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History > 2008 > USA > Terrorism (II)




In Transcripts,

Tough Talk by Terror Suspects,

and Informant


March 31, 2008
The New York Times


While on a trip to the Poconos early last year with his friends, a young immigrant named Agron Abdullahu talked about building bombs using nitroglycerin or pipes, and buying a rifle with a powerful scope, the authorities have said. He spoke disparagingly about the American soldiers he had encountered as a teenager when he spent five weeks in a Macedonian refugee camp.

Here in the United States, he told his friends, his Muslim name earned him stares.

But during those conversations in Pennsylvania, after one man prodded him to explain his intentions, Mr. Abdullahu’s bravado and anger vanished. “I don’t plan on doing anything,” he said. “I would never hurt nobody.”

The man was a government informant, and federal agents were listening.

In May, Mr. Abdullahu and five other men were arrested in what the authorities have said was a plot to kill soldiers at Fort Dix, an Army base in New Jersey.

In October, Mr. Abdullahu pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of providing firearms to illegal aliens. On Monday, he is to be sentenced by Judge Robert B. Kugler of Federal District Court in Camden, N.J.

Five other suspects in the case — Mohamad Shnewer, Serdar Tatar and three Duka brothers, Eljvir, Shain and Dritan — face charges including conspiracy to kill military personnel. If convicted, they could be sentenced to life in prison.

In a case that raised fears of domestic terrorism, Mr. Abdullahu’s sentence could stand as an early gauge of the strength of the government’s case.

The prosecution relies in part on recorded conversations between the suspects. Transcripts were released by prosecutors last week as part of a sentencing brief to Judge Kugler, asking for “a two-level enhancement” of Mr. Abdullahu’s sentence and an “upward departure” from the sentencing guidelines, which call for 10 to 16 months for the crime to which Mr. Abdullahu pleaded guilty.

The 77 pages of transcripts — peppered with profanities, politics, and talk of violence, including the best way to kill American soldiers — cover just a few of the hundreds of conversations the authorities said they had recorded.

In their brief, the prosecutors also cited graffiti Mr. Abdullahu had etched on the door of his cell, including a gun firing at the initials “F.B.I.,” and said the transcripts proved that Mr. Abdullahu knew he was providing firearms to dangerous men.

“Abdullahu’s crime of placing lethal weapons in the hands of self-proclaimed admirers of jihad ‘significantly endangered ... national security’ because the Dukas spoke openly of attacking American soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan,” read the brief.

The transcripts also begin to illustrate the role of one of the government’s informants in the case, called CW-2 in the transcripts. Defense lawyers have said they will focus on the roles the informants might have played in coaxing their clients toward more alarming conversations.

In interviews, some of the lawyers said they were taken aback by the release of the transcripts, saying that it seemed excessive since prosecutors had already agreed to the guilty plea. Michael Riley, a lawyer for Shain Duka, said: “Public perception is an issue. This poisons the well for us.”

He added: “The tone may not be there. The words are devastating.”

A spokesman for the United States attorney’s office for New Jersey, J. Gregory Reinert, said it was not unusual for his office to argue for longer sentences after a guilty plea. He dismissed the claim that prosecutors were trying to influence future jurors.

The conversations in the transcripts released last week took place in February 2007, after Mr. Abdullahu and his brothers — who are not suspects — along with the Duka brothers and the cooperating witness, traveled to the Poconos. In a conversation singled out by prosecutors, the men talk about the range of a certain gun.

“Would you hit the American soldiers in Iraq?” Eljvir Duka asked, according to one of the transcripts.

“From a mile away,” his brother Dritan replied.

Mr. Abdullahu corrected them: “Not quite a mile, it shoots about three-quarters of a mile.”

Later in the same conversation, the Dukas discuss a sniper’s tactics in a 10-hour gun battle on Baghdad’s Haifa Street, and the killing of an American soldier. According to the transcript, Mr. Abdullahu said, “You don’t want to see nobody’s brain blow up.”

Richard Coughlin, Mr. Abdullahu’s lawyer, said the transcripts did not hint at the complex relationships between the suspects. He spoke of his client’s “familiarity with the Duka brothers, his experience with them, and why he wouldn’t view it as anything more than, in some instances, than joking around.”

According to prosecutors, the suspects acquired weapons with Mr. Abdullahu’s help, including a 9-millimeter pistol and a shotgun. But some of their conversations as they went gun-shopping, which were in both Albanian and English, sound more Abbott and Costello than jihadi. Here are excerpts from one.

