The LWOT: Trial set for first Gitmo inmate transferred to civilian system; Britain torture woes continue

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JANET HAMLIN/AFP/Getty Images
JANET HAMLIN/AFP/Getty Images
JANET HAMLIN/AFP/Getty Images

Ghailani to stand trial September 27

In a decision released July 13 (available here), U.S. District Court Judge Lewis A. Kaplan ruled that the lengthy interrogation and incarceration of former Guantánamo Bay detainee Ahmed Ghailani did not violate his right to a speedy trial. The ruling means that Ghailani's trial will take place as planned, making him the first Guantánamo inmate to face trial in a civilian court (NYT). Kaplan ruled that Ghailani's two-year interrogation and three-year detention at secret prisons and at Guantánamo were due to "compelling interests of national security" owing to Ghailani's alleged relationship to Osama bin Laden. He will stand trial for his purported role in the 1998 East African embassy bombings (AP, VOA). Parts of Kaplan's ruling, including a section dealing with the harsh interrogation tactics Ghailani says he was subjected to by the CIA, remain classified.

By ruling against Ghailani, Kaplan also removed a major legal hurdle that could have prevented the civilian prosecutions of Gitmo's "high-value" detainees, including September 11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (Washington Post). In a July 11 interview, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said his preference was still to try Mohammed and four others in a civilian court, but said the Obama administration was looking for an appropriate venue (CBS). Holder also blamed Congress, among other parties, for holding up administration priorities such as the closing Gitmo (AP, AFP).

Ghailani to stand trial September 27

In a decision released July 13 (available here), U.S. District Court Judge Lewis A. Kaplan ruled that the lengthy interrogation and incarceration of former Guantánamo Bay detainee Ahmed Ghailani did not violate his right to a speedy trial. The ruling means that Ghailani’s trial will take place as planned, making him the first Guantánamo inmate to face trial in a civilian court (NYT). Kaplan ruled that Ghailani’s two-year interrogation and three-year detention at secret prisons and at Guantánamo were due to "compelling interests of national security" owing to Ghailani’s alleged relationship to Osama bin Laden. He will stand trial for his purported role in the 1998 East African embassy bombings (AP, VOA). Parts of Kaplan’s ruling, including a section dealing with the harsh interrogation tactics Ghailani says he was subjected to by the CIA, remain classified.

By ruling against Ghailani, Kaplan also removed a major legal hurdle that could have prevented the civilian prosecutions of Gitmo’s "high-value" detainees, including September 11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (Washington Post). In a July 11 interview, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said his preference was still to try Mohammed and four others in a civilian court, but said the Obama administration was looking for an appropriate venue (CBS). Holder also blamed Congress, among other parties, for holding up administration priorities such as the closing Gitmo (AP, AFP).

Bybee says some CIA interrogation techniques "not authorized"

The House Judiciary Committee July 15 released the full transcript (available here) of a day-long closed-door session from May with former Bush Administration lawyer and current federal judge Jay Bybee, who along with John Yoo wrote a set of memos authorizing the harsh treatment of "high-value" detainees (Judiciary, NYT). Bybee told the committee, among other things, that CIA interrogators used unauthorized techniques, such as diapering a detainee, beatings, subjecting detainees to loud music, extended isolation and hanging a detainee from hooks in the ceiling (LAT). Bybee also told the committee that he and Yoo envisioned a more limited application of waterboarding when they wrote the memo authorizing its use in 2002, both in termsof how the practice was applied and in how many times it could be used.

Committee Democrats urged the Justice Department to expand Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham’s ongoing probe into the destruction of CIA interrogation tapes to include an investigation into possible overreach by interrogators (Washington Post). A federal judge Thursday blocked an attempt to force the release of documents relating to the techniques used on detainees after 9/11 (AP).

Some go, some stay

Gitmo detainee Mohammed Odaini returned to Yemen this week, despite the Obama administration’s ban on repatriations to the troubled Arabian Peninsula state (BBC). A U.S. court determined in May that "there is no evidence that Odaini has any connection to al-Qaeda."

For the first time in a habeas case, a federal appeals panel overruled a lower court ruling freeing detainee Mohammed al-Adahi, making al-Adahi the 15th detainee to lose a habeas petition (NYT).  Judge A. Raymond Randolph disagreed with the previous ruling that a preponderance of evidence did not suggest that al-Adahi had been a member of al Qaeda. He relied on classified evidence in deciding that, "there can be no doubt that al Adahi was more likely than not part of al Qaeda" (Reuters).

Gitmo detainee and Canadian citizen Omar Khadr rejected a plea deal this week, and told a military court July 12 that he will not "give the US government an excuse for torturing [him]and abusing [him] when [he] was a child." The deal would have returned Khadr to Canada in 2015 if he admitted that he was guilty of working with al Qaeda in Afghanistan and killing a Special Forces medic (Miami Herald, AJE). Khadr also attempted to fire his American military lawyer, and said he would boycott his scheduled August 10 trial; presiding judge Col. Patrick Parrish ordered Khadr’s lawyer to continue representing him.

Evidence emerges of British involvement in interrogations, renditions

An initial batch of memos, released this week in Britain as part of a lawsuit by six former Guantánamo detainees, indicate a high level of complicity from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government in the detention and rendition of British subjects after the 9/11 attacks (Guardian, AP). The 900 documents – just a fraction of the 500,000 that may eventually be released — reveal that transferring British detainees from Afghanistan to Guantánamo was the Foreign Ministry’s "preferred option" for dealing with them, and that then-Foreign Minister Jack Straw asked that British intelligence officers be allowed to interrogate suspects before rendition (BBC).

The documents show that the Prime Minister’s office shut down an attempt by the Foreign Office to gain access to a British-Zambian citizen, Martin Mubanga, detained in Zambia in 2002. The move would have effectively "claimed" him as British and forced his release into British custody (Guardian, Telegraph). Mubanga was held at Gitmo for 33 months before being released.

Three men convicted in the United Kingdom for their involvement in a 2006 plot to blow up transatlantic airliners received life sentences, with a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison, this week (NYT, CNN, AP). And Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May announced this week that the government would review several controversial counterterrorism practices, including the length of pre-trial detention for terrorism suspects, "stop and search" powers, and the government’s ability to deport foreign nationals on national security grounds (BBC).

Trials and Tribulations

  • Two Chicago-area cousins, Zubair and Khaleel Ahmed, were sentenced July 12 to 10 years and eight years and four months in prison, respectively, for attempting to travel to Afghanistan or Iraq to fight U.S. troops (LAT). However, the two only got as far as Egypt before being forced to return to the United States by their father, where they continued planning to go abroad to fight.
  • A group of five Uighurs detained at Gitmo formally asked the full D.C. Circuit Court to hear their appeal of a three-judge panel’s ruling in Kiyemba v. Obama, which upheld the government’s right to keep detainees from being released into the United States (SCOTUS blog).
  • Six Gitmo detainees from Algeria said they would rather stay at the prison than return to their country, saying they will be tortured if they are repatriated (Washington Post).
  • Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) called this week for two of the main Afghan Taliban factions-The Quetta Shura and the Haqqani Network-to be added to the State Department list of banned terrorist organizations (Washington Post).
  • Turkey this week extradited to Germany a German citizen suspected of having undergone terrorist training in Pakistan’s Waziristan region as a member of the Islamic Jihad Union (Deutsche Welle)
  • After two months of waiting in Egypt, FBI interrogations, and a New York Times profile, Virginia resident Yahya Wehelie has been allowed off the U.S. no-fly list, and is returning home (AP).

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