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History > 2009 > USA > Terrorism (I)




Cameron (Cam) Cardow



21 January 2009















Yemen Dispute

Slows Closing of Guantánamo


April 24, 2009
The New York Times


The Obama administration’s effort to return the largest group of Guantánamo Bay detainees to Yemen, their home country, has stalled, creating a major new hurdle for the president’s plan to close the prison camp in Cuba by next January, American and Yemeni officials say.

“We’re at a complete impasse,” said one American official who is involved in the issue but was speaking without authorization and so requested anonymity. “I don’t know that there’s a viable Plan B.”

The Yemeni government has asked Washington to return its detainees and has said that it would need substantial aid to rehabilitate the men. But the Obama administration is increasingly skeptical of Yemen’s ability to provide adequate rehabilitation and security to supervise returned prisoners. In addition, American officials are wary of sending detainees to Yemen because of growing indications of activity by Al Qaeda there.

The developments are significant for the Obama administration because the 97 Yemeni detainees make up more than 40 percent of the remaining 241 prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. The question of what to do with them “is integral to the process of closing Guantánamo,” said Ken Gude, an associate director at the Center for American Progress who has written about closing the prison camp.

The standoff over the Yemeni detainees comes on top of other difficulties that have emerged since President Obama announced his intention to close the prison that has drawn international criticism for years.

Some Republicans in Congress have mounted stiff resistance to closing Guantánamo, and officials in some American communities, fearing that terrorism suspects could be tried or held in their courts or prisons, said they would fight any such plans. Also, while some European governments have promised to resettle detainees, specific agreements have been slow in coming.

The Yemenis not only are the biggest group of detainees, but also are widely seen as the most difficult to transfer out of Guantánamo. Other countries are wary of many of the Yemeni detainees because jihadist groups have long had deep roots in Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Arab world and the homeland of Osama bin Laden’s father. If the Yemenis are not sent home, there may be few other options for many of the 97 men, detainees’ lawyers and human rights groups say.

Still, Muhi al-Deen al-Dhabi, Yemen’s deputy foreign affairs minister, said in an interview that the United States was now trying to persuade other countries to accept Yemeni detainees and appeared to have rejected Yemen’s request to have its citizens at Guantánamo returned.

“If the United States is going to transfer the Yemeni detainees to a third party, we cannot stop that,” Mr. Dhabi said.

Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, met last month with Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser, John O. Brennan. The State Department said Mr. Brennan raised “the U.S. government’s concerns about the direct return of detainees to Yemen.”

The Bush administration also failed to reach a deal with President Saleh, but the Obama administration had hoped to get increased cooperation from Yemen, which critics say has a history of coddling Islamic extremists and releasing convicted terrorists. Complicating the task is the fact that security in Yemen has been deteriorating for more than a year, with several terrorist attacks, including a suicide bombing outside the American Embassy compound in September that killed 13 people.

Among the 97 Yemeni detainees are some men who appear to be candidates for transfer to other countries, including about a dozen with ties to Saudi Arabia. American officials have described some of the Yemenis as jihadist foot soldiers and have suggested that a few, like a student captured while visiting other Yemenis in Pakistan, may simply have been at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Perhaps a dozen or more Yemeni detainees could face prosecution in the United States, including Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who was charged in the Bush administration’s military commission system with being a coordinator of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

But with just nine months remaining before Mr. Obama’s January 2010 deadline for closing the prison, some lawyers for the men say they are becoming convinced that there may be no viable strategy to relocate them.

David H. Remes, a lawyer for 16 Yemeni detainees, said it appeared that many of the men might remain in American custody. “Unless President Obama reconsiders his decision to close Guantánamo,” Mr. Remes said, “the Yemeni detainees would have to be brought to the U.S. and put in some sort of prison.”

Although administration officials would not comment on the talks with Yemen, a senior administration official said the government was “working to ensure that any detainee who is transferred abroad will be appropriately monitored, rehabilitated, and assimilated back into their society.”

The complexities of the issues surrounding the detainees are a reflection of Yemen’s tangled domestic and international problems. It is a state that often appears on the verge of chaos. A weak central government is fighting a persistent insurgency in the north, restive separatists in the south and a growing Qaeda presence.

Some Yemeni officials say President Saleh, a wily former army officer, has used the internal threats — and perhaps even nurtured them — to press the United States and Yemen’s neighbor Saudi Arabia for more aid.

As a result, people who have discussed the detainee issues with Yemeni officials say the Obama administration’s frustration with the Yemeni government may be well founded.

Mr. Saleh has publicly demanded the return of the detainees. But Joanne Mariner, director of Human Rights Watch’s terrorism and counterterrorism program, said that after meeting top Yemeni officials, it appeared that the Saleh government seemed to see the detainees as a potential source of security and financial problems.

“Politically, they need to give the impression that they’re fighting to get their people back,” Ms. Mariner said, but she added that it was not clear whether the Yemeni officials were working to meet any American requirements.

One senior Yemeni official, she said, seemed to suggest that Yemen would require a huge payment from the American government to resettle the detainees. A proper rehabilitation program, the official claimed, could cost as much as $1 million for each detainee, totaling nearly $100 million.

