The LWOT: TTP designated a terrorist organization; Awlaki family challenges U.S. “hit list”

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


After a long delay, TTP designated as a terrorist organization

The U.S. State Department on September 1 designated the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) a foreign terrorist organization, barring any assistance to the group and freezing any U.S.-based assets it holds (AP, CSM). The State Department also named TTP leaders Hakimullah Mehsud and Wali-ur-Rehman “specially designated global terrorists” and placed a $5 million bounty on both men (CNN). The announcement came on the same day that the Justice Department unsealed a criminal complaint (available here) against Mehsud for his alleged involvement in the December 2009 suicide bombing that killed seven CIA employees and a Jordanian intelligence officer at a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan (DoJ, Washington Post). The TTP has claimed responsibility for that bombing, and has been implicated in the failed May 1 car bombing of Times Square by Faisal Shahzad.

Awlaki family challenges U.S. “hit list”

In a lawsuit filed August 30 (complaint available here), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) challenged the government’s right to target radical cleric and alleged Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) figure Anwar al-Awlaki, and sought an injunction against attempts to kill Awlaki while the lawsuit continues (Washington Post). The ACLU and CCR, retained by Awlaki’s father Nasser, argue that Awlaki’s status as a U.S. citizen prevents him from being targeted by the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command or CIA without a judicial review of the evidence against him, an argument that could also call into question the government’s claim to be able to target al Qaeda members and affiliates outside of active war zones (Atlantic). The plaintiffs have also demanded that Barack Obama’s administration publicly declare the standards under which an alleged terrorist can be placed on a government “hit list.”

Some experts in national security law, however, have noted that the plaintiffs will face difficulties in establishing Nasser al-Awlaki’s legal standing in the case — and even then must fight against the tendency in courts to rule in favor of secrecy in sensitive counterterrorism operations (NYT).

Khadr trial to resume — but many questions left unanswered

Col. Patrick Parrish, the presiding judge in the military trial of Guantánamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen, set Oct. 18 as the date for the trial to resume. He did so after holding a conference call with lawyers representing both the prosecution and defense (Miami Herald).

However, the unusual two-month break in the trial – prompted by Khadr’s defense attorney falling ill and collapsing on the first day of hearings – will complicate the resumption of the case. Jurors, lawyers, witnesses and support personnel must be flown back to Guantánamo from around the world, and Col. Parrish will likely have to once again question the jurors to ensure that they did not hear any information about Khadr during their time away that might prejudice their impartiality (AFP). And as Charlie Savage writes, the time off has given Obama administration officials even more time to consider the limitations that Khadr’s case presents as a first trial to go forward under the revamped military commissions system (NYT).

Slate published a slideshow this
week of art produced by Gitmo detainees during their incarceration (Slate). And Libya has released 37 prisoners accused of links to radical Islamist groups from prison, including five former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group members and one former Gitmo detainee (Reuters).

Islamic charities in court

Two different federal courts began hearing two separate cases related to Islamic charities this week. The district court in Eugene, Oregon heard arguments alleging that the former co-director of the Al-Haramain foundation, Pete Seda, committed tax fraud and failed to report $150,000 taken out of the United States, allegedly to finance Chechen militant groups (AP). Al-Haramain was declared a terrorist organization six years ago, but Seda has never faced terrorism charges himself.

The other case involves an appeal by the North American Islamic Trust to reverse the group’s placement on a public list of 300 unindicted co-conspirators in the 2008 trial of the Holy Land Foundation, a now-defunct group that allegedly supported the Palestinian militant organization Hamas (Politico). Despite the fact that both sides have previously filed public briefs in the case, hearings are being held in a closed court — an unusual step that has been justified with only vague explanations.

Catch and release

Two Yemeni men arrested by Dutch authorities on Aug. 30 after “suspicious items” were found in their checked baggage were released without charge on Sept. 1 (Chicago Tribune, FT, Reuters). The men – who do not know each other – initially drew suspicion when they sent at least one of their bags through on a flight originating from Dulles Airport, and then did not board the flight themselves. An x-ray showed that the men’s bags contained a cell phone taped to a bottle of Pepto Bismol, watches taped to a shampoo bottle, as well as knives and box cutters (Guardian, AJE). U.S. officials initially thought that the suspicious luggage contents signaled a “dry run” for a terrorist attack, testing what materials would get picked up by airport screeners.

Trials and Tribulations

  • U.S. forces in Afghanistan have detained an unidentified German citizen with links to the Hamburg mosque where several 9/11 plotters met (Deutsche Welle). Initial reports allege that the man was connected to a Hamburg-based cell that reconstituted in 2009 and sought training along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
  • Controversy swirled this week over whether or not federal prosecutors can call a witness at the upcoming trial of alleged al Qaeda member Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani whom Ghailani identified while in CIA custody (NYT). A hearing will be held in two weeks to determine the witness’ status.
  • A Taliban “operative” told Newsweek this week that protests over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” in New York have been a boon to Taliban recruiting. He claimed that descriptions of the anti-mosque protests top a list of talking points Taliban officials use when addressing Afghan villagers (Newsweek).
  • Jurors this week continued to hear tapes of alleged New York synagogue plot leader James Cromitie discussing the operation with FBI informant Shahed Hussain. Some of the tapes seemed to show Hussain pressuring Cromitie to proceed with planning and recruitment for the planned attacks (NYT, NYT).
  • Jeff Stein reported on the strong collaboration between the CIA and Sudan’s intelligence service in the field of counterterrorism, despite Sudan’s record of human rights abuses and ethnic cleansing – and its designation by the Uni
    ted States as a state sponsor of terrorism (Washington Post).
  • An alleged former Osama bin Laden aide arrested in 1998 in connection with the East Africa embassy bombings has been sentenced to life in prison for a vicious 2000 attack on a U.S. prison guard that left the guard blind and physically disabled (WSJ).

More from Foreign Policy

Keri Russell as Kate Wyler walks by a State Department Seal from a scene in The Diplomat, a new Netflix show about the foreign service.
Keri Russell as Kate Wyler walks by a State Department Seal from a scene in The Diplomat, a new Netflix show about the foreign service.

At Long Last, the Foreign Service Gets the Netflix Treatment

Keri Russell gets Drexel furniture but no Senate confirmation hearing.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and French President Emmanuel Macron speak in the garden of the governor of Guangdong's residence in Guangzhou, China, on April 7.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and French President Emmanuel Macron speak in the garden of the governor of Guangdong's residence in Guangzhou, China, on April 7.

How Macron Is Blocking EU Strategy on Russia and China

As a strategic consensus emerges in Europe, France is in the way.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin greets U.S. President George W. Bush prior to a meeting of APEC leaders in 2001.
Chinese President Jiang Zemin greets U.S. President George W. Bush prior to a meeting of APEC leaders in 2001.

What the Bush-Obama China Memos Reveal

Newly declassified documents contain important lessons for U.S. China policy.

A girl stands atop a destroyed Russian tank.
A girl stands atop a destroyed Russian tank.

Russia’s Boom Business Goes Bust

Moscow’s arms exports have fallen to levels not seen since the Soviet Union’s collapse.