The LWOT: Bombing attempt in Times Square fails; Lieberman wants to strip citizenship of suspected American terrorists

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TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

Terrorist attack on New York fails; Pakistani-American arrested and charged

A flood of reporting and speculation has emerged surrounding the failed terrorist attack on Times Square Saturday evening, where naturalized U.S. citizen Faisal Shahzad drove a 1993 Nissan Pathfinder packed with fireworks, propane and gasoline cans, and inert fertilizer into the heavily trafficked area and attempted to set off an explosion (for full coverage of the many developments in this case from the past week, follow Katherine Tiedemann's Daily Brief at Foreign Policy's AfPak Channel).

Authorities arrested Shahzad on May 3, pulling him from an Emirates airlines flight to Dubai that he boarded despite having been placed on a "no-fly" list earlier in the day (Washington Post). By May 4, a criminal complaint had been filed against Shahzad (available here). Federal officials, including U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, have said that Shahzad cooperated before and after being read his Miranda rights and waived his right to counsel.

Terrorist attack on New York fails; Pakistani-American arrested and charged

A flood of reporting and speculation has emerged surrounding the failed terrorist attack on Times Square Saturday evening, where naturalized U.S. citizen Faisal Shahzad drove a 1993 Nissan Pathfinder packed with fireworks, propane and gasoline cans, and inert fertilizer into the heavily trafficked area and attempted to set off an explosion (for full coverage of the many developments in this case from the past week, follow Katherine Tiedemann’s Daily Brief at Foreign Policy‘s AfPak Channel).

Authorities arrested Shahzad on May 3, pulling him from an Emirates airlines flight to Dubai that he boarded despite having been placed on a "no-fly" list earlier in the day (Washington Post). By May 4, a criminal complaint had been filed against Shahzad (available here). Federal officials, including U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, have said that Shahzad cooperated before and after being read his Miranda rights and waived his right to counsel.

Shahzad has admitted to receiving bomb-making training in North Waziristan, and allegedly told investigators that he was "inspired" by the radical American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, though it does not appear that Shahzad actually had contact with the cleric (NYT, Times, Washington Post). In the past week, Pakistani authorities have arrested several people in connection with the attack, including members of the group Jaish-e-Mohammed and at least two relatives of Shahzad, leading to allegations that Pakistani militant groups, including some with links to the Pakistani security services, are expanding their mutual ties (NYT, Washington Post). However, despite growing evidence of links between Shahzad and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, as well as conflicting claims from the group itself, it remains unknown who if anyone trained, funded, and directed Shahzad (WSJ, NYT). Shahzad has been charged with five federal offenses, including attempting to use weapons of mass destruction (AP, CBS).

The decision to Mirandize Shahzad soon after his arrest brought heated criticism from Republican congressional leaders. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) suggested trying Shahzad in front of a military tribunal, despite the fact that Shahzad is a U.S. citizen and the commissions are only authorized to try "alien unprivileged enemy belligerents" (NYT). Holder pushed back against this criticism in congressional testimony May 6, noting that reading Shahzad his Miranda rights did not stop him from talking to investigators (Legal Times). Still, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) have proposed a law that would strip the citizenship from any American accused of providing "material support" to a foreign terrorist group or joined such a group. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who initially expressed tepid support for the proposal, told reporters through a spokesperson that the bill "would be found unconstitutional in this context and would also be ineffective" (Washington Post). The proposed bill has also encountered opposition from Republican leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) as well as legal scholars (NYT).

In response to this failed attack, the U.S. government will tighten control over how and when airlines check their manifests for prohibited passengers (Washington Post). And though current reporting maintains that alert Customs and Border Protection or other counterterrorism officials spotted Shahzad’s name on the Emirates’ flight manifest and notified the FBI before the plane could take off, confusion continues to swirl about initial reports from CBS News that Army intelligence aircraft helped track Shahzad to the plane. This reporting does not appear in later stories about the arrest, and the White House has denied any military role in locating Shahzad (The Nation, The Atlantic).

Defense calls on former interrogators in Khadr hearing

The pretrial hearings to determine whether evidence against Guantánamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr resulted from torture continued this week, despite a ruling from presiding judge Col. Patrick Parrish that the hearing will pause for four weeks starting sometime after May 7 so the government can conduct an independent mental evaluation (WIND). This week’s hearings featured several anonymous interrogators who questioned Khadr, including a former interrogator nicknamed "The Monster," Damien Corsetti, who was acquitted in a 2006 court-martial but has admitted to abusing prisoners during interrogation (WIND, WIND). Corsetti did not interrogate Khadr directly, but spoke to his sympathy for Khadr’s situation and treatment (Miami Herald).

The interrogators provided conflicting accounts of Khadr’s treatment. A Navy interrogator, dubbed "Agent 11," who interrogated him at Gitmo, said she treated him well and that he "smiled a lot and was always willing to talk." The first official to interrogate Khadr, "Interrogator #2," denied abuse, but admitted that Khadr might have been subject to "stress positions" and was initially interrogated while under sedation (Miami Herald, WIND). And "Interrogator #1" testified that, though he did not threaten Khadr directly with rape, he concocted a story about a young Afghan prisoner who lied to interrogators, was sent to a U.S. prison, and raped brutally (WIND).

The Pentagon on May 6 also banned four experienced reporters from returning to Gitmo to cover trials — Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star, Steven Edwards of Canwest, Paul Koring of the Globe and Mail, and Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald — after they reported the name of "Interrogator #1", despite the fact that identifying information about the interrogator was disclosed in open court (WIND).

Trials and Tribulations

  • A British judge ruled May 4 that the government could not suppress secret evidence of British complicity in the abuse of six former Gitmo detainees who are suing the government over its role in their treatment. This raises the likelihood that the government will settle with the men out of court (Guardian).
  • The United States has reportedly deployed armed drones to Yemen in a stepped up effort to target radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki (Telegraph). And the Los Angeles Times reports that since 2008, the CIA has had permission to target militants in Pakistan without fully identifying them, based on "pattern of life" evidence that the individuals are involved with the Taliban or al Qaeda (LAT).
  • Two Gitmo detainees were released this week to Spain and Bulgaria, dropping the prisoner population of the camp to 181 (Reuters).
  • An Indian court has sentenced the only surviving Mumbai attacker, Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, to be hanged (AJE). He will be only the second person executed in India since 1998.
  • Two Brooklyn men, Wesam El-Hanafi and Sabirha Hasanoff, were arrested late last Friday and charged with providing material support to al Qaeda. Hanafi is a U.S. citizen, and allegedly swore an oath of allegiance to the organization in Yemen in 2008 (WNYC).
  • On May 3, a federal judge delayed the trials of two women, Colleen LaRose and Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, who were allegedly part of an international terrorist plot broken up in March (AP).

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