In the recent interview, Mr. Dhabi, the deputy foreign affairs minister, did not mention a price tag. But he said that creating a rehabilitation program would be “long, costly and would require cooperation.” He said the Americans were “disappointed” to hear that.

Every option for the Yemenis at Guantánamo seems to have its roadblocks. There have long been reports that many Yemeni detainees may go to Saudi Arabia’s rehabilitation program for former jihadists. That program has been widely praised in the Middle East, despite recent disclosures that some graduates who are former Guantánamo detainees have returned to terrorism.

But the Saudis have noted that Yemen demands that its citizens be sent home, and a high-level Saudi official said his country would not take any of the detainees unless Yemen asked it to.


William Glaberson reported from New York, and Robert F. Worth from Beirut, Lebanon. Margot Williams contributed reporting from New York.

    Yemen Dispute Slows Closing of Guantánamo, NYT, 24.4.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/24/world/middleeast/24yemen.html?hpw






Court Says US

Asked Detainee

to Drop Torture Claim


March 23, 2009
Filed at 12:53 p.m. ET
The New York Times


LONDON (AP) -- U.S. authorities asked a Guantanamo Bay detainee to drop allegations of torture and agree not to speak publicly about his ordeal in exchange for his freedom, according to British court documents.

A ruling by two British High Court judges, issued in October but released only on Monday, said the U.S. offered former detainee Binyam Mohamed a plea bargain last year -- six years after he was first detained as an enemy combatant.

It was the first time details of the plea bargain offer were made public. The ruling said U.S. military prosecutors also asked that Mohamed plead guilty to two charges, accept a three-year sentence and agree to testify against other suspected terrorists.

Mohamed, an Ethiopian who moved to Britain as a teenager, was arrested in Pakistan in 2002. He claims he was tortured both there and in Morocco, before he was transferred to Guantanamo in 2004.

He was freed in February after months of negotiation between the U.S. and Britain. All charges against him were dropped last year.

Mohamed refused to agree to any deal that prevented him from discussing his treatment, Lord Justice John Thomas and Mr. Justice David Lloyd Jones said in the ruling.

''He wanted it to be made clear to the world what had happened and how he has been treated by the United States government since April 2002,'' Thomas said in the ruling.

The British judges had ordered that their written ruling be withheld from the public until after Mohamed was released.

The judges considered the plea bargain issue during an appeal to the High Court by Mohamed's lawyers demanding the British government release documents they claim would prove he was tortured.

Issuing a judgment on the case in February, Thomas said there was evidence to show Mohamed was tortured, but that the documents could not be made public because of the British government's national security concerns.

He said Britain's government had said releasing the documents could undermine intelligence-sharing with the United States.

Mohamed claims British intelligence officers supplied questions to his interrogators and were complicit in his torture -- a claim Prime Minister Gordon Brown has rejected.

In investigating Mohamed's claims, the British court reviewed the draft plea bargain and correspondence between military prosecutors and Mohamed's lawyers.

The ruling quoted testimony from Mohamed's lawyer about the offer.

''Mr. Mohamed must sign a statement saying he has not been tortured, which would be false. And he must agree not to make any public statement about what he has been through,'' Clive Stafford Smith told the court in October, according to the ruling.

The ruling also quotes then-U.S. military prosecutor Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld as saying Mohamed would be given a date for his release if he agreed to the terms.

Vandeveld -- who has since quit his post -- had said Mohamed would need to plead guilty to two charges in exchange for a three-year sentence and to testify against other suspects, according to the court documents.

The ruling discloses that, had Mohamed agreed to the plea bargain, the British government told the U.S. it would not allow him to serve the three-year sentence in a U.K. jail.

Since February, Mohamed has given interviews to the BBC and a British newspaper.

    Court Says US Asked Detainee to Drop Torture Claim, NYT, 23.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/03/23/world/AP-EU-Britain-Torture.html







Mr. Obama and the Rule of Law


March 22, 2009
The New York Times

As much as it needs to happen, we never expected President Obama to immediately reverse every one of President George W. Bush’s misguided and dangerous policies on terrorism, prisoners, the rule of law and government secrecy. Fixing this calamitous mess will take time and care — and Mr. Obama has taken important steps in that direction.

But we did not expect that Mr. Obama, who addressed these issues with such clarity during his campaign, would be sending such confused and mixed signals from the White House. Some of what the public has heard from the Obama administration on issues like state secrets and detainees sounds a bit too close for comfort to the Bush team’s benighted ideas.

There are times when the president seems to be making a clean and definitive break. On his second day in office, he ordered the closing of the prison at Guantánamo Bay and directed his cabinet to formulate new policies on detaining and interrogating people suspected of terrorist acts or of supporting terrorists.

Last week, the administration notified a federal court hearing appeals by Guantánamo inmates that it was dropping Mr. Bush’s absurd claim that he could declare anyone an “enemy combatant” and deprive that prisoner of judicial process. The administration affirmed its commitment to the laws of war, the Geneva Conventions and long-standing military doctrine.

But the break does not always seem complete enough. Even as they dropped the “enemy combatant” terminology, Mr. Obama’s lawyers did not seem to rule out indefinite military detentions for terrorism suspects and their allies. They drew a definition of association with Al Qaeda that is too broad (simply staying in a “safe house,” for example). Worse, they seemed to adopt Mr. Bush’s position that the “battlefield” against terrorism is the planet. That became the legal pretext for turning criminal defendants into lifelong military captives.