“We are left without guns,” the confidential informant said.

“I ate,” Eljvir Duka replied. “You didn’t eat? I took care of that.”

“What are you saying? We are left without guns, not eat,” the informant said.

“Oh,” Mr. Duka replied. “Without gas.”

“We are left without guns, guns,” the informant said.

“Oh, guns?” Mr. Duka said.


“When you mix Albanian and English — — ” Mr. Duka began.

The informant laughed.

Other conversations sound darker.

In one, Eljvir and Dritan Duka said the American news media deliberately under-reported American casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The trial of the other suspects is to begin in September. Defense lawyers said they had not finished transcribing the recordings. But Rocco C. Cipparone Jr., one of the lawyers, said that throughout the recordings, informants can be heard “trying to move things along to action.”

No matter whether that is the case, the informant seemed to be an active participant in conversations whose transcripts were released. In a conversation from Feb. 6, 2007, about making bombs and rockets, he told the group he was having problems with “some people in New York.”

“I have some bad, bad, bad thing with them, we don’t get along,” the informant said, asking someone — perhaps Mr. Abdullahu or Shain Duka — to “blow the house or whatever, something,” to rid him of his problem.

Shain Duka told the informant that he did not kill children.

Mr. Abdullahu, an ethnic Albanian who was born in Kosovo, teeters in the transcripts between an apparent fascination with the tools of violence and an aversion to their consequences.

“Knowledge is power,” he said. “But I don’t want to use it for wrong reasons.”

A minute later, though, he noted that he could make a bomb in “a light bulb.” The two spoke again. “You said if I’m in trouble you can come for me right,” said the informant. “Not come and drink coffee, come and kill someone.”

Again, Mr. Abdullahu slowed the conversation down. “You gotta define that trouble,” he said. “If you are the reason why that’s happening, I will not help you. I will not kill nobody.” But he added that if “you are right and they are wrong, I will die for you.”

    In Transcripts, Tough Talk by Terror Suspects, and Informant, NYT, 31.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/31/nyregion/31dix.html






Bush Vetoes Bill That Would Limit Interrogations


March 8, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Despite Congressional efforts to force a change in course, President Bush further cemented his legacy of establishing strong executive powers Saturday, giving the Central Intelligence Agency broad latitude to use harsh interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists that are prohibited by the military and law enforcement agencies.

Mr. Bush vetoed a bill that would have explicitly prohibited the agency from using such interrogation methods, which include waterboarding, a technique that suffocates a restrained prisoner and has been the subject of intense criticism at home and abroad.

Mr. Bush’s veto deepens his battle with increasingly assertive Democrats in Congress over issues at the heart of his legacy. As his presidency winds down, he has made it clear he does not intend to bend in this or other confrontations with Congress on issues from the war in Iraq to contempt charges against his chief of staff, Joshua B. Bolten, and former counsel, Harriet E. Miers.

Mr. Bush announced the veto in his weekly radio address, which is distributed to stations across the country each Saturday. In his remarks, he unflinchingly defended an interrogation program that has prompted critics to accuse him not only of authorizing torture previously but also of refusing to ban it in the future.

“Because the danger remains,” he said, referring to the threat from Al Qaeda, “we need to ensure our intelligence officials have all the tools they need to stop the terrorists.”

Mr. Bush’s veto — only the ninth of his presidency, but the eighth in the last 10 months with Democrats in control of Congress — underscored his determination to preserve many of the executive prerogatives his administration has claimed in the war on terror and to cement them into law before he steps down.

Mr. Bush is now fighting with Congress over the expansion of powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and over the depth of the American security commitments to Iraq once the United Nations mandate for the international forces there expires at the end of the year.

The administration has also moved ahead with the first military tribunals of those detained at Guantánamo, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a mastermind of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, despite calls to try suspects in civilian courts.

All are issues that turn on presidential powers and all will define Mr. Bush’s legacy for decades to come. And as he has through most of his presidency, he built his case on the threat of terrorism.

“The fact that we have not been attacked over the past six and a half years is not a matter of chance,” Mr. Bush said in his radio remarks, echoing comments he made on Thursday at a ceremony marking the fifth anniversary of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

“We have no higher responsibility than stopping terrorist attacks,” he added. “And this is no time for Congress to abandon practices that have a proven track record of keeping America safe.”

The bill Mr. Bush vetoed would have limited all American interrogators to techniques allowed in the Army Field Manual on Interrogation, which prohibits using physical force against prisoners.

