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The LWOT: ‘JihadJane’ Indicted; No 9/11 Trial Decision Forthcoming

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Tom Green County Jail via Getty Images
Tom Green County Jail via Getty Images

U.S. reveals the charges against "JihadJane"

On March 9, federal prosecutors unsealed the federal grand jury indictment against Colleen LaRose, a Pennsylvania resident arrested in October and charged with conspiring to engage in terrorist acts abroad, aiding terrorists, lying to federal agents, and attempting identity theft.

LaRose, a convert to Islam who also went by the names "Fatima LaRose" and "JihadJane," allegedly connected to militants over the Internet. Prosecutors allege she stole a U.S. man’s passport to give to jihadists overseas. Additionally, they allege she tried to recruit other Americans to the jihadi cause and took part in an international plot to try to murder the Swedish cartoonist who drew the Prophet Mohammed’s head on a dog’s body in 2007. LaRose is reportedly cooperating with investigators, providing information that lead to the arrest of seven people in Ireland on suspicion of involvement in the plot to kill the cartoonist.

U.S. Attorney Michael L. Levy said that the arrest "shatters any lingering thought that we can spot a terrorist based on appearance."

Decision on 9/11 trials gets pushed down the road

On March 5, the White House said there will be no decision in the coming weeks on whether to try the alleged 9/11 plotters in civilian or military court. The Wall Street Journal reports that President Barack Obama is leaning toward military commissions, seeming to indicate a diminishment in Attorney General Eric Holder’s influence in the White House.

Some national security experts (including former officials from George W. Bush’s administration) came out in support of keeping both options open. And the top U.N. official for human rights urged the Obama administration to prosecute the purported 9/11 planners in civilian court.

Talat Hamdani, the mother of a New York City police cadet killed in the 9/11 attacks, expressed her frustration at the possibility of military tribunals for the accused plotters:

If the administration reverses itself now, it would almost be worse than had it made the wrong decision to begin with. Not only will our hopes have been raised only to be dashed, but it would send the message that our principled decisions become expendable when the going gets tough. That is not the legacy I wish for my son.

In the meantime, Democrats continue to negotiate with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who wants to exchange closing the Guantánamo Bay prison (a Democratic priority) for trying the alleged 9/11 plotters before military commissions (a Republican one). Still, it is unclear whether Graham has the GOP support to seal his end of the potential deal.

The Washington Independent‘s Spencer Ackerman reports that Graham has also put forward a proposal allowing for the indefinite detention of terrorist suspects. Ackerman has a must-read on the differences between civilian and military courts on the handling of classified information. In short, there aren’t any.

More pushback on "Al Qaeda 7" ads

The video from the political action committee Keep America Safe that all but accuses Justice Department attorneys representing Guantánamo detainees of being terrorist sympathizers continued to gin up controversy.

Former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen defended the accusations in an uncomfortable Daily Show episode. But other Republicans — including former Bush officials Michael Mukasey and Ted Olson as well as former "enhanced interrogations" defender David Rivkin — scolded Republicans for bashing the lawyers or insinuating any bad faith on their part.

Plus, in a shocking piece on Salon, Mark Benjamin detailed the actual waterboarding techniques used on suspected terrorist detainees. And in an interview with the BBC, former senior advisor Karl Rove asserted that the technique "broke the will" of terrorists but is not torture.

Judicial anarchy in the U.K.

The former head of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller, told the British Parliament that until her retirement in 2007, the United States deliberately concealed information about harsh interrogations at Guantánamo Bay from the British government. She also said Britain did not know that the United States tortured detainees — an assertion The Guardian and others refuted.

The six former Guantánamo Bay detainees suing the British government for complicity in their treatment in the prison are appealing a ruling that allows the government to defend itself using secret evidence. British law holds that the government can use secret evidence in criminal cases, but there is no precedent in civil cases.

Yemen back in the news

On March 11, a British Airways employee accused of funding terrorist operations in Yemen and Bangladesh and recruiting suicide bombers appeared in court in London. He had allegedly volunteered to perform a suicide attack in Yemen or Pakistan and passed on information about ways to defeat airport security measures.

A suspected U.S. member of al Qaeda is in custody in Yemen after he tried to shoot his way out of a hospital in the capital city of Sanaa. The man, Sharif Mobley, was picked up early this month by Yemeni authorities along with 10 other suspected al Qaeda members.

Trials and Tribulations

  • The U.S. government is considering repatriating Canadian Guantánamo detainee Omar Khadr, who faces a military tribunal in June for allegedly killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan. Khadr’s lawyers have demanded his repatriation, but Canada’s courts have thus far refused to intervene.
  • Nine people with suspected links to al Qaeda went on trial in Belgium March 8, including the widow of one of the men who killed famed Afghan guerrilla leader Ahmed Shah Masood.
  • The failed bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day has led to a near doubling of the number of names on the Transportation Security Administration’s no-fly list, from 3,400 to 6,000 people.
  • Mauritania’s Constitutional Council rejected 10 articles of a controversial anti-terrorism law that passed in January. The Mauritanian government said it will accept the council’s decision.
  • Much to the chagrin of U.S. counterterrorism officials, Pakistani security services announced that the American al Qaeda operative arrested on March 7 was not propagandist Adam Gadahn, but a different individual with a similar name.
  • A man thought to be a citizen of Eritrea and a resident of Sweden has been brought from Nigeria to the United States to face charges that he gave money to the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab and received training in a Shabab camp.
  • Spain reportedly paid a $5 million ransom for the release of an aid worker held since November by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The Spanish woman was one of three seized in Mauritania and held in northern Mali.
  • Pakistan has once again delayed filing formal charges against five Americans arrested on suspicion of terrorism in December, rescheduling their day in court for March 17. The Washington Post looked at the shock the men’s arrest has caused in their Northern Virginia community.
Andrew Lebovich is a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a doctoral candidate in African history at Columbia University. He is currently based in Senegal and has conducted field research in Niger and Mali.

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