On Thursday, we were delighted to see Attorney General Eric Holder reverse the Bush policy on releasing documents under the Freedom of Information Act. Mr. Bush’s first attorney general, John Ashcroft, directed the government to assume that documents should not be released and to find pretexts to keep them secret. Mr. Holder directed all agencies to presume that “in the face of doubt, openness prevails.” And he said the policy applied to pending lawsuits against the Bush administration for refusing to disclose information.

It was great news, but also recalled our distress that the Justice Department had abandoned transparency just last month in a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The case involves five men who were seized and transported to American facilities abroad or countries known for torturing prisoners.

The Obama administration advanced the same expansive state-secrets argument pressed by Mr. Bush’s lawyers to get a trial court to dismiss the case without any evidence being presented. Even the judges seemed surprised, asking whether the government wanted a delay to reconsider its position.

The Obama team should have taken the delay. It should now support bipartisan legislation to fix this problem by expanding judges’ powers to examine evidence the government wants to keep secret and decide whether to admit it based on facts rather than claims of presidential power. It is hard to fathom what signal Mr. Obama is trying to send by stifling cases that must be heard.

On the filing in the Guantánamo appeals, administration officials say — quite rightly — that they took an important step by declaring that their treatment of prisoners would be based on the law and not theories about executive power. They said that they had a deadline to file the document and that its discussion of prisoner policies pertained only to the Guantánamo inmates.

These arguments are persuasive for now. The test is whether they will be fully reflected in the results of the continuing policy reviews — and we assume they will. It is vital for Mr. Obama’s team to be as thorough and detailed as possible, ensuring that American policy respects the limits so clearly laid out by the nation’s laws and Constitution.

Mr. Obama also should stop resisting an investigation of Mr. Bush’s policies on terrorism, state secrets, wiretapping, detention and interrogation. We know he is struggling with many Bush-created disasters — in the economy, in foreign policy and on and on. But understanding all that has gone wrong is the only way to ensure that abuses will truly end. That investigation should be done calmly rather than under the pressure of some new, shocking revelation.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney is still proclaiming that waterboarding detainees prevented another attack. Among other things, an investigation would examine that assertion — for which Mr. Cheney offers no evidence, and which others have challenged.

Everyone wants to move forward. The only way to do that, and make sure the system of justice is working properly, is to know exactly how Mr. Bush broke it.

    Mr. Obama and the Rule of Law, NYT, 22.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/22/opinion/22sun1.html






Op-Ed Contributor

Tales From Torture’s Dark World


March 15, 2009
The New York Times


ON a bright sunny day two years ago, President George W. Bush strode into the East Room of the White House and informed the world that the United States had created a dark and secret universe to hold and interrogate captured terrorists.

“In addition to the terrorists held at Guantánamo,” the president said, “a small number of suspected terrorist leaders and operatives captured during the war have been held and questioned outside the United States, in a separate program operated by the Central Intelligence Agency.”

At these places, Mr. Bush said, “the C.I.A. used an alternative set of procedures.” He added: “These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution and our treaty obligations. The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and determined them to be lawful.” This speech will stand, I believe, as George W. Bush’s most important: perhaps the only historic speech he ever gave. In his fervent defense of his government’s “alternative set of procedures” and his equally fervent insistence that they were “lawful,” he set out before the country America’s dark moral epic of torture, in the coils of whose contradictions we find ourselves entangled still.

At the same time, perhaps unwittingly, Mr. Bush made it possible that day for those on whom the alternative set of procedures were performed eventually to speak. For he announced that he would send 14 “high-value detainees” from dark into twilight: they would be transferred from the overseas “black sites” to Guantánamo. There, while awaiting trial, the International Committee of the Red Cross would be “advised of their detention, and will have the opportunity to meet with them.”

A few weeks later, from Oct. 6 to 11 and then from Dec. 4 to 14, 2006, Red Cross officials — whose duty it is to monitor compliance with the Geneva Conventions and to supervise treatment of prisoners of war — traveled to Guantánamo and began interviewing the prisoners.

Their stated goal was to produce a report that would “provide a description of the treatment and material conditions of detention of the 14 during the period they were held in the C.I.A. detention program,” periods ranging “from 16 months to almost four and a half years.”

As the Red Cross interviewers informed the detainees, their report was not intended to be released to the public but, “to the extent that each detainee agreed for it to be transmitted to the authorities,” to be given in strictest secrecy to officials of the government agency that had been in charge of holding them — in this case the Central Intelligence Agency, to whose acting general counsel, John Rizzo, the report was sent on Feb. 14, 2007.

The result is a document — labeled “confidential” and clearly intended only for the eyes of those senior American officials — that tells a story of what happened to each of the 14 detainees inside the black sites.

A short time ago, this document came into my hands and I have set out the stories it tells in a longer article in The New York Review of Books. Because these stories were taken down confidentially in patient interviews by professionals from the International Committee of the Red Cross, and not intended for public consumption, they have an unusual claim to authenticity.

Indeed, since the detainees were kept strictly apart and isolated, both at the black sites and at Guantánamo, the striking similarity in their stories would seem to make fabrication extremely unlikely. As its authors state in their introduction, “The I.C.R.C. wishes to underscore that the consistency of the detailed allegations provided separately by each of the 14 adds particular weight to the information provided below.”