Democrats, who supported the legislation as part of a larger bill that authorized a vast array of intelligence programs, criticized the veto sharply, but they do not have the votes to override it.

“This president had the chance to end the torture debate for good,” one of its sponsors, Senator Diane Feinstein of California, said in a statement on Friday evening when it became clear Mr. Bush intended to carry out his veto threat. “Yet, he chose instead to leave the door open to use torture in the future. The United States is not well-served by this.”

Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts said it would be “one of the most shameful acts of his presidency.” And the Senate’s majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said that Mr. Bush disregarded the advice of military commanders, including Gen. David H. Petraeus, who argued that the military’s interrogation techniques were effective and that the use of any others could create risks for any future American prisoners of war.

“He has rejected the Army field manual’s recognition that such horrific tactics elicit unreliable information, put U.S. troops at risk and undermine our counterinsurgency efforts,” Mr. Reid said in a statement.

Democrats vowed to raise the matter again, and the debate could spill into the presidential campaign, which some Republicans suspect was a motive for the Democrats to push the issue.

Senator John McCain, now the Republican presidential nominee, has been an outspoken opponent of torture from his own experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. In this case, however, he supported the administration’s position, arguing as Mr. Bush did on Saturday that legislation would have limited the C.I.A.’s ability to gather intelligence.

Mr. Bush said that the agency should not be bound by rules written for soldiers in combat, as opposed to highly trained experts dealing with hardened terrorists. The bill’s supporters countered that the legislation would have banned only a handful of techniques whose effective was in dispute in any case.

The administration has also said that waterboarding is no longer in use, though officials acknowledged last month that it had been used in three instances before the middle of 2003, including against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Officials, however, have left vague the question of whether it could be authorized again in extraordinary circumstances.

Mr. Bush asserted, as he has previously, that information from the C.I.A.’s interrogations had averted terrorist attacks, including plots to attack a Marine camp in Djibouti, the American consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, Library Tower in Los Angeles and passenger planes from Britain. And he maintained that the techniques involved the exact nature of which remains classified as secret — were “safe and lawful.”

“Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that Al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland,” Mr. Bush said.

The handling of detainees since 2001 has dogged the administration politically, but Mr. Bush and his aides have barely conceded any ground to critics, even in the face of legal challenges, as happened with the prisoners in Guantánamo or the warrant-less wiretapping.

    Bush Vetoes Bill That Would Limit Interrogations, NYT, 8.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/08/washington/08cnd-policy.html?hp






Text: Bush on Veto of Intelligence Bill


March 8, 2008
The New York Times


Following is the text of President Bush’s radio address to the nation for Saturday, as released by the White House.


Good morning. This week, I addressed the Department of Homeland Security on its fifth anniversary and thanked the men and women who work tirelessly to keep us safe. Because of their hard work, and the efforts of many across all levels of government, we have not suffered another attack on our soil since September the 11th, 2001.

This is not for a lack of effort on the part of the enemy. Al Qaeda remains determined to attack America again. Two years ago, Osama bin Laden warned the American people, “Operations are under preparation, and you will see them on your own ground once they are finished.” Because the danger remains, we need to ensure our intelligence officials have all the tools they need to stop the terrorists.

Unfortunately, Congress recently sent me an intelligence authorization bill that would diminish these vital tools. So today, I vetoed it. And here is why:

The bill Congress sent me would take away one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror — the C.I.A. program to detain and question key terrorist leaders and operatives. This program has produced critical intelligence that has helped us prevent a number of attacks. The program helped us stop a plot to strike a U.S. Marine camp in Djibouti, a planned attack on the U.S. consulate in Karachi, a plot to hijack a passenger plane and fly it into Library Tower in Los Angeles, and a plot to crash passenger planes into Heathrow Airport or buildings in downtown London. And it has helped us understand Al Qaeda’s structure and financing and communications and logistics. Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that Al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland.

The main reason this program has been effective is that it allows the C.I.A. to use specialized interrogation procedures to question a small number of the most dangerous terrorists under careful supervision. The bill Congress sent me would deprive the C.I.A. of the authority to use these safe and lawful techniques. Instead, it would restrict the C.I.A.’s range of acceptable interrogation methods to those provided in the Army field manual. The procedures in this manual were designed for use by soldiers questioning lawful combatants captured on the battlefield. They were not intended for intelligence professionals trained to question hardened terrorists.

