, Washington Post).
  • The trial for a Somali man accused of attempting to kill cartoonist Kurt Westergaard opened Jan. 19 in the Danish city of Arhus (Reuters). Westergaard has been under threat since his cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad ran along with others in the newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005.
  • An Indonesian court on Jan. 19 sentenced a former Indonesian policeman to 10 years in prison for selling weapons to an insurgent group known as Al Qaeda in Aceh (AP).

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