The LWOT: Khadr pleads guilty; new Awlaki video released as Yemen hunts AQAP

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Despite denials, Khadr pleads guilty

The military trial of Canadian Guantánamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr ended before it had begun Oct. 25, when Khadr pled guilty to five charges of murder and terrorism, admitting to killing Delta Force Sgt. Christopher Speer and two Afghans in Afghanistan in 2002, spying, planting mines and receiving terrorist training, as well as association with al Qaeda (Miami Herald, AFP, Washington Post). The plea comes after weeks of delays in the trial, as well as repeated denials from Khadr that he would accept such a deal. The arrangement comes after high-level diplomatic talks between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Canadian counterpart, and the United States will reportedly recommend that Khadr be allowed to return to Canada to serve out a seven year sentence after spending one more year at Guantánamo (VOA). Canadian officials have thus far refused to comment on any potential arrangement to repatriate Khadr (Globe and Mail).

With his plea, set to be released Oct. 26, Khadr becomes the fifth detainee to be convicted in a military commission, and the second to plead guilty under the Obama administration (Miami Herald). Khadr will still be sentenced by a panel of seven military officers, though his plea agreement will take precedence over the panel’s ruling (Miami Herald). Speaking about a potential deal this past weekend, which reportedly includes a promise from Khadr not to seek legal action against the United States and to help U.S. counterterrorism officials, Khadr’s Canadian lawyer Dennis Edney said, "There’s not much choice…[Khadr] either pleads guilty to avoid trial, or he goes to trial, and the trial is an unfair process" (AP).

Khadr’s detention and possible trial engendered serious concern among human rights advocates, owing to Khadr’s age at the time of the incident (15) and accusations that he was mistreated and improperly interrogated while in custody. Government officials, meanwhile, did not want Khadr to be the face of President Barack Obama’s revamped military commissions (NYT). Human Rights First’s Daphne Eviatar, who has observed the hearings at Gitmo, wrote the following (Huffington Post):

For the U.S. government, the guilty plea was a way to save face. After all, the Obama administration knew that it was a political embarrassment for its first military commission trial to be of a child soldier – a contradiction of its obligations under international law to rehabilitate child soldiers rather than punish them. The administration also knew that the charges against Khadr were all legally dubious – invalid under international law and a violation of the ex post facto clause of the U.S. Constitution. Khadr’s guilty plea allows them to rack up another "win" for the military commissions, pushing the total to a whopping five convictions in the last eight years. By contrast, U.S. civilian federal courts have convicted more than 400 terrorists in that same time period. This doesn’t exactly tip the balance.

Awlaki appears in new video

Late on Oct. 23 radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, named a "specially designated global terrorist" by the Treasury Department and currently on a CIA and Joint Special Operations Command "hit list" appeared in a new video posted on a jihadist web forum, delivering a religious lecture in Arabic (AFP, Al Jazeera). Awlaki’s name has come up in connection with over a dozen terrorism plots in the west, and U.S. officials have publicly asserted that Awlaki is an operational leader in Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Also this weekend Yemeni security officials announced an offensive against AQAP in the southern province of Shabwa, an operation conducted with the participation of some members of Awlaki’s tribe (Reuters).

Awlaki was reportedly in email communication with alleged Ft. Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who according to testimony at his pre-trial Article 32 hearing last week shopped for advanced handguns and repeatedly visited a local firing range months before the shooting last November, which killed 13 and injured 32 (Dallas Morning News, Washington Post).

Immunity for Ashcroft?

Both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times editorial pages weighed in this weekend on the Supreme Court’s decision to hear arguments about whether or not Abdullah al-Kidd can sue former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft for Kidd’s detention, under sometimes humiliating conditions, as a "material witness" in 2003 (NYT, LAT). Ashcroft has claimed prosecutorial immunity in the case. From the Times‘ piece:

Prosecutorial immunity is intended to let prosecutors enforce the law without fear of being held personally liable. Protecting that legitimate aim did not require the [Obama administration] to defend the indefensible. In forcefully defending the material witness statute on grounds that curtailing it would severely limit its usefulness, it is defending the law as a basis for detention. That leaves the disturbing impression that the administration is trying to preserve the option of abusing the statute again.

Trials and Tribulations

  • On Oct. 25 Department of Justice officials announced the arrest last Friday of a New York man, Abdel Hameed Shehadeh, on charges that he lied to authorities and planned to enlist in the U.S. military in order to desert in Iraq and fight alongside insurgents (AP, CNN). Shehadeh had previously attempted to enter Jordan and Pakistan, but was refused entry by both countries.
  • Farim Amad, the self-professed leader of Canada’s "Toronto 18" terror cell, was sentenced Oct. 25 to 16 years in prison (AP).
  • A Pakistani national convicted in May of possessing weapons in violation of his student visa and conspiring to provide material support for the Taliban, Adan Mirza, was sentenced last Friday to 15 years in prison without parole (FBI).
  • In response to a Tennessee court case seeking to block the construction of a mosque, The Tennessean newspaper this week has a report chronicling the profit some make off of fear of terrorism (The Tennessean).
  • Swedish police this weekend detained a Turkish man wanted in Belgium for unidentified links to terrorism (AP). And Turkish police last week detained five young men allegedly attempting to provide support to al Qaeda, including one who was reportedly designing software to jam the guidance controls for drone aircraft (Reuters).
  • A Chicago man arrested after placing an inert FBI-supplied bomb outside of Wrigley Field, Sami Samir Hassoun, pled not guilty last week to charges of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and of an explosive device (Chicago Sun Times).
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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