Limiting the C.I.A.’s interrogation methods to those in the Army field manual would be dangerous because the manual is publicly available and easily accessible on the Internet. Shortly after 9/11, we learned that key Al Qaeda operatives had been trained to resist the methods outlined in the manual. And this is why we created alternative procedures to question the most dangerous Al Qaeda operatives, particularly those who might have knowledge of attacks planned on our homeland. The best source of information about terrorist attacks is the terrorists themselves. If we were to shut down this program and restrict the C.I.A. to methods in the field manual, we could lose vital information from senior Al Qaeda terrorists, and that could cost American lives.

The bill Congress sent me would not simply ban one particular interrogation method, as some have implied. Instead, it would eliminate all the alternative procedures we’ve developed to question the world’s most dangerous and violent terrorists. This would end an effective program that Congress authorized just over a year ago.

The fact that we have not been attacked over the past six and a half years is not a matter of chance. It is the result of good policies and the determined efforts of individuals carrying them out. We owe these individuals our thanks, and we owe them the authorities they need to do their jobs effectively.

We have no higher responsibility than stopping terrorist attacks. And this is no time for Congress to abandon practices that have a proven track record of keeping America safe.

Thank you for listening.

    Text: Bush on Veto of Intelligence Bill, NYT, 8.3.2008,http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/08/washington/08cnd-ptext.html






Bush Calls Surveillance Bill an ‘Urgent Priority’


February 28, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Using some of his toughest language in weeks, President Bush prodded Congress on Thursday to pass his preferred version of surveillance legislation, asserting that every day of delay could put the country in danger.

Mr. Bush said again that renewing the surveillance legislation is “a very urgent priority,” and that it must include controversial provisions that would shield telecommunications companies from wholesale lawsuits over their assistance in monitoring the phone calls and e-mail messages of suspected terrorists without warrants.

Failure to give the legal protection to the telecom companies would not only be unwise and dangerous policy but plain unfair, the president said at a White House news conference. The companies were told by government leaders after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, “that their assistance was legal and vital to national security,” the president said. “Allowing these lawsuits to proceed would be unfair.”

The Senate passed a surveillance bill to the president’s liking on Feb. 12, by a hefty margin. The chamber rejected a series of amendments that would have imposed greater civil-liberties checks on government surveillance powers, and it afforded legal protection to the telecom companies.

But the House has resisting passing that bill, prompting a heated debate over the proper balance between individual liberties and national security in the age of terrorism. If the final legislation does not include protection for the companies, a wave of lawsuits could reveal how the United States conducts surveillance “and give Al Qaeda and others a road map as to how to avoid surveillance,” Mr. Bush said.

Without the cooperation of private companies, “we cannot protect our country from terrorist attack,” the president declared, adding that the dispute was “not a partisan issue.”

Although there was nothing really new in the stance the president took, he adopted unusually robust language — saying, for instance, that it was “dangerous, just dangerous” for the legislation to be delayed, and pledging to continue speaking out about the issue until the American people understand and, by implication, the lawmakers follow the will of their constituents.

Mr. Bush also used one of his favorite themes, that of the trial lawyer who salivates at the money to be made through frivolous lawsuits. Perhaps, he said, these lawyers “see a gravy train” if they can sue the deep-pockets telecom companies.

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader, had a rebuttal ready while the president was still speaking.

“If the President had not rejected an extension of current law and refused to negotiate with Congress, it is very likely that the new FISA bill could already be law today,” the senator said, using the acronym for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. “It is disingenuous for the president to claim the country is less safe when he is the one responsible for holding up the legislative process.”

Mr. Bush used the news conference to reiterate several other long-held positions: The “temporary” tax cuts set to expire over the next few years, he said, should be made permanent to bolster the economy, which he said was not slowing down but was not skidding into recession. Big new taxes on the major oil companies would backfire, driving up energy costs, he said.

And the president showed no interest in getting acquainted with Raúl Castro, whom he described as just an extension of his brother Fidel, whose half-century tenure as president of Cuba has kept the island in isolation and poverty.

    Bush Calls Surveillance Bill an ‘Urgent Priority’, NYT, 28.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/28/washington/28cnd-bush.html?hp






Bike Ridden by Bomber Recovered, Police Believe


March 7, 2008
The New York Times


In a new development on Friday morning, investigators say they strongly believe that they have recovered the bicycle ridden by the person who bombed the Times Square military recruitment station in the pre-dawn hours of Thursday morning.

The bicycle is a Ross model, blue in color and in “fairly” good shape, said one law enforcement official.

“We are operating on the premise that it is the bike,” said the official, although no specific announcement of that has been made.