Beginning with the chapter headings on its contents page — “suffocation by water,” “prolonged stress standing,” “beatings by use of a collar,” “confinement in a box” — the document makes compelling and chilling reading. The stories recounted in its fewer than 50 pages lead inexorably to this unequivocal conclusion, which, given its source, has the power of a legal determination: “The allegations of ill treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill treatment to which they were subjected while held in the C.I.A. program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

Perhaps one should start with the story of the first man to whom, according to news reports, the president’s “alternative set of procedures” were applied:

“I woke up, naked, strapped to a bed, in a very white room. The room measured approximately 4 meters by 4 meters. The room had three solid walls, with the fourth wall consisting of metal bars separating it from a larger room. I am not sure how long I remained in the bed. After some time, I think it was several days, but can’t remember exactly, I was transferred to a chair where I was kept, shackled by hands and feet for what I think was the next two to three weeks. During this time I developed blisters on the underside of my legs due to the constant sitting. I was only allowed to get up from the chair to go [to] the toilet, which consisted of a bucket.

“I was given no solid food during the first two or three weeks, while sitting on the chair. I was only given Ensure and water to drink. At first the Ensure made me vomit, but this became less with time.

“The cell and room were air-conditioned and were very cold. Very loud, shouting-type music was constantly playing. It kept repeating about every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day. Sometimes the music stopped and was replaced by a loud hissing or crackling noise.

“The guards were American, but wore masks to conceal their faces. My interrogators did not wear masks.”

So begins the story of Abu Zubaydah, a senior member of Al Qaeda, captured in a raid in Pakistan in March 2002. The arrest of an active terrorist with actionable information was a coup for the United States.

After being treated for his wounds — he had been shot in the stomach, leg and groin during his capture — Abu Zubaydah was brought to one of the black sites, probably in Thailand, and placed in that white room.

It is important to note that Abu Zubaydah was not alone with his interrogators, that everyone in that white room — guards, interrogators, doctor — was in fact linked directly, and almost constantly, to senior intelligence officials on the other side of the world. “It wasn’t up to individual interrogators to decide, ‘Well, I’m going to slap him. Or I’m going to shake him,’” said John Kiriakou, a C.I.A. officer who helped capture Abu Zubaydah, in an interview with ABC News.

Every one of the steps taken with regard to Abu Zubaydah “had to have the approval of the deputy director for operations. So before you laid a hand on him, you had to send in the cable saying, ‘He’s uncooperative. Request permission to do X.’”

He went on: “The cable traffic back and forth was extremely specific.... No one wanted to get in trouble by going overboard.”

Shortly after Abu Zubaydah was captured, C.I.A. officers briefed the National Security Council’s principals committee, including Vice President Dick Cheney, the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, in detail on the interrogation plans for the prisoner. As the interrogations proceeded, so did the briefings, with George Tenet, the C.I.A. director, bringing to senior officials almost daily reports of the techniques applied.

At the time, the spring and summer of 2002, Justice Department officials, led by John Yoo, were working on a memorandum, now known informally as “the torture memo,” which claimed that for an “alternative procedure” to be considered torture, and thus illegal, it would have to cause pain of the sort “that would be associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure, or permanent damage resulting in a loss of significant body function will likely result.” The memo was approved in August 2002, thus serving as a legal “green light” for interrogators to apply the most aggressive techniques to Abu Zubaydah:

“I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck; they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room.”

The prisoner was then put in a coffin-like black box, about 4 feet by 3 feet and 6 feet high, “for what I think was about one and a half to two hours.” He added: The box was totally black on the inside as well as the outside.... They put a cloth or cover over the outside of the box to cut out the light and restrict my air supply. It was difficult to breathe. When I was let out of the box I saw that one of the walls of the room had been covered with plywood sheeting. From now on it was against this wall that I was then smashed with the towel around my neck. I think that the plywood was put there to provide some absorption of the impact of my body. The interrogators realized that smashing me against the hard wall would probably quickly result in physical injury.”

After this beating, Abu Zubaydah was placed in a small box approximately three feet tall. “They placed a cloth or cover over the box to cut out all light and restrict my air supply. As it was not high enough even to sit upright, I had to crouch down. It was very difficult because of my wounds. The stress on my legs held in this position meant my wounds both in the leg and stomach became very painful. I think this occurred about three months after my last operation. It was always cold in the room, but when the cover was placed over the box it made it hot and sweaty inside. The wound on my leg began to open and started to bleed. I don’t know how long I remained in the small box; I think I may have slept or maybe fainted.

“I was then dragged from the small box, unable to walk properly, and put on what looked like a hospital bed, and strapped down very tightly with belts. A black cloth was then placed over my face and the interrogators used a mineral water bottle to pour water on the cloth so that I could not breathe. After a few minutes the cloth was removed and the bed was rotated into an upright position. The pressure of the straps on my wounds was very painful. I vomited.

“The bed was then again lowered to horizontal position and the same torture carried out again with the black cloth over my face and water poured on from a bottle. On this occasion my head was in a more backward, downwards position and the water was poured on for a longer time. I struggled against the straps, trying to breathe, but it was hopeless.”

