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- By Jennifer RowlandJennifer Rowland is a research associate in the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation.
Alleged Cole bomb planner arraigned at Gitmo
The alleged mastermind of the 2000 U.S.S. Cole bombing that killed 17 U.S. sailors, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was arraigned on November 9 at Guantánamo Bay, accused of murder, acts of terrorism, and conspiracy to carry out acts of terrorism and attacks on civilians, and will face a military tribunal with a potential death sentence beginning no earlier than November 2012 (AFP, LAT, Post, Reuters, Miami Herald, AJE, BBC, NYT,Tel). The military tribunal will be first of its kind begun under President Barack Obama’s administration, the first under new rules designed to make the trials more transparent, and also the first trial of a detainee subjected to harsh interrogation techniques including waterboarding and mock executions. The Pentagon released the Obama administration’s new guidelines for conducting military tribunals on November 7, just two days before al-Nashiri’s arraignment (Miami Herald). In another unprecedented move, the arraignment was broadcast via closed-feed to a room of reporters and Defense Department officials at Guantánamo, and to victims’ families at Ft. Meade, Maryland (Miami Herald, CNN).
Al-Nashiri’s defense attorneys took the opportunity provided in military tribunals to question the judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, on any personal biases he may have that would influence the outcome of the trial, focusing on their argument that by sanctioning al-Nashiri’s "torture," the U.S. government "forfeited its right to try him and certainly to kill him" (Reuters, AFP, Politico, BBC). Colonel Pohl denied the defense’s motion asking for clarification on whether al-Nashiri will be released if he is acquitted, but upheld their motion to end the monitoring of confidential mail between themselves and al-Nashiri. The Post’s Peter Flinn reported on November 8 on the dozens of Gitmo detainees who have been cleared for release, but are being kept at the detention facility because of a provision in the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act that requires the Secretary of Defense to "ensure" that a freed "individual cannot engage or re-engage in any terrorist activity" (Post). And Carol Rosenberg reported on November 8 that the cost of keeping one detainee at Guantánamo Bay is more than 30 times the cost of keeping one prisoner in domestic prisons, arguably making it the most expensive prison in the world (Miami Herald).
Attorney General Eric Holder said in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on November 8 that the U.S. government needs "maximum amounts of flexibility" to defeat terrorism using "all elements of American power," including the ability to try suspected terrorists in civilian courts (AP). Attorney Gen. Holder had been asked about heavily debated provisions in a Senate defense bill, including one requiring military custody of suspects believed to be members of al-Qaeda or affiliated groups, which the White House argues would be a barrier to successful intelligence collection from the suspects.
A federal appeals court in Washington D.C. on November 10 ruled against suspected terrorist Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif’s appeal for release on claims that he has been falsely imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay (CNN). However, the appeals panel ordered a lower court to look again at Latif’s case to see if new evidence lends credibility to his claims. Benjamin Wittes explains why this decision is "a very big deal" (Lawfare).
Jury shown violent videos in terrorism case
Lawyers for Tarek Mehanna, who is charged with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, sought on November 4 to detract from the November 3 testimony of Mehanna’s friend, Ali Aboubakr, by pointing out that he, not only Mehanna, had said he admired Osama bin Laden (AP). Mehanna is accused of travelling to Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen for terrorist training, and with distributing jihadist propaganda in the Internet with the goal of inspiring terrorist attacks. His defense attorneys were not successful in blocking the prosecution on November 7 from showing the jury violent videos allegedly translated and disseminated by Mehanna portraying suicide bombings and glorifications of the 9/11 attacks (Boston Globe). And on November 8, an FBI agent testified that Mehanna became suspicious in 2006 that one of his friends was an informant, and warned another friend in an online conversation to be careful because he was "being watched" (AP).
