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- By Jennifer RowlandJennifer Rowland is a research associate in the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation.
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 (AP, WSJ, WSJ, NPR, Politico, Post). 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 (Lawfare, Lawfare, Lawfare).
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 (AFP, Tel). 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" (NYT, Reuters, WSJ, AP, LAT, Guardian). 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 (AP, Reuters,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 (AFP, NPR, ABC).
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 (AP, NYT, Reuters). ‘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 Globe, Boston 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).