The LWOT: Civil rights groups to sue U.S. government; Americans charged with aiding al-Shabaab

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14 Americans charged with aiding al-Shabaab

In four separate indictments unsealed today, 14 U.S. citizens were charged with providing material support to the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab group in Somalia (CNN, Washington Post, Politico, CSM, WSJ).

Federal prosecutors in Southern California and Alabama filed charges against Jehad Mostafa and Omar Hammami (aka Abu Mansoor al-Amriki) for providing material support to al-Shabaab and fighting for the organization. In Minnesota, the FBI arrested and charged two women with raising funds for al-Shabaab through door-to-door visits and fundraising conference calls with other Somalis. Another investigation in Minnesota resulted in charges against 10 men, who are accused of providing material support for al-Shabaab. Seven of these men already face prior charges of supporting the organization (DoJ). The indictments come after a two-year investigation, but many of those indicted are abroad, believed to be currently fighting for al-Shabaab in Somalia.

On August 3, members of the Chicago Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested 26-year-old Shaker Masri, an American citizen born in Alabama, on charges that he planned to travel to Somalia to act as a suicide bomber for al-Shabaab or another al Qaeda-affiliated organization (FBI, AP, ABC). The FBI had been watching Masri for two years, and in an indictment filed August 4 (available here) Masri repeatedly told a confidential informant of his desire to become a suicide bomber and to kill U.S. troops.

According to FBI statements, former U.S. resident Adnan al-Shukrijumah, indicted last month for his involvement in the New York Subway plot, is now al Qaeda’s chief of global operations, a post formerly held by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (CNN, AP). And two features in the Washington Post and CNN this week highlight the growing trend of Americans espousing radical causes, and sometimes trying to leave the country to fight (Washington Post, CNN ).

Groups win the right to sue U.S. government

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights were awarded licenses from the Treasury Department to provide pro bono representation for radical American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who the U.S. government has named a "specially designated global terrorist." (CNN, NYT). The two groups were retained by Awlaki’s father on July 7 to sue the government over Awlaki’s placement on a CIA "hit list," arguing that it is unconstitutional for the government to kill a U.S. citizen away from a battlefield without due process of law (WSJ, Politico).

When Awlaki was designated for U.S. sanctions on July 16, the groups applied for a license to represent Awlaki, as required by law; when they received no response, the groups sued the Treasury Department on August 3, arguing that the requirement of licenses to provide representation was itself unconstitutional (Washington Post, NYT). In granting the groups a license August 4, the Treasury Department stated that there is already a broad license allowing pro bono legal representation of designated terrorists. However, the groups said they will still pursue legal action challenging the licensing process.

Khadr military trial will proceed

Guantánamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr’s military trial next week will go ahead as scheduled, after a last-ditch attempt from his military lawyer to get Khadr out of the military tribunal system failed (CNN, WSJ). Saying the military commissions provide only "second-class justice," Lt. Col. Jon Jackson petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court on August 2 to hear Khadr’s case itself, or force the DC Circuit Court, with whom Jackson filed a plea four months ago, to hear the case (Miami Herald). The DC court ruled on August 4 that Khadr could only appeal the constitutionality of the commissions after he is convicted (SCOTUS Blog).

Calling his treatment "shocking," a Canadian judge this week refused to extradite Omar Khadr’s brother Abdullah to the United States to face charges of supplying weapons to al Qaeda, and instead set him free (Toronto Star, AP). Khadr was detained for 14 months in Pakistan without charge after the United States paid a bounty for his arrest, before being returned to Canada in 2005.

As Omar Khadr’s trial appears set to begin, the Associated Press points out the lack of any movement on a trial for the 9/11 plotters, currently in limbo at Gitmo (AP). After a meeting Monday with reporters covering Gitmo, the Pentagon is reportedly reviewing and considering loosening some of the restrictions on journalists covering trials at the base (McClatchy). And McClatchy reports on one ex-Gitmo detainee, Izatullah Nasrat Yar, now campaigning for a seat in Afghanistan’s parliament (McClatchy).

And the Associated Press has a must-read story detailing how four high-value al Qaeda detainees — Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Nashiri, Ramzi Binalshibh and Mustafa al-Hawsawi — were secretly flown to Gitmo in 2003, years earlier than previously known, but then were sent away to CIA black sites to avoid the detainees having access to lawyers (AP).

Miranda may face changes

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) has proposed a bill that would establish exceptions to standard policy procedures for reading terrorism suspects their Miranda rights. The legislation would also extend the period of time that investigators could question a terrorism suspect before bringing them in front of a judge or magistrate without the suspect’s statements being automatically considered inadmissible (Politico). His proposed law would give authorities up to 48 hours to interrogate a terrorism suspect without presenting them before a judge, with the possibility that it could be extended for another 48 beyond that. The bill would also allow authorities to delay reading a suspect their Miranda rights for "as long as is necessary" to gain intelligence from a suspected terrorist.

Trials and Tribulations

  • After five days of deliberations, a jury in New York found Russel Defreitas and Abdul Kadir guilty of charges related to a plot to blow up fuel containers and a pipeline at JFK Airport (WSJ, NYT).
  • A U.N. committee on August 2 removed 45 people and organizations from a Taliban and al Qaeda blacklist. The list included 10 Taliban members, 14 people linked to al Qaeda, and 21 organizations (BBC). The names had to be approved by all 15 members of the U.N. Security Council.
  • The State Department released its 2009 "Country Reports on Terrorism" this week, finding that al Qaeda’s core in Pakistan is still the most important threat to U.S. security (AJE).
  • A Ugandan court has filed charges against three men suspected of involvement with the July 11 bomb blast that killed 76 people watching the World Cup (AP).

A heretofore unknown militant group, the Abu Dhujana al-Khorasani Brigades (named for Humam al-Bawali, who killed seven CIA officers in a suicide bombing at their base in Khost, Afghanistan), has claimed credit for a failed "chemical letter" attack against the U.S. embassy in Paris (Newsweek). Police suspected that the letters were tainted with tear gas after two embassy employees fell sick, but other U.S. officials denied that any traces of tear gas had been found.

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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