After being placed again in the tall box, Abu Zubaydah “was then taken out and again a towel was wrapped around my neck and I was smashed into the wall with the plywood covering and repeatedly slapped in the face by the same two interrogators as before.

“I was then made to sit on the floor with a black hood over my head until the next session of torture began. The room was always kept very cold.

This went on for approximately one week.”

Walid bin Attash, a Saudi involved with planning the attacks on American embassies in Africa in 1998 and on the Navy destroyer Cole in 2000, was captured in Pakistan on April 29, 2003:

“On arrival at the place of detention in Afghanistan I was stripped naked. I remained naked for the next two weeks.... I was kept in a standing position, feet flat on the floor, but with my arms above my head and fixed with handcuffs and a chain to a metal bar running across the width of the cell. The cell was dark with no light, artificial or natural.”

This forced standing, with arms shackled above the head, seems to have become standard procedure. It proved especially painful for Mr. bin Attash, who had lost a leg fighting in Afghanistan:

“After some time being held in this position my stump began to hurt so I removed my artificial leg to relieve the pain. Of course my good leg then began to ache and soon started to give way so that I was left hanging with all my weight on my wrists.”

Cold water was used on Mr. bin Attash in combination with beatings and the use of a plastic collar, which seems to have been a refinement of the towel that had been looped around Abu Zubaydah’s neck:

“On a daily basis during the first two weeks a collar was looped around my neck and then used to slam me against the walls of the interrogation room. It was also placed around my neck when being taken out of my cell for interrogation and was used to lead me along the corridor. It was also used to slam me against the walls of the corridor during such movements.

“Also on a daily basis during the first two weeks I was made to lie on a plastic sheet placed on the floor which would then be lifted at the edges. Cold water was then poured onto my body with buckets.... I would be kept wrapped inside the sheet with the cold water for several minutes. I would then be taken for interrogation.”

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the key planner of the 9/11 attacks, was captured in Pakistan on March 1, 2003.

After three days in what he believes was a prison in Afghanistan, Mr. Mohammed was put in a tracksuit, blindfold, hood and headphones, and shackled and placed aboard a plane. He quickly fell asleep — “the first proper sleep in over five days” — and remains unsure of how long the journey took. On arrival, however, he realized he had come a long way:

“I could see at one point there was snow on the ground. Everybody was wearing black, with masks and army boots, like Planet X people. I think the country was Poland. I think this because on one occasion a water bottle was brought to me without the label removed. It had [an] e-mail address ending in ‘.pl.’”

He was stripped and put in a small cell. “I was kept for one month in the cell in a standing position with my hands cuffed and shackled above my head and my feet cuffed and shackled to a point in the floor,” he told the Red Cross.

“Of course during this month I fell asleep on some occasions while still being held in this position. This resulted in all my weight being applied to the handcuffs around my wrist, resulting in open and bleeding wounds. [Scars consistent with this allegation were visible on both wrists as well as on both ankles.] Both my feet became very swollen after one month of almost continual standing.”

For interrogation, Mr. Mohammed was taken to a different room. The sessions lasted for as long as eight hours and as short as four.

“If I was perceived not to be cooperating I would be put against a wall and punched and slapped in the body, head and face. A thick flexible plastic collar would also be placed around my neck so that it could then be held at the two ends by a guard who would use it to slam me repeatedly against the wall. The beatings were combined with the use of cold water, which was poured over me using a hose-pipe.”

As with Abu Zubaydah, the harshest sessions involved the “alternative set of procedures” used in sequence and in combination, one technique intensifying the effects of the others:

“The beatings became worse and I had cold water directed at me from a hose-pipe by guards while I was still in my cell. The worst day was when I was beaten for about half an hour by one of the interrogators. My head was banged against the wall so hard that it started to bleed. Cold water was poured over my head. This was then repeated with other interrogators. Finally I was taken for a session of water boarding. The torture on that day was finally stopped by the intervention of the doctor.”

Reading the Red Cross report, one becomes somewhat inured to the “alternative set of procedures” as they are described: the cold and repeated violence grow numbing. Against this background, the descriptions of daily life of the detainees in the black sites, in which interrogation seems merely a periodic heightening of consistently imposed brutality, become more striking.

Here again is Mr. Mohammed:

“After each session of torture I was put into a cell where I was allowed to lie on the floor and could sleep for a few minutes. However, due to shackles on my ankles and wrists I was never able to sleep very well.... The toilet consisted of a bucket in the cell, which I could use on request” — he was shackled standing, his hands affixed to the ceiling — “but I was not allowed to clean myself after toilet during the first month.... I wasn’t given any clothes for the first month. Artificial light was on 24 hours a day, but I never saw sunlight.”

Abu Zubaydah, Walid bin Attash, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed — these men almost certainly have blood on their hands. There is strong reason to believe that they had critical parts in planning and organizing terrorist operations that caused the deaths of thousands of people. So in all likelihood did the other “high-value detainees” whose treatment while secretly confined by the United States is described in the Red Cross report.

From everything we know, many or all of these men deserve to be tried and punished — to be “brought to justice,” as President Bush vowed they would be. The fact that judges, military or civilian, throw out cases of prisoners who have been tortured — and have already done so at Guantánamo — means it is highly unlikely that they will be brought to justice anytime soon.