The bicycle was found in or near trash receptacles at Madison Avenue and 38th Street on Thursday morning, said Raymond W. Kelly, the city police commissioner. He said the police learned of it around 7 a.m., about 3 hours and 15 minutes after the bombing.

Detectives were carefully scrutinizing the bicycle for potential forensic evidence or fingerprints. It was found early in the morning by some workers who — after hearing news reports that the Times Square bombing involved a bicyclist — told an employee at a nearby building that it might be important evidence and to call 911.

“After people had it for a while, somebody thought ‘Hey, did you hear about it,’ ” the official said. “A lot of people handled it. They told someone in the building, an administrator or someone.”

A surveillance camera captured video of a man in the area near where the bicycle was found and, as technicians worked to enhance the images, investigators increasingly came to believe the image was that of the suspected bomber. Again, the official said, the investigators are “working on that premise,” that the man seen in that surveillance footage is the suspect.

In it, he is wearing a hooded jacket or a jacket over a hooded sweatshirt, the official said, adding that the characteristics of the footage made it difficult to determine, at this point, with specificity.

Early Friday morning the police distributed fliers in Times Square seeking information from anyone who may have witnessed the bombing or may have information about it. A $12,000 reward has been offered for any information that leads to a conviction in the bombing.

Hours after the bombing two developments — with a potential for a trove of leads — had investigators scrambling, around the nation.

But by late Thursday night, the developments were seen as strange coincidences not connected to the bombings and by Friday morning one of them had been designated as a strange sideshow and the other all but ruled out as consequential.

In the first development, letters were received on Thursday by members of Congress with pictures taken before the blast of a man standing in front of the recruiting station with his arms stretched wide and the words, “We did it. Happy New Year.”

The letters, more than 30 pages each, were indexed with numbers indicating they were mass produced and mailed with a return address from California. A man’s name was printed at the bottom. At first, officials thought the claim, “We did it,” might be a claim of credit for the bombing. But federal agents tracked the man down, waited for him as he left a health club, pulled him over in his car and talked to him.

His story — and denials of being the bomber — were believed to be credible, the law enforcement official said.

“He admitted the mailings and said the picture was an old Christmas card,” said the official, who said the man’s car and house had been searched. The words of the letters, sent mostly to the offices of Democrats, were “all simple political urgings to the Democrats,” the official said. “ ‘Do this, do that, you messed that up,’ and right up to talking about November 2008 election.”

Mr. Kelly, on the morning cable TV news programs, characterized the events, describing how they had fizzled. He said the “We did it,” line was believed to be a reference to the Democrats winning control of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections.

The letters arriving on the day of the bombing were chalked up to “bad timing,” in the words of the official.

As for the second development — it had investigators re-examining an incident from about a month ago at the Canadian border. At that time, anarchist writings and photographs of various spots around New York City — including the military recruiting station and the police station in Times Square — were discovered in one of four bags recovered by the authorities in a car crossing the border.

At the time, the contents “raised suspicions,” the official said, and New York City detectives visited every location depicted in the photographs to “tell them to be on their toes.” But there were no corresponding threats and no weapons found in the bags.

“And at the time, it was filed away,” the official said.

Then, when the bombing occurred, the authorities decided to take a new look at the Canadian border crossing incident. They went over the facts: Two of four men in a car got out and tried to cross the border on foot; the authorities pursued them but did not catch them; when the car was inspected at the checkpoint, each of the four bags were found to have contained four foreign passports for four people. In one of the bags were those writings and photographs, the official said.

But as they examined the facts, this lead, too, began to fizzle, officials said.

The investigators became “satisfied they were not doing anything illegal in New York,” the official said of the four people, whose names and photos were gleaned from the passport. “And satisfied they were not in New York at the time we got the information.”

Though investigators are still going over the facts and tying up some unanswered questions, the official said, “I don’t think anybody believes they are connected to the bombing.” However, the official said, things are still being “looked at.”

Reporting was contributed by Christine Hauser, Colin Moynihan, William K. Rashbaum and Carolyn Wilder.

    Bike Ridden by Bomber Recovered, Police Believe, NYT, 7.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/07/nyregion/07cnd-bicycle.html?hp






Bush Appeals to Justices on Detainees Case


February 15, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Bush administration asked the Supreme Court on Thursday to review an appeals court decision that it said had created a “serious threat to national security” by requiring the government to supply extensive evidence supporting the classification of more than 180 Guantánamo detainees as enemy combatants.

The administration asked the court to choose one of two options: either accept its appeal for expedited review, with arguments taking place in May and a decision to come in the current term, or defer action until the justices decide the case on the rights of the Guantánamo prisoners that is currently before them.

