The LWOT: Ghailani verdict questioning continues; Germany prepares for terror threat

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Ghailani verdict questioning continues

Obama administration officials and Democratic leaders are pushing back against criticism leveled against them after former CIA and Guantánamo Bay detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was convicted Nov. 17 on only one, a conspiracy charge in the 1998 Embassy bombings (NYT, Washington Post). Officials pointed to the minimum 20-year sentence Ghailani faces, the lack of security issues at the trial, and the fact that contrary to some concerns, Ghailani did not turn his trial into a "soapbox" to express radical views. Other officials, such as Ghailani’s former military lawyer and the current head of the military commissions system Col. Jeffrey Colwell, said that observers "seem to suggest that he [Ghailani] should have been convicted, and would have been convicted by a military commission… Its disturbing if there’s a system designed to assure convictions. That’s a problem" (AJE).

Still, as Republican leaders continued to hammer the Obama administration for its decision to bring Ghailani and possibly other terrorist suspects before civilian courts, the silence of President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on the verdict has been taken as another sign that the prospect of civilian terrorism trials, as well as closing Guantánamo, have grown dimmer (Washington Post, Miami Herald, Reuters). However, in public remarks White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama was "committed to closing Guantánamo Bay to ensure that it is no longer the recruiting poster that it is right now for al Qaeda" (Telegraph).

New York Times reporters Benjamin Weiser and Charlie Savage point out an interesting aspect of the Ghailani trial, that it avoided discussing some of the most contentious issues surrounding this case, from CIA "black sites" to Guantánamo to abuses committed under Bush administration interrogation rules (NYT). And in other Guantánamo news, the full D.C. Circuit Court ruled unanimously against allowing the Justice Department to use classified legal opinions related to Guantánamo in other cases (Legal Times).

Germany braces for new terror threat

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière on Nov. 17 publicly warned the German public about information indicating a terrorist attack was planned for the country near the end of this month (NYT, Deutsche Welle, WSJ). De Maizière has ordered a stepped-up police presence on Germany’s borders and in public spaces, but said that despite having "concrete indications" of an impending series of attacks, the alerts provided "reason for concern but no reason for hysteria" (AJE). Citing very specific intelligence from an unnamed ally, de Maizière indicated that a small group of radicals from India and possibly Pakistan were either on their way to Europe or already in place, ready to potentially stage a Mumbai-style attack, under the direction or on orders from al Qaeda figure Younis al-Mauretani (Der Spiegel). German authorities are also investigating a suspicious package found Nov. 18 aboard an Air Berlin plane in the former German colony of Namibia, which contained a detonator, batteries, and a working clock (BBC, WSJ).

U.K. Gitmo settlement announced

The United Kingdom reached a settlement worth a reported £14 million on Nov. 16 with 16 men detained at some point at Guantánamo (including one who is still there) who allege British complicity in their abuse at the prison (Guardian, Telegraph). 12 of the men were currently suing the government, while the other four were deemed to have possible grounds for suit later. The government said that no claims of guilt were made as part of the settlement, which came with a non-disclosure agreement for both parties and stopped further release of once-classified documents that showed that top British leaders were involved in decisions that led to the rendition and mistreatment of the men at Guantánamo (BBC).

British authorities this week pushed U.S. officials for the return of the one claimant still at the prison, Shaker Aamer, who alleges that MI5 agents were present when U.S. agents beat him in Afghanistan before he was sent to Gitmo (WSJ, Reuters). British prosecutors on Nov. 17 also announced that they would not press charges against an MI5 agent who interviewed former detainee Binyam Mohamed in Pakistan in 2002, and who allegedly knew of Mohammed’s "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" during American interrogations (BBC, Guardian). However, an investigation is still ongoing into the same agent’s visit to Morocco in 2002, where Mohammed was rendered and reportedly subject to torture at the hands of Moroccan interrogators.

The new UN expert on torture, Juan Ernesto Mendez, urged the United States this week to fully investigate allegations of abuse under former President George W. Bush (AJE). And Carol Rosenberg this week reports on Pennsylvania Democratic Congressman Chris Carney, who revealed to voters while campaigning that he had interrogated prisoners at Gitmo (Miami Herald). The identities of interrogators is a closely guarded secret, though revealing his past did not help Carney win re-election.


Trials and Tribulations

  • FBI Director Robert Mueller III met with executives from technology companies such as Facebook and Google during a trip to Silicon Valley this week, reportedly to ask them to make their systems easier to wiretap in the event of a court order being issued for that purpose (NYT). Google has reportedly added employees to search for and delete videos with extremist content, such as those with content from radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki (Telegraph).
  • In a special UN Security Council meeting on terrorism held Nov. 16, Afghanistan’s UN ambassador asked the body’s Al Qaeda and Taliban monitoring committee to remove additional Taliban members from its blacklist, in order to facilitate peace and reconciliation negotiations (RFE/RL).
  • A group of fourteen former senior members of the U.S. intelligence community with extensive experience in interrogations have written a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates asking that Gates eliminate a classified part of the DoD Field Manual on interrogations, Appendix M, which allows for harsher interrogation practices under special circumstances (Harper’s).
  • A British member of the radical group Revolution Muslim arrested last week for posting the names of parliamentarians who voted for the Iraq war online was charged Nov. 17 with "soliciting murder" for allegedly encouraging attacks on the officials over their votes (AP).
  • The notorious alleged arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed "The Merchant of Death" pled not guilty to terrorism charges in New York Nov. 17 following his extradition from Thailand (WSJ).
  • Despite numerous regulations meant to restrict terrorist financing since 9/11, the Wall Street Journal this week reports that federal authorities are still finding it difficult to monitor and intercept small amounts of money channeled through informal cash exchange networks known as hawala (WSJ).
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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