The LWOT: Terror camp trainer pleads guilty at Gitmo; House passes 90-day Patriot Act extension

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

Terror trainer pleads guilty at Gitmo

Guantánamo Bay detainee Noor Uthman Muhammed pleaded guilty (plea available here) Feb. 15 to conspiring with al Qaeda to provide material support to terrorists in his capacity as a trainer and deputy administrator of the Khalden training camp in Afghanistan between 1996 and 2000 (DoD, National Journal, Miami Herald, AJE, Esquire). Muhammed is the sixth Guantánamo detainee found guilty by a military commission, and the third under President Barack Obama, all of whom pleaded guilty.He faces possible life imprisonment for his admitted role in training terrorist operatives, including three of the 9/11 hijackers, though his secret plea deal means he could leave Guantánamo by 2015 (Miami Herald).

During sentencing this week, the court heard evidence of Muhammed's time at the Khalden camp, as well as his flight from Afghanistan, and his time spent in Pakistan alongside high value detainee Abu Zubaydah until their arrest in Pakistan in 2002 (NYT). The court also screened a never-before-seen video of Zubaydah praising the 9/11 attacks, a foreshadowing of Muhammed's possible testimony in an eventual Zubaydah trial (Miami Herald, Reuters). While considered a victory for Obama, however, Muhammed's case raises several key legal questions about the case and military tribunals, given the fact that Muhammed was not an al Qaeda member, Khalden was not an al Qaeda camp, and the crimes in question were committed before they were made war crimes (National Journal).

Terror trainer pleads guilty at Gitmo

Guantánamo Bay detainee Noor Uthman Muhammed pleaded guilty (plea available here) Feb. 15 to conspiring with al Qaeda to provide material support to terrorists in his capacity as a trainer and deputy administrator of the Khalden training camp in Afghanistan between 1996 and 2000 (DoD, National Journal, Miami Herald, AJE, Esquire). Muhammed is the sixth Guantánamo detainee found guilty by a military commission, and the third under President Barack Obama, all of whom pleaded guilty.He faces possible life imprisonment for his admitted role in training terrorist operatives, including three of the 9/11 hijackers, though his secret plea deal means he could leave Guantánamo by 2015 (Miami Herald).

During sentencing this week, the court heard evidence of Muhammed’s time at the Khalden camp, as well as his flight from Afghanistan, and his time spent in Pakistan alongside high value detainee Abu Zubaydah until their arrest in Pakistan in 2002 (NYT). The court also screened a never-before-seen video of Zubaydah praising the 9/11 attacks, a foreshadowing of Muhammed’s possible testimony in an eventual Zubaydah trial (Miami Herald, Reuters). While considered a victory for Obama, however, Muhammed’s case raises several key legal questions about the case and military tribunals, given the fact that Muhammed was not an al Qaeda member, Khalden was not an al Qaeda camp, and the crimes in question were committed before they were made war crimes (National Journal).

If captured, bin Laden may go to Gitmo

In testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee Feb. 16, CIA Director Leon Panetta indicated that if captured, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri would likely be transferred to Guantánamo, from where they cannot be transferred according to current law (Washington Post, Miami Herald). While Director of National Intelligence James D. Clapper interceded, saying the men’s fate would be decided by an interagency process, the remarks seemed to indicate a continued vision for the prison’s use in the Obama administration, despite repeated promises to shutter it (AP, National Journal, LAT). Both bin Laden and Zawahiri have been indicted in federal court in New York.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates testified this week that the prospect for closing Guantánamo is "very, very low" given current congressional opposition (Reuters). And the Pentagon’s undersecretary for intelligence Michael Vickers testified this week that the question of what to do with terrorists captured away from an active battlefield remains a "vexing challenge" (CNN).

A federal appeals court on Feb. 15 overturned the order to free Yemeni Gitmo detainee Saeed Hatemi, who claims to have been tortured by the United States into confessing membership in al Qaeda (AP, LegalTimes). Carol Rosenberg reports that Gitmo detainee and confessed al Qaeda cook Ibrahim al-Qosi, currently serving a two year sentence at the prison, may not return to his native Sudan when his sentence is complete (Miami Herald). And the Berkeley, CA city council has rejected a motion to allow two Gitmo detainees to resettle in the city (AP).

Meanwhile, federal judge John Bates in a ruling this week left open the possibility that habeas rights could be granted to non-Afghan detainees at Bagram air base in Afghanistan (Politico).