Under either option, the administration is seeking a stay of the lower court’s ruling, which it characterized as “serious legal error.”

The ruling, issued last July by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, became final on Feb. 1 when the full appeals court rejected the administration’s request for reconsideration by a vote of 5 to 5.

On Wednesday, the appeals court granted a stay until Feb. 21 to permit the administration to seek relief in the Supreme Court.

The new case, Gates v. Bismullah, and the case already pending before the Supreme Court, Boumediene v. Bush, deal with separate but intertwined aspects of the legal system Congress has created to deal with the Guantánamo prisoners. The pending case questions whether Congress had the constitutional authority to bar the federal courts from hearing petitions for habeas corpus filed on behalf of those who are challenging their open-ended confinement.

The new case deals with the method Congress established for detainees to contest their designation, by military panels called Combatant Status Review Tribunals, as enemy combatants. These designations may be appealed to the District of Columbia Circuit. The question is what evidence the government must present to the appeals court to defend the tribunal’s conclusion.

The appeals court ruled that the government must provide “all the information” that the tribunal was “authorized to obtain and consider,” regardless of whether the tribunal actually did consider the evidence. When the government argued before the appeals court that it had not preserved evidence that it did not present to the tribunals, the judges’ response was that the government in that case was obliged to convene new tribunals.

The decision will require “an enormous outlay of government resources” and “impose extraordinary compliance burdens,” the administration told the Supreme Court on Thursday. It added that it should not have to undertake this task at this point, because the pending Boumediene case “will almost certainly directly impact this case” and might “change the scope of the government’s task.”

If the Supreme Court rules in the Boumediene case that the prisoners do have a basic right to habeas corpus, the justices must then decide whether the appeals process at issue in the new case serves as a satisfactory alternative to a formal habeas corpus proceeding. The detainees’ lawyers have argued vigorously that it does not. The answer to that question, in turn, may well depend on what the appeals process actually consists of, which is the question in the new case.

    Bush Appeals to Justices on Detainees Case, NYT, 15.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/15/washington/15scotus.html






Pentagon charges alleged 9/11 planner, seeks death


Mon Feb 11, 2008
2:38pm EST
By Kristin Roberts


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon on Monday charged the alleged planner of the September 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and five others with murder and conspiracy and asked that they be executed if convicted.

The charges are the first from the Guantanamo war court alleging direct involvement in the 2001 attacks on the United States and the first involving the death penalty.

Mohammed, a Pakistani national better known as KSM, has said he planned every aspect of the September 11 attacks.

But his confession could be problematic if used as evidence because the CIA has admitted it subjected him to "waterboarding" -- an interrogation technique of simulated drowning that has been widely criticized as torture.

The rules of the court on the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prohibit the use of evidence gained through torture, as does an international treaty the United States has signed.

But Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, a legal adviser at the Guantanamo prison camp, would not rule out the use of evidence gathered during the CIA interrogation of Mohammed.

"The question of what evidence will be admitted, whether (involving) waterboarding or otherwise, will be decided in the court," he said.

The charges sought by the Pentagon include conspiring with al Qaeda to attack and murder civilians and 2,973 counts of murder for those killed in the September 11 attacks, when four hijacked passenger planes slammed into New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

Suspects were also charged with terrorism, violating the laws of war and targeting civilians.

"Obviously 9/11 was a defining moment in our history and a defining moment in the global war on terror, and this judicial process is the next step in that story of our history on this issue," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.

The White House had no role in deciding who would be prosecuted or to seek the death penalty, Perino said. The charges must be approved by a Pentagon appointee who oversees the court before a trial can be ordered.

Civil rights groups questioned whether the suspects could get a fair hearing under the U.S. military court system.


"Those accused of planning the September 11 attacks should be brought to justice, but a credible trial is impossible under a flawed military commissions system lacking in basic due process protections and allowing for the admission of coerced testimony, possibly obtained through practices condemned throughout the world as torture," said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Military prosecutors want to try all six defendants together -- Mohammed, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Mohammed al-Qahtani, Ramzi Binalshibh, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi and Walid bin Attash.

Hartmann said the trials would be "as completely open as possible" and that the defendants and their counsel would see even classified evidence used against them in court.

"There will be no secret trials. Every piece of evidence, every stitch of evidence, every whiff of evidence that goes to the finder of fact, to the jury, to the military tribunal, will be reviewed by the accused," he said.

Washington has faced fierce criticism worldwide for the detention without charge -- often for years -- of suspected al Qaeda and Taliban members at Guantanamo.