For the men who have committed great crimes, this seems to mark perhaps the most important and consequential sense in which “torture doesn’t work.” The use of torture deprives the society whose laws have been so egregiously violated of the possibility of rendering justice. Torture destroys justice. Torture in effect relinquishes this sacred right in exchange for speculative benefits whose value is, at the least, much disputed.

As I write, it is impossible to know definitively what benefits — in intelligence, in national security, in disrupting Al Qaeda — the president’s approval of use of an “alternative set of procedures” might have brought to the United States. Only a thorough investigation, which we are now promised, much belatedly, by the Senate Intelligence Committee, can determine that.

What we can say with certainty, in the wake of the Red Cross report, is that the United States tortured prisoners and that the Bush administration, including the president himself, explicitly and aggressively denied that fact. We can also say that the decision to torture, in a political war with militant Islam, harmed American interests by destroying the democratic and Constitutional reputation of the United States, undermining its liberal sympathizers in the Muslim world and helping materially in the recruitment of young Muslims to the extremist cause. By deciding to torture, we freely chose to embrace the caricature they had made of us. The consequences of this choice, legal, political and moral, now confront us. Time and elections are not enough to make them go away.

Mark Danner, a professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and Bard College, is the author of "Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror.” This essay is drawn from a longer article in the new issue of The New York Review of Books, available at www.nybooks.com .

    Tales From Torture’s Dark World, NYT, 15.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/15/opinion/15danner.html






Terrorist watch list hits 1 million


10 March 2009
USA Today
By Peter Eisler


WASHINGTON — The government's terrorist watch list has hit 1 million entries, up 32% since 2007.

Federal data show the rise comes despite the removal of 33,000 entries last year by the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center in an effort to purge the list of outdated information and remove people cleared in investigations.

It's unclear how many individuals those 33,000 records represent — the center often uses multiple entries, or "identities," for a person to reflect variances in name spellings or other identifying information. The remaining million entries represent about 400,000 individuals, according to the center.

The new figures were provided by the screening center and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in response to requests from USA TODAY.

"We're continually trying to improve the quality of the information," says Timothy Edgar, a civil liberties officer at the intelligence director's office. "It's always going to be a work in progress."

People put on the watch list by intelligence and law enforcement agencies can be blocked from flying, stopped at borders or subjected to other scrutiny. About 95% of the people on the list are foreigners, the FBI says, but it's a source of frequent complaints from U.S. travelers.

In the past two years, 51,000 people have filed "redress" requests claiming they were wrongly included on the watch list, according to the Department of Homeland Security. In the vast majority of cases reviewed so far, it has turned out that the petitioners were not actually on the list, with most having been misidentified at airports because their names resembled others on it.

There have been 830 redress requests since 2005 where the person was, in fact, confirmed to be on the watch list, and further review by the screening center led to the removal of 150, or 18% of them.

Without specific rules for who goes on the list, it's too bloated to be effective, says Tim Sparapani, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union.

A 2007 audit by the Government Accountability Office said more needed to be done to ensure the list's accuracy, but still found that it has "enhanced the U.S. government's counterterrorism efforts."

    Terrorist watch list hits 1 million, UT, 10.3.2009, http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2009-03-10-watchlist_N.htm






Detainees Say They Planned Sept. 11


March 10, 2009
The New York Times


The five detainees at Guantánamo Bay charged with planning the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have filed a document with the military commission at the United States naval base there expressing pride at their accomplishment and accepting full responsibility for the killing of nearly 3,000 people.

The document, which may be released publicly on Tuesday, uses the Arabic term for a consultative assembly in describing the five men as the “9/11 Shura Council,” and it says their actions were an offering to God, according to excerpts of the document that were read to a reporter by a government official who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

The document is titled “The Islamic Response to the Government’s Nine Accusations,” the military judge at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp said in a separate filing, obtained by The New York Times, that describes the detainees’ document.

The document was filed on behalf of the five men, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who has described himself as the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.

President Obama halted the military proceedings at Guantánamo in the first days after his inauguration, and the five men’s case is on hiatus until the government decides how it will proceed.

Several of the men have earlier said in military commission proceedings at Guantánamo that they planned the 2001 attacks and that they sought martyrdom. The strategic goal of the five men in making the new filing, which reached the military court on March 5, was not clear.

In their filing, the men describe the planning of the Sept. 11 attacks and the killing of Americans as a model of Islamic action, and say the American government’s accusations cause them no shame, according to the excerpts read by the government official.

“To us,” the official continued reading, “they are not accusations. To us they are a badge of honor, which we carry with honor.”

It appears that the men wrote the document at meetings they are permitted to conduct periodically at the detention camp without lawyers.

In his brief court order describing the filing, the military judge who has been handling the case, Col. Stephen R. Henley of the Army, said the men sought no specific legal action. Judge Henley ordered that the filing be released immediately, but officials said objections from lawyers for two of the men had held up release Monday.

All five of the men have said they want to represent themselves, but in the case of these two men, Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, the military judge had not yet determined their competency when the proceedings were halted.

    Detainees Say They Planned Sept. 11, NYT, 10.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/10/us/10gitmo.html






Terror-War Fallout

Lingers Over Bush Lawyers


March 9, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — When John C. Yoo, a former Justice Department lawyer, was selected by President George W. Bush in May 2004 to join a government board charged with releasing historical Nazi and Japanese war crimes records, trouble quickly followed.

