The LWOT: U.S. Confirms Awlaki on CIA Hit List; Gitmo Military Trial Begins

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U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki placed on CIA hit list

U.S. officials confirmed this week that U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki has been added to a CIA and Joint Special Operations Command list of suspected terrorists to "capture or kill," and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) on Tuesday referred to Awlaki as "terrorist number one." Awlaki has been linked to Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who perpetrated the November 2009 Fort Hood shooting, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to bomb Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day, 2009.

Despite intelligence agency claims that Awlaki has moved beyond preaching in support of terrorism and "gone operational," doubts remain about Awlaki’s actual links to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the potential benefits of targeting him. More seriously, the authorization to kill Awlaki without judicial process or oversight, and without publicly demonstrating his links to terrorist operations, raises grave legal questions about the president’s authority to kill suspected terrorists, let alone a U.S. citizen. Even National Review Online writer Kevin D. Williamson wrote, "Odious as Awlaki is, this seems to me to be setting an awful and reckless precedent."

Military commission opens, immediately faces difficulty

The first of five military commissions authorized by Attorney General Eric Holder opened at Guantánamo Bay April 7 with a pretrial motion for accused terrorist Noor Uthman Mohammed, arrested in 2002 and charged with having helped run al Qaeda’s Khalden training camp in Afghanistan. Yet the commission immediately faced critiques, from military lawyers and civil liberties advocates alike, for taking place while Barack Obama’s administration is still revising the procedures governing these commissions. The next military commission hearing is scheduled for April 28, when it will hear the case of Canadian Omar Khadr.

The Navy judge presiding over Mohammed’s proceedings said it could take her a year to sift through and evaluate the classified evidence for the case, potentially delaying the trial’s start until 2011. And despite arguments that military commissions are better-equipped to handle classified information than civilian courts, chief military commissions prosecutor Capt. John F. Murphy told reporters that there is "little practical difference" between the way civilian and military courts deal with secret material.

Judge voids habeas cases

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Hogan dismissed the habeas corpus petitions of 105 Guantánamo detainees who have already been released, sometimes to third countries. Hogan ruled that, because the men had been released, the court did not need to decide whether their detention was illegal. However, lawyers for the former detainees argued that a ruling is still necessary to clear their clients of suspicion and, in some cases, remove them from terrorist watch lists. In this week’s must-read article, the New York Times‘ Mike McIntire details the proliferation of these watch lists under Obama and the often murky process for adding or removing a name from them.

Meanwhile, lawyers for five Guantánamo detainees urged the D.C. Circuit Court to oppose a Justice Department brief that would inhibit the federal courts’ ability to order Gitmo detainees released as a result of habeas rulings.

Subtle change in Obama’s approach to the Muslim world?

Anonymous sources reported this week that Obama’s forthcoming National Security Strategy will not contain words like "Islamic radicalism." The subtle rhetorical shift would mark a break from the National Security Strategy of George W. Bush, which argued: "The struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century."

The new approach is meant to show that U.S. engagement with Muslim countries will extend beyond counterterrorism issues. However, observers such as the Washington Times’ Eli Lake continue to question whether Obama’s counterterrorism policy is different in practice from that of George W. Bush.

Trials and Tribulations

  • The Qatari diplomat briefly detained April 7 after making a very bad joke to a U.S. marshal on a flight to Denver, was on an official visit to convicted terrorist Ali al-Marri, currently held at the supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.
  • Former Gitmo detainee Adel Hassan Hamad, released in 2007 without charge, sued two dozen U.S. officials April 7 for his "forced disappearance and torture." In support of the suit Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, signed a statement saying Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and President Bush covered up the presence of innocent men at Gitmo to avoid a political backlash.
  • In comments to students at Fordham University, Michael Sulick, head of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, said "I don’t think we’ve suffered at all from an intelligence standpoint" from the Obama administration’s ban on waterboarding.
  • Chicago taxi driver Raja Lahrasib Khan pleaded not guilty April 5 to attempting to send money to al Qaeda via terrorist leader Ilyas Kashmiri.
  • German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière faced criticism this week from his own conservative party for saying Germany would consider accepting Gitmo detainees. And in meetings with Attorney General Holder April 8, Spain agreed to resettle four additional Gitmo prisoners.
  • On April 2 federal prosecutors filed terrorism charges against Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, known in the media as "Jihad Jamie," in relation to a series of arrests last month over an alleged plot to kill a Swedish cartoonist who depicted the Prophet Mohammed. Paulin-Ramirez entered a plea of not guilty on April 7.
  • Influential Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón was indicted April 7 for overstepping his authority in investigating crimes committed during the brutal dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco.
  • Attorney General Holder this week signed the first criminal law enforcement agreement between the United States and Algeria, covering issues from organized crime to terrorism.
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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