The U.S. military began sending captives there in January 2002 and hopes to eventually try 80 of the 275 who remain.

The Guantanamo tribunals are the first U.S. war crimes tribunals since World War Two. They were established after the September 11 attacks to try non-U.S. captives whom the Bush administration considers "enemy combatants" not entitled to the legal protections granted to soldiers and civilians.

(Additional reporting by David Morgan and Matt Spetalnick)

(Reporting by Kristin Roberts and Jane Sutton; Editing by Patricia Wilson and John O'Callaghan)

    Pentagon charges alleged 9/11 planner, seeks death, R, 11.2.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSN1162388220080211






Intelligence Chief Cites Qaeda Threat to U.S.


February 5, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The top American intelligence official said on Tuesday that Al Qaeda is improving its ability to attack within the United States by recruiting and training new operatives. At the same time, he said, the group’s affiliate in Iraq is beginning to send militants to other countries.

That caution came from Michael McConnell, director of national intelligence, as he presented to the Senate intelligence committee an annual report on threats to the United States. The report was released as his testimony began.

“Al-Qa’ida is improving the last key aspect of its ability to attack the U.S.: the identification, training, and positioning of operatives for an attack in the homeland,” he wrote in the 47-page document.

Mr. McConnell’s assessment, representing the consensus view of the country’s intelligence agencies, was decidedly mixed.

The report noted that there were no major terrorist attacks in much of the world over the past year, and suggested that Al Qaeda’s global image was “beginning to lose some of its luster.”

“There was no major attack against the United States or most of our European, Latin American, East Asia allies and partners,” the report said.

Mr. McConnell noted the unraveling of several terror plots in Europe. And he said that the recent reported death of Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior Al Qaeda military commander, in a missile attack in Pakistan was the most serious blow to the group’s top leadership since December 2005, when its external operations chief, Hamza Rabia, was killed.

But the new report warned that Al Qaeda remained a serious threat, and said that its affiliate in Iraq was beginning to export militants for attacks in other countries.

“I am increasingly concerned that as we inflict significant damage on al-Qa’ida in Iraq, it may shift resources to mounting more attacks outside of Iraq,” Mr. McConnell wrote, using an alternate transliteration of the group’s Arabic name.

But the report said that intelligence gleaned from documents captured in Iraq suggested that fewer than 100 of its militants had moved from Iraq to establish cells in other countries.

Mr. McConnell expressed concern about the ways in which globalization had broadened the numbers of threats facing the United States.

“For example, as government, private sector, and personal activities continue to move to networked operations and our digital systems add ever more capabilities, our vulnerability to penetration and other hostile cyber actions grows,” the report said.

The report attempted to calibrate its assessment of the Iranian nuclear threat, following the National Intelligence Estimate last year that concluded that Iran had probably suspended its nuclear weapons work in the fall of 2003. That finding appeared to undercut American diplomatic efforts to press Iran on the nuclear issue.

“We remain concerned about Iran’s intentions and assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons,” the report said.

“We assess with high confidence that Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons,” it said, adding that the only plausible way to prevent Iran from producing such weapons was “an Iranian political decision to abandon a nuclear weapons objective.”

On North Korea, the intelligence analysts judge “with at least moderate confidence” that the regime in Pyongyang continues its uranium enrichment efforts today. But it said that the North “probably views its capabilities as being more for deterrence and coercive diplomacy than for war-fighting, and would consider using nuclear weapons only under certain narrow circumstances.”

Further, the report concludes that the North’s Taepo Dong-2 missile, which failed in a flight test in July 2006, “probably has the potential capability to deliver a nuclear-weapon-sized payload to the continental United States.”

“But,” it added, “we assess the likelihood of successful delivery would be low, absent successful testing.”

The committee chairman, Senator John Rockefeller, said in prepared remarks that he was concerned that the Al Qaeda threat had “actually grown since last year’s threat review, particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” American officials have expressed reservations about the ability of the Pakistani government to keep militants out of the rugged area along the Afghan border.

“Al Qaeda has used this border safe haven to reconstitute itself and launch offensive operations that threaten to undo the stability brought to Afghanistan and undermine, if not overthrow, the Pakistan government,” said Mr. Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat.

This, Mr. Rockefeller added, gave Al Qaeda “a base of operations from which to plot and direct attacks against the United States.”

At the same hearing, Gen. Michael Hayden, head of the Central Intelligence Agency, confirmed the identities of three men who were videotaped being interrogated by the agency using “waterboarding,” a technique that simulates drowning.