The Abu Ghraib torture scandal was exploding, and fellow panelists learned that Mr. Yoo had written secret legal opinions saying presidents have sweeping wartime power to circumvent the Geneva Conventions. They protested that it was absurd to name Mr. Yoo, who they believed might have sanctioned war crimes, to a war crimes commission.

White House officials canceled the appointment, though it had already been announced in a news release, and kept the episode quiet. “We saved them from incredible embarrassment,” said Thomas H. Baer, one of the dissenting panelists.

But for Mr. Yoo, a Berkeley law professor, the swift exit from the war crimes board was only the beginning of his troubles. For more than four years, the Justice Department ethics office has been investigating his work and that of a few of his colleagues. A convicted terrorist has filed a lawsuit blaming Mr. Yoo for abuses he says he endured. Law students have led protests, and the Berkeley City Council even passed a resolution in December calling for Mr. Yoo’s prosecution for war crimes.

The Obama administration last week began releasing more secret memorandums written by Mr. Yoo and others that made such wide-ranging claims about presidential power that Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, called them “shocking.”

The notoriety that follows Mr. Yoo — and to varying degrees half a dozen other Bush administration lawyers — raises difficult questions: What is a government lawyer’s responsibility if legal advice he gives turns out to be, in the view of many authorities, grievously flawed? Can he be blamed for damaging, and arguably illegal, acts carried out with his imprimatur? Should he suffer any punishment?

“I think the legal profession in the United States has been seriously hurt by their conduct,” said Stephen Gillers, a professor of legal ethics at New York University. He called the disputed legal opinions “sloppy, one-sided and incompetent” and added, “There has to be accountability.”

What, if anything, should happen to these lawyers — damage to their professional reputations, punishment by state bar associations, perhaps even prosecution at home or abroad — is now the subject of a lively debate in the legal world and beyond.

The calls to begin a criminal investigation of Bush legal team members have so far been ignored by the new attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr. But the demands reflect a widely shared view that the Bush administration lawyers played an outsize role in the disputed counterterrorism policies.

Mr. Yoo and other top lawyers met as a “war council” to consider how far Mr. Bush could go. In addition to asserting that he could bypass the Geneva Conventions — war crimes treaties protecting detainees — the lawyers said the president’s wartime powers trumped many other legal limits. Their secret memorandums cleared the way for aggressive policies — like waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques — all but ensuring that neither policy makers nor operatives could face criminal prosecution for actions blessed as legal.

But John C. Eastman, the dean of the Chapman University law school and a friend of Mr. Yoo who invited him to teach there this semester, argued that it was deeply unfair to single out the Bush lawyers for the advice they gave under intense pressure after the 2001 terrorist attacks. “It’s unfortunate, and quite frankly it’s dangerous,” because it could make officials risk averse, Mr. Eastman said, blaming partisan politics.

Mr. Yoo declined to comment. But in a March 7 opinion column in The Wall Street Journal, he defended his recently disclosed work and warned that the Obama administration risked harming national security if it punished lawyers like himself.

“If the administration chooses to seriously pursue those officials who were charged with preparing for the unthinkable, today’s intelligence and military officials will no doubt hesitate to fully prepare for those contingencies in the future,” Mr. Yoo wrote.

Mr. Yoo’s harshest critics — including lawyers for Jose Padilla, the convicted Qaeda operative who is suing Mr. Yoo for $1 and a judicial declaration that he authorized illegal detention and interrogation practices — note that Nazi lawyers and judges were tried for war crimes at Nuremberg. Others point to mob lawyers charged in organized crime conspiracies.

But scholars say there is little precedent for punishing government lawyers who blessed conduct that most mainstream legal scholars contend was, in fact, illegal. The Nuremberg cases involved a different scenario: The lawyers were carrying out Nazi-era laws against a backdrop of mass murder. And while corporate lawyers may face malpractice lawsuits by clients for bad advice, in practice it has been “incredibly rare” for lawyers to be punished, said Daniel C. Richman, a Columbia University law professor.

For some of Mr. Bush’s lawyers, the most likely consequence may be wariness from potential employers. The former White House counsel and attorney general, Alberto R. Gonzales, for example, has not found a job since resigning in 2007 amid accusations that he misled Congress about surveillance without warrants and the firing of United States attorneys.

He recently told The Wall Street Journal that the controversy surrounding him had made law firms “skittish” about hiring him, calling himself “one of the many casualties of the war on terror.” Mr. Gonzales’s lawyer, George J. Terwilliger III, said in a statement that “Judge Gonzales looks forward to the day when reason prevails over partisan politics and he can get on with his professional life.”

David S. Addington, a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney who was a forceful voice in internal legal debates, is also said to still be looking for work. The former Pentagon general counsel William Haynes II had been nominated by Mr. Bush for an appeals court judgeship, but was blocked because of his role in detention policies.

He then searched for a job for about a year, according to Pentagon officials, before landing a position at Chevron in 2008.