A suspected terrorist in custody in Germany, Abdeladim Al-Kebir, has been indicted in a federal court in New York on charges of conspiring to provide material support to al-Qaeda and plotting to use a destructive device, according to the indictment unsealed on November 10 (AP, Reuters, BBC). El-Kebir, a Moroccan, was arrested with two others in April by German police on suspicion that they were making a bomb on al-Qaeda’s orders to detonate in a crowded public space.
A lawyer for Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, who is accused of attempting to build a weapon of mass destruction and plotting to attack targets in New York and elsewhere in the United States, filed notice on November 9 of his intention to use an insanity defense (AP). On November 10, the defense team also outlined their argument that the FBI’s use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to conduct warrantless search and seizure in their investigation of Aldawsari was illegal, on grounds that they did not have the evidence required under FISA to prove he was the "agent of a foreign power" (Local). And the four elderly Georgia men accused of plotting bioterrorism attacks on government targets each pleaded not guilty in federal court on November 9 (Reuters).
Alleged terrorism supporter Barry Walter Bujol Jr. told a federal district judge in Houston on November 7 that he never intended to join al-Qaeda, but only wanted to leave the United States because he disagrees with U.S. foreign policy and wanted to become a better Muslim (AP). Bujol is accused of attempting to sneak out of the United States with restricted military documents, money, and equipment, to join al-Qaeda after seeking advice on jihad from slain radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. An FBI informant, identified as Mohammed al-Desari, testified against Bujol on November 9 from behind a partition and wearing a black mask to protect his identity (AP). Tapes were played of alleged conversations recorded during the FBI’s two-year investigation between Bujol and al-Desari, in which Bujol expresses his desire to fight against U.S. troops in Afghanistan and plans to join al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
The AP’s Chris Hawley reported on November 8 on the difficulties New York Muslims may face if they decide to take legal action against the New York Police Department (NYPD) with regard to allegations made by the AP that the NYPD illegally monitored and gathered intelligence on Muslim communities without evidence of wrongdoing (AP). Hawley says that changes to U.S. privacy laws, the creation of the Patriot Act, and the expansion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in the wake of 9/11 have restricted individuals’ ability to prove the government has violated their privacy.
"Carlos the Jackal" on trial in Paris
"Carlos the Jackal," whose real name is Illich Ramírez Sánchez and who is already serving a life sentence for a triple murder in 1975, went on trial in Paris on November 7 for his involvement in four bombings on two trains, a train station, and a newspaper office in France in 1982 and 1983 that killed eleven people and injured over 100 (CNN,LAT, Deutsche Welle, NYT, Tel, Reuters). When the judge asked the Venezuelan-born, 62-year-old Ramírez what his profession is, he answered in accented French, "I am a professional revolutionary, of the Leninist tradition," and claimed that former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had given him Palestinian nationality, before launching into a tirade on the "racist, Zionist state of Israel" (BBC, Guardian, Post, Reuters). Ramírez’s wife and lawyer, Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, whom he married while in prison in 2001, said her husband was in a "fighting mood" and that she is prepared to prove his innocence. Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who has previously praised Ramírez as a "revolutionary fighter," called on the court to respect Ramírez’s rights (Reuters, AP).
A German federal prosecutors’ spokesman announced on November 10 that a German-Afghan man identified as Ahmad Wali Siddiqui was charged on November 2 with membership in the extremist group the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and al-Qaeda, and accused of training in Pakistan with both groups in 2009 and 2010 in order to wage jihad (AP).
Trials and Tribulations
- Eight suspected militants went on trial in Jakarta, Indonesia on November 9 accused of involvement in a suicide bomb attack on a mosque in Cirebon, West Java, which injured at least 28 people (Jakarta Post).
- Three consecutive bomb blasts at a busy market in Baghdad killed at least eight people on November 6, but no group has yet claimed responsibility (AJE).
- A leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Mokhtar Belmokhtar, confirmed worries that his group had obtained weapons from Libya after the ouster of Moammar Gaddafi, saying in an interview with a Mauritanian newspaper that "it’s totally natural we benefited from Libyan arms in such conditions" (AP, Reuters).