General Hayden said the men were Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; a senior Al Qaeda operative, Abu Zubaydah; and another man suspected of being a senior operative, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

General Hayden said they were waterboarded in 2002 and 2003 for two reasons: because the C.I.A. knew very little about Al Qaeda operations, and because the agency feared that more terror attacks were imminent. Both those considerations, he said on Tuesday, have since changed.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey, whose department is investigating the destruction of the agency’s tapes of those interrogations, has refused to rule out the future use of waterboarding. But Mr. McConnell, in his testimony on Tuesday, said that new procedures were in place to limit authorization for using the technique: General Hayden would have to notify Mr. McConnell, who would have to ask Mr. Mukasey, who in turn would have to obtain the president’s approval before authorizing a waterboarding.

    Intelligence Chief Cites Qaeda Threat to U.S., NYT, 5.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/05/washington/05cnd-threat.html?hp







Secrets and Rights


February 2, 2008
The New York Times

President Bush’s excesses in the name of fighting terrorism are legion. To avoid accountability, his administration has repeatedly sought early dismissal of lawsuits that might finally expose government misconduct, brandishing flimsy claims that going forward would put national security secrets at risk.

The courts have been far too willing to go along. In cases involving serious allegations of kidnapping, torture and unlawful domestic eavesdropping, judges have blocked plaintiffs from pursuing their claims without taking a hard look at the government’s basis for invoking the so-called state secrets privilege: its insistence that revealing certain documents or other evidence would endanger the nation’s security.

As a result, victims of serious abuse have been denied justice, fundamental rights have been violated and the constitutional system of checks and balances has been grievously undermined.

Congress — which has allowed itself to be bullied on national security issues for far too long — may now be ready to push back. The House and Senate are developing legislation that would give victims fair access to the courts and make it harder for the government to hide illegal or embarrassing conduct behind such unsupported claims.

Last week, Senator Edward Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat, and Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, jointly introduced the State Secrets Protection Act. The measure would require judges to examine the actual documents or other evidence for which the state secrets privilege is invoked, rather than relying on government affidavits asserting that the evidence is too sensitive to be publicly disclosed. Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and an important supporter of the reform, has scheduled a hearing on the bill for Feb. 13. Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, expects to introduce a similar measure in the House.

Of course, legitimate secrets need to be protected, and the legislation contains safeguards to ensure that.

To allow cases to go forward, the bill gives judges the authority to order the government to provide unclassified or redacted substitutes. It also gives those making claims against the government a chance to make a preliminary case using evidence that they have gathered on their own.

In October, the Supreme Court passed up an opportunity to rein in the administration’s abuse of state secrets claims and establish new procedures for dealing with potentially sensitive evidence.

The justices declined to take up the case of Khaled el-Masri, an innocent German citizen of Lebanese descent who was kidnapped, detained and tortured in a secret overseas prison as part of the administration’s extraordinary rendition program. Lower federal courts had dismissed Mr. Masri’s civil lawsuit, reflexively bowing to the administration’s claim that proceeding would compromise national security.

Since the Supreme Court has abdicated its responsibility, Congress must now act. Too many laws have been violated, and too many Americans and others have been harmed under a phony claim of national security.

    Secrets and Rights, NYT, 2.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/02/opinion/02sat1.html






Court Won't Reconsider Guantanamo Ruling


February 1, 2008
Filed at 11:17 a.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- A federal appeals court refused Friday to reconsider a ruling broadening its own authority to scrutinize evidence against detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

The Supreme Court is also closely watching that issue.

The decision is a setback for the Bush administration, which was displeased by the court's three-judge ruling in July and had urged all 10 judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to review it.

The ruling held that, when Guantanamo Bay detainees bring a court challenge to their status as ''enemy combatants,'' judges must review all the evidence, not just the evidence the military chooses.

When detainees are brought before military combatant status review tribunals, they are not allowed to have lawyers and the Pentagon decides what evidence to present. Unlike in criminal trials, the government is not obligated to turn over evidence that the defendant might be innocent.

''For this court to ignore that reality would be to proceed as though the Congress envisioned judicial review as a mere charade,'' Chief Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg wrote Friday.

If the military reviewers designate a prisoner an enemy combatant, the prisoner can challenge that decision before the appeals court in Washington. The court was evenly divided 5-5 on whether to reconsider its earlier decision. A majority of judges must vote to reconsider a ruling as a full court.

    Court Won't Reconsider Guantanamo Ruling, NYT, 1.2.2008,




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