The LWOT: Khadr trial off to a rocky start; Abdulmutallab and Awlaki videos released

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BRENNAN LINSLEY/AFP/Getty Images
BRENNAN LINSLEY/AFP/Getty Images
BRENNAN LINSLEY/AFP/Getty Images

Khadr hearings open amidst confusion and delays

Pre-trial hearings at Guantánamo Bay for Canadian detainee Omar Khadr began April 28, in order to determine whether Khadr's self-incriminating statements to interrogators were the result of mistreatment at the hands of his captors, and thus inadmissible (LAT). Since filing a motion in November 2008, Khadr's defense attorneys have claimed that their client's statements should be suppressed and have promised to bring witnesses forward who can testify to his alleged abuse (Jurist). These arguments, and the prosecution's aggressive objections, dominated the first day of hearings, which are expected to last for several weeks (Washington Post).

Prosecutors purportedly offered Khadr a deal that would have granted him a five-year sentence in exchange for a guilty plea before the beginning of the hearing; Khadr appears to have rejected the deal (WIND). Further complicating matters, the first day of Khadr's hearing was delayed so that the lawyers and judges could review the long-awaited manual setting out guidelines for the military commissions, which was not signed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates until the evening of April 27 (WIND). But the Miami Herald's Carol Rosenberg points out that the new manual does not tackle a major question looming over military commissions: whether a detainee who pleads guilty in a military commission can be sentenced to death (Miami Herald).

Khadr hearings open amidst confusion and delays

Pre-trial hearings at Guantánamo Bay for Canadian detainee Omar Khadr began April 28, in order to determine whether Khadr’s self-incriminating statements to interrogators were the result of mistreatment at the hands of his captors, and thus inadmissible (LAT). Since filing a motion in November 2008, Khadr’s defense attorneys have claimed that their client’s statements should be suppressed and have promised to bring witnesses forward who can testify to his alleged abuse (Jurist). These arguments, and the prosecution’s aggressive objections, dominated the first day of hearings, which are expected to last for several weeks (Washington Post).

Prosecutors purportedly offered Khadr a deal that would have granted him a five-year sentence in exchange for a guilty plea before the beginning of the hearing; Khadr appears to have rejected the deal (WIND). Further complicating matters, the first day of Khadr’s hearing was delayed so that the lawyers and judges could review the long-awaited manual setting out guidelines for the military commissions, which was not signed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates until the evening of April 27 (WIND). But the Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg points out that the new manual does not tackle a major question looming over military commissions: whether a detainee who pleads guilty in a military commission can be sentenced to death (Miami Herald).

The second day of hearings was also delayed because Khadr complained of eye pain, and refused to don blackout goggles for his trip — in a windowless truck — to the hearing room (Miami Herald). The dispute was resolved after hurried consultations, and the judge presiding over the case, Col. Patrick Parrish, reportedly agreed to end the hearing early on April 29 on account of Khadr’s physical pain (WIND).  

During the afternoon session the prosecution showed a 25-minute video of Khadr in Afghanistan, one that vacillates between the serious, the mundane, and the humorous; the video reportedly shows a youthful Khadr wiring anti-personnel mines and other improvised explosive devices, but does not show Khadr actually planting explosives (Globe and Mail, WIND). The court also heard from an FBI interrogator who interviewed Khadr about his family’s ties to al Qaeda at Bagram Air Base in 2002 (Washington Post).

New York men plead guilty to helping al Qaeda

On April 27 the FBI announced that U.S. citizen Syed Hashmi would plead guilty to providing material support to al Qaeda, agreeing to serve up to 15 years in prison, of which he has already served four (Newsweek). Hashmi admitted to allowing a friend to stay with him in 2004, knowing that the friend had "some ponchos, waterproof socks, and sleeping bags to be delivered" to al Qaeda, and giving the friend $300 to fly to Pakistan to deliver the material (AP). The guilty plea came as Hashmi was scheduled to go on trial in New York, where his supporters have held vigils to protest his imprisonment in both the United Kingdom and the United States, including the three years that Hashmi spent in solitary confinement (AJE).

Former taxi driver Zarein Ahmedzay confessed in federal court April 23 to charges that he helped plan suicide bombings targeting prominent locations in New York City, including the New York subway system, along with Najibullah Zazi (Newsweek, Washington Post). Ahmedzay told the court that he, Zazi, and another man had gone to Pakistan in 2008 to fight U.S. forces in Afghanistan. While there, they met two senior al Qaeda leaders and received instructions to return to the United States to commit attacks. The two leaders, Rashid Rauf and Saleh al-Somali, were reportedly killed in U.S. drone strikes in 2008.

Those drone strikes were the subject of a hearing on April 27 before the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, featuring four legal scholars (CNN). The four scholars disagreed on whether or not these strikes are legal under U.S. law. However, they noted that CIA personnel who participate in the strikes, who are not uniformed combatants, may run the risk of prosecution for violating U.S. law and potentially international war crimes statutes (Danger Room).

Videos of Abdulmutallab and Awlaki surface; fighting over Ft. Hood continues

ABC News and Al Jazeera on April 26 received videos made by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) showing failed suicide bomber Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab and radical U.S. cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who allegedly had contact with both Abdulmutallab and Fort Hood gunman Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan (CBS). One tape, featuring  Abdulmutallab training with small arms in a desert setting, purportedly shows AQAP members firing on an unmanned drone and also includes a "martyrdom statement" delivered by Abdulmutallab (ABC News). Federal officials are reviewing the tapes for intelligence information, as well as for possible evidence of additional crimes committed by Abdulmutallab (Reuters).

The showdown between Barack Obama’s administration and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee continued, as the Defense and Justice departments announced they would not comply with a subpoena request in Hasan’s case (Washington Post). Military prosecutors also filed a motion April 27 saying that if Hasan is found guilty of one or more counts of murder, they will seek the death penalty (CNN). Proceedings in the case begin June 1.

Trials and Tribulations

  • Lawyers for an Algerian Gitmo detainee have filed a request for the DC Circuit Court to review the ruling in the "Kiyemba II" case that effectively barred federal judges from blocking orders to transfer detainees to third countries (SCOTUS blog).
  • The Obama administration is negotiating to return non-Afghan prisoners currently held at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan to their home countries (Jurist). Former detainees have recently alleged abuse at a secret compound within the air base (BBC).
  • A British court ruled late last Friday that Algerian Lotfi Raissi, imprisoned for five months in England after the 9/11 attacks after being falsely accused of providing flight training for some of the hijackers, is eligible to receive compensation for his ordeal (Guardian).
  • The United States has decided to allow Indian investigators to interview Mumbai attack plotter David Coleman Headley, resolving a point of contention between the two countries (Dawn). Pakistan has also asked India to allow the lone surviving Mumbai attacker, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, to return to Pakistan to stand trial (AFP). India’s External Affairs minister stated that a decision on his extradition would wait until Kasab’s trial in India concludes (The Express Tribune).
  • The defense attorney for the so-called "D.C. 5," currently standing trial in Pakistan on terrorism charges, told reporters this week that a decision in the case is expected to come sometime next month (CNN).

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