House passes 90-day Patriot Act extension

The U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 17 sent a 90-day extension of three controversial provisions of the Patriot Act to President Obama for signature, two days after the Senate approved the extension by a margin of 86 to 12 (Washington Post, Reuters, AP, Bloomberg).The temporary extension allows the provisions – which permit the tapping of multiple phones under one search warrant, the seizure of any "tangible item" related to a terrorism search, and the investigation of non-American "lone wolf" terrorism suspects – to remain in force past their scheduled Feb. 28 expiration date (AP, CBS News). President Obama has expressed his desire for the provisions to remain in force until 2013. 

And during a House Judiciary committee hearing Feb. 17 Democrats questioned the FBI’s stated need for reformed surveillance laws that would require Internet companies to make their services technologically compliant with wiretap laws, something already required of phone companies (NYT).

JFK Airport plotter sentenced to life

A federal judge on Feb. 17 sentenced Russel Defreitas, a former baggage handler convicted last year of plotting to blow up fuel tanks and a fuel pipeline under JFK International Airport, to life in prison (WSJ, Reuters, AFP, Telegraph). The plot was infiltrated long before it could become operational by an FBI informant and convicted drug dealer, who had recorded Defreitas, the plot’s ringleader, saying he wanted the attack to "cause major economic loss in the United States." Defreitas’ co-conspirator Abdel Kadir was sentenced to life in prison in December, while co-conspirator Abdel Nur received 15 years, and a fourth still awaits trial.

A South Carolina court has dismissed the lawsuit filed against senior Bush Administration officials by Jose Padilla, held in a Navy brig for four years before being transferred to civilian courts and convicted on terrorism charges (AP).

Britain to re-evaluate major counterterrorism program

The British government will reportedly re-evaluate the multi-million dollar "Channel" program, which asked teachers and community members to identify teens "at risk" of becoming radicalized (Guardian, Telegraph). Parliamentarians have criticized the program, saying it encouraged teachers to spy on their students, and report activity that was not criminal in nature.

A working report from a group of British university vice chancellors reportedly recommends that universities "engage, not marginalize" speakers and groups with extreme views, a defiant response to critiques that British universities have not taken the problem of student radicalization seriously (Guardian).

The trial of former British Airways employee and alleged terrorism plotter Rajib Karim continued this week, with prosecutors questioning Karim about a secret meeting he had in 2009 at London’s Heathrow Airport, before flying to Bangladesh (Telegraph). And the inquest into the deadly 7/7 transit attacks in London this week heard the testimony of two women who had relationships with bombers Shehzad Tanweer and Jermaine Lindsey (BBC, AFP, Telegraph).

Trials and Tribulations

  • In a New York Times Op-Ed on Feb. 17, State Department counterterrorism coordinator Daniel Benjamin urged countries around the world to cease paying ransoms for hostages seized by terrorist groups (NYT).
  • The Portland City Council will vote Feb. 24 on whether or not the city will rejoin the local FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), a debate prompted by the November arrest of Oregon teenager Mohamed Osman Mohamud in an FBI sting based around an alleged plot to bomb Portland’s Christmas tree-lighting ceremony (LAT).
  • The Dutch supreme court on Feb. 15 approved the extradition to the United States of Mahmoud Said Omar, indicted in 2009 on five terrorism charges for allegedly helping young Minnesota men travel to Somalia to fight for the militant group al-Shabaab (WSJ).
  • Nigeria passed its first anti-terrorism law on Feb. 17, in the wake of a spate of bombings late last year in several Nigerian cities (Reuters).  
  • A Paris court has scheduled a Nov. 2 trial for infamous terrorist Carlos the Jackal, accused of involvement in four bombings in France in the 1980s (AP).
  • Two U.S. Senators, Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) have proposed an amendment to block direct American flights to countries listed as state sponsors of terrorism, a move reportedly made in response to the loosening of travel restrictions to Cuba (Miami Herald).
  • The lawyer for Canadian Momin Khawaja, the first person convicted under Canada’s revised anti-terrorism laws, has appealed the conviction on the grounds that the statute infringed upon Khawaja’s rights under Canadian law to hold certain religious and political opinions (Canadian Press)
  • The Netherlands-based tribunal investigating the 2005 killing of then-Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has issued its guidelines for evaluating terrorism cases, with presiding judge Antonio Cassesse saying the tribunal would use a broader interpretation than that laid out under Lebanese law, which the tribunal is required to follow (VOA).

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