The LWOT: Abu Talhah in court; Khadr trial moves forward

Foreign Policy and the New America Foundation bring you a weekly brief on the legal war on terror. You can read it on ForeignPolicy.com or get it delivered directly to your inbox -- just sign up here.

John Moore/Getty Images
John Moore/Getty Images
John Moore/Getty Images

No bail for you

A federal judge on July 26 refused to set bail for Zachary Chesser, known in jihadist forums and across the Internet as Abu Talhah al-Amreeki, in light of the charges against him and purported threat that he poses to the community and his family (Washington Post). Chesser was arrested last week on charges that he attempted to provide material support to the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab organization in Somalia, after he twice tried to travel to Somalia in an alleged attempt to join the organization.

No bail for you

A federal judge on July 26 refused to set bail for Zachary Chesser, known in jihadist forums and across the Internet as Abu Talhah al-Amreeki, in light of the charges against him and purported threat that he poses to the community and his family (Washington Post). Chesser was arrested last week on charges that he attempted to provide material support to the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab organization in Somalia, after he twice tried to travel to Somalia in an alleged attempt to join the organization.

Newly-released documents detail further conversations between Chesser and the FBI. After his arrest, Chesser reportedly offered to help the FBI and possibly serve as an informant if the FBI allowed him to go to East Africa (Fox). The Washington Post this week ran an extensive profile of Chesser’s youth and progression toward a radical practice of Islam (Washington Post).

The beat goes on at Guantánamo

A Canadian judge this week overruled a lower court decision that would have required the Canadian government to intervene with the U.S. Department of Defense to "protect [Guantánamo Bay detainee Omar] Khadr’s rights" – a ruling that in practice could have forced the government to ask for Khadr to be repatriated (Globe and Mail, Toronto Sun). Khadr’s trial for allegedly killing a Special Forces soldier in Afghanistan in 2002 at the age of 15 will be a test case for the revamped military commissions under President Barack Obama. However, some experts in and out of the government still believe that the circumstances of the case and Khadr’s age at the time of his arrest make this a poor first case for the new system (Politico, Foreign Policy). Khadr’s lawyers this week called for their client to be tried in a U.S. or Canadian civilian court, and released a letter their defendant wrote in May calling his impending trial a "sham." (Toronto Star, Washington Post).

The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg this week outlined the increasing restrictions placed on journalists trying to cover judicial proceedings at Gitmo, and a group of reporters will have the chance to discuss their grievances with senior Pentagon officials in an August 2 meeting (Miami Herald, McClatchy). Conditions at the prison have improved markedly, however, and most of the remaining 176 detainees live communally with some access to Skype and satellite television, though 15 to 20 detainees are still on hunger strike and the camp’s "high value detainees" remain in isolation (Miami Herald).

An Algerian man forcibly repatriated to his native country from Gitmo last week who subsequently went missing, Aziz Abdul Naji, is at home with his family, after having been briefly detained by Algerian authorities (Reuters, AP). He has been placed under "judicial supervision" and must report weekly to the local police station while a judge decides whether he will be investigated for links to terrorism.

FBI defends information collection rules

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to force the FBI to reveal data that it has collected on the racial and ethnic makeup of communities in 29 states and the District of Columbia (CNN). The ACLU, along with the organization Muslim Advocates, have argued that 2008 guidelines authorizing FBI agents to collect this data put Muslim communities at risk for profiling and unfair surveillance.

In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee July 28, FBI Director Robert Mueller asserted that FBI agents are trained to avoid unfair practices, and that the policy is meant to allow field offices to better understand their local environment in order to gather intelligence and protect at-risk communities (LAT, AP). Mueller also pushed back against allegations that FBI agents cheated on tests following the 16 hours of training agents receive on the guidelines (CNN). He also supported a proposed law to require sellers of pre-paid cell phones, which failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad used, to record the identity of their purchasers (AP).

A White House proposal would expand what the FBI can ask for without a judge’s approval – using so-called National Security Letters – to include data on internet activity (Washington Post, AFP). The order would be an extension of Patriot Act provisions, and allow the FBI to demand information on a suspect’s sent email addresses, email timestamps, and potentially browser histories, but reportedly not internet search terms.

The Associated Press has a must-read story this week on the irregularities and possible procedural violations behind the 2005 destruction of 92 tapes showing the harsh interrogations of detainees Abu Zubaydah and Rahim al-Nashiri (AP). The tapes’ destruction is the subject of a soon-to-be concluded investigation by federal prosecutor John Durham.

Deliberations begin in JFK plot trial

Jury deliberation began July 27 in the trial of Russel Defreitas and Abdul Kadir, accused of plotting to bomb fuel depots and gas lines at New York’s JFK Airport (CBS). The prosecution’s closing statement focused on tapes of Defreitas discussing the plot and Kadir’s alleged offers of advice to Defreitas, while the defense sought to portray Defreitas as a "man with a small mind, big mouth and an ugly imagination" but not a terrorist (WSJ). The defense also tried to cast doubt on the role that government informant Stephen Francis, a convicted drug trafficker, played in the case (AP).

Trials and Tribulations

  • Claiming that fears of torture made their client incapable of rational thought, lawyers for Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, convicted in February of attacking U.S. military officers and FBI agents in Afghanistan, urged the U.S. District Court in Manhattan to sentence her to 12 years in prison rather than a possible life sentence (AP).
  • President Obama’s selection to lead the U.S. Central Command, Gen. James Mattis, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 27 that two leading Afghan insurgent groups, The Quetta Shura and the Haqqani Network, should be added to the State Department list of banned terrorist organizations (Reuters).
  • Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik acknowledged July 26 that Faisal Shahzad met Pakistani Taliban leader Hekimullah Mehsud during one of the former’s trips to Pakistan after a video emerged of the two embracing and shaking hands (AFP).
  • A British court ruling, which overturned the three and a half-year house arrest without trial of three men under the policy of "control orders," may clear the way for two of the men to seek damages from the British government (Guardian, AP).
  • A three-judge panel in Britain has ruled that eight men deported based on secret national security evidence do not have the right to know more about the allegations against them, owing to limits on revealing national security information put in place by Britain’s parliament (BBC).
  • Residents of King Salmon, Alaska, expressed shock this week that two beloved former residents of the small town, Paul and Nadia Rockwood, had pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI on questions related to domestic terrorism (LAT).

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.