The LWOT: Government approves military custody for terrorist suspects

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Brennan Linsley-Pool/Getty Images
Brennan Linsley-Pool/Getty Images

Government approves military custody for terrorist suspects

The Obama administration agreed on December 14 not to veto the $662 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), clearing the way for a 283-136 House vote that night and a U.S. Senate vote 86-13 the following day, both in favor of the bill (APReuters,NYTAJEGuardianPostLAT). The controversial provision requiring military custody for all suspected terrorists with links to al-Qaeda, over which the White House had previously threatened a veto, has sparked outcry from civil liberties groups and other commentators (NYTNYTET). FBI Director Robert Mueller on December 14 also expressed lingering concerns that the bill’s language leaves the military and FBI roles during the interrogation of terrorist suspects unclear (Politico). Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on December 15 introduced the Due Process Guarantee Act of 2011, which would ensure that Americans detained on U.S. soil could not be held indefinitely (Press Release). 

On December 15, federal prosecutors filed a civil suit seeking $480 million in penalties from the now-defunct Lebanese Canadian Bank and two Lebanese exchange companies, for allegedly helped the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah launder almost half a billion dollars in South American drug funds (NYT). The suit came two days after Lebanese national Ayman Joumaa was indicted in federal court in Virginia accused of being the ringleader of a massive international drug cartel linked to Hezbollah, in which the Lebanese Canadian Bank was complicit (AP). However, the terrorism connections were reportedly not mentioned in Joumaa’s criminal indictment. The Times’ Jo Becker had a must-read on December 13 on the fascinating details of the money-laundering system used by Hezbollah revealed by the bank’s ledgers (NYT).

The Times’ Benjamin Weiser also had a must-read this week on the trial of an Eritrean man accused of providing material support to al-Shabaab, Mohamed Ibrahim Ahmed, whose attorneys are requesting in federal court in Manhattan that a judge suppress statements that Ahmed made without being apprised of his right to remain silent and right to counsel (the U.S. government, meanwhile, says Ahmed waived his Miranda rights) (NYT). Ahmed was allegedly subjected to a "clean" interrogation by FBI agents in Nigeria nearly two years ago, days after he received a "dirty" interrogation by different FBI agents, before which he says he was not told his Miranda rights, creating a critical conflict between the need to interrogate terrorist suspects for time-sensitive intelligence and the need to build a viable criminal case to be used in civilian court.

The U.S. State Department on December 15 designated a longtime ETA leader known by his alias, Josu Ternera, as a person supporting global terrorism (AFP). Separately the State Department also designated Saleh al-Qarawi, a top leader in the Lebanese Abdullah Azzam Brigades, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (WSJ). And Politico’s Josh Gerstein notes that the December 16 public hearing on the U.S. military’s case against Bradley Manning, who is accused of "aiding the enemy" by leaking thousands of classified military documents to the government transparency advocacy site WikiLeaks, should reveal some details of the highly secretive case (Politico).

The trial of Tarek Mehanna, who is accused of distributing jihadist material on the Internet and traveling to Yemen in 2004 to receive terrorist training, is set to wrap up on December 16, and could provide an important precedent for what exactly constitutes material support to terrorists (Boston Globe). Mehanna’s lawyers argue that he was exercising his right to free speech by translating and disseminating al-Qaeda material, and that translation of the documents alone should not constitute "material support."

Carlos the Jackal receives second life sentence

Venezuelan-born "Carlos the Jackal" was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in France on December 16 for his involvement in bomb attacks on two trains, a train station, and a newspaper office in France in 1982 and 1983 that killed 11 people and injured more than 100 (APBBCCNNDeutsche WelleTelGuardianLATReuters). The self-identified revolutionary and member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine has been serving another life sentence in France since 1997 for shooting and killing two French secret agents and a government informant in 1975.

A jury in Australia on December 16 found Australian citizens of Lebanese and Somali origin Wissam Mahmoud Fattal, Nayev El Sayed, and Saney Edow Aweys guilty of plotting to attack Sydney’s Holsworthy Army Barracks with automatic rifles in an attempts to kill as many soldiers as possible (APAFPBBCSMH). Supreme Court Justice Betty King sentenced the men to 18 years in prison, telling the men "none of you, not one…recanted from any extremist view that you held," making them a continued danger to the community. 

A British Appeals Court on December 14 ordered the government to ask the United States to release Pakistani citizen Yunus Rahmatullah from the U.S.-run Bagram prison in Afghanistan, where he has been held without trial for over seven years (Guardian). Rahmatullah was detained by Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS) in 2004 accused of being a member of an al-Qaeda-linked organization, and handed over to American forces, but the three-judge appeal panel ruled that his detention is unlawful.

Trials and Tribulations

  • Yemeni authorities said on December 13 that they had arrested six al-Qaeda militants in he eastern province of al-Jawf who were allegedly plotting to attack senior government officials and foreign diplomats (AP).
  • Somalia’s al-Shabaab militant group and the Kenyan military are currently involved not only in a physical conflict, but also a vicious war of words over Twitter, which al-Shabaab has recently embraced and shown a proclivity for pithy, stinging tweets (NYT).
  • An alleged member of the Basque separatist group ETA is fighting extradition from the United Kingdom to Spain to face a trial for allegedly murdering a police officer, assisting several bomb attakcs, and plotting to kill the King of Spain (AFP). 

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