Other key figures who left the administration before the details of their work came to light — a process that began with the disclosure of interrogation memorandums after the 2004 Abu Ghraib torture scandal — were luckier. Jay S. Bybee, Mr. Yoo’s former boss at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, had been confirmed to a life-tenured appeals court seat in 2003. That same year, Mr. Yoo had returned to his tenured professorship at Berkeley, and Timothy E. Flanigan, the former deputy White House counsel, took a private-sector legal job. (The other former Bush administration lawyers all declined to comment or could not be reached.)

Even if they escape punishment at home, however, the lawyers could find themselves pursued in European countries that have laws allowing them to prosecute torture no matter where it occurred.

“I think people like Yoo will be taking their chances if they want to go to Europe for a very long time,” said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has asked a German prosecutor to indict several Bush legal team members along with policy makers. The prosecutor declined, but the case is on appeal.

Mr. Ratner and others are eagerly awaiting the findings of the ethics investigation into the interrogation memorandums drafted by Mr. Yoo and Mr. Bybee in 2002, as well as others written in 2005 by Steven G. Bradbury. Critical findings could include referrals to state bar associations, which have the power to reprimand or disbar their members. Any bar action against Mr. Yoo could in turn reignite a faculty effort to get Berkeley to strip him of tenure so he could be fired.

But Mr. Richman, of Columbia, said any punishment against Bush lawyers is unlikely unless e-mail messages or early drafts turn up proving that they blatantly altered their legal conclusions to fit a policy agenda. Mr. Richman said that would be unlikely for Mr. Yoo, who had pushed an aggressive theory of presidential power long before the administration recruited him.

“The selection of Yoo was putting in place someone where you sort of had an idea what he would say,” Mr. Richman said. “Most academics are in the center of most things, but there are some outliers. And he was an outlier.”


John Schwartz contributed reporting from San Francisco.

    Terror-War Fallout Lingers Over Bush Lawyers, NYT, 9.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/09/washington/09lawyers.html?hp






Court Ends

Terror Suspect's

Detention Challenge


March 6, 2009
Filed at 12:33 p.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court dismissed a challenge Friday by suspected al-Qaida sleeper agent Ali Al-Marri to the president's authority to detain people without charges, granting an Obama administration request to end the high court case.

The Supreme Court also threw out, as moot, the federal appeals court ruling al-Marri was challenging that affirmed the president's power to detain people in the United States without trial.

Last week, President Barack Obama ordered al-Marri transferred from military to civilian custody to face federal charges of conspiracy and providing support to terrorists.

But Obama has not renounced the use of preventive detention, which was pursued and defended aggressively by the Bush administration after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The administration's silence on this issue was the main reason al-Marri's lawyers pushed the court to hear the case even after their client got what he was seeking -- if not his release, a trial at which he could answer criminal charges.

The new administration also made clear, however, that it had no desire to take a position on the Bush policies in what would have been a major Supreme Court battle.

The court had scheduled arguments for April 27 and would have issued a decision by July.

Al-Marri is under indictment in Peoria, Ill. The court's order allows the government to move him from the Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., where he has been held for 5 1/2 years, to a civilian jail cell. Al-Marri, a native of Qatar, was a legal U.S. resident who was studying at Bradley University in Peoria when he was arrested in late 2001 as part of the investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks.

He was indicted on fraud charges, but that indictment was dropped in 2003 when President George W. Bush declared him an enemy combatant.

The government has said al-Marri met with Osama bin-Laden and volunteered for a suicide mission or whatever help al-Qaida wanted. He arrived in the U.S. the day before terrorists struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

A computer specialist, al-Marri was ordered to wreak havoc on the U.S. banking system and serve as a liaison for other al-Qaida operatives entering this country, according to a court document filed by Jeffrey Rapp, a senior member of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Al-Marri was helped in his mission by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, and Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, who allegedly helped the Sept. 11 hijackers with money and Western-style clothing, according to Rapp's memo. Mohammed and al-Hawsawi are being held at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval base.

The Bush administration also avoided Supreme Court review of the detention of U.S. citizen Jose Padilla, alleged to be part of a plot to set off a radiological ''dirty bomb'' in the United States.

Padilla was arrested in 2002 at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and held in the same brig as al-Marri. With his case headed for the high court, Padilla was indicted and eventually convicted on criminal charges in Miami that were not related to the ''dirty bomb'' plot.

Padilla's lawyers argued that the justices should hear his case anyway, but the court turned them down.

Even so, three justices -- Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter -- said Padilla's case should have been heard because it raised ''a question of profound importance to the nation.''

There were no similar statements from the court Friday.

    Court Ends Terror Suspect's Detention Challenge, NYT, 6.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/03/06/washington/AP-Scotus-Enemy-Combatant.html






Indictment of Enemy Combatant

Is Unsealed


February 27, 2009
Filed at 2:09 p.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Federal authorities have unsealed an indictment against alleged al-Qaida sleeper agent Ali al-Marri, moving him into the civilian court system as the Obama administration considers a new strategy for handling terror suspects.

Al-Marri has been held in a Navy brig outside Charleston, S.C. for more than five years since President George W. Bush declared him an enemy combatant.

He will now be transferred to Peoria, Ill., to face trial in a civilian court on a charge of providing material support to al-Qaida and a related conspiracy count. The charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 15 years each.

Al-Marri has a case before the Supreme Court challenging the president's authority to arrest terror suspects in the United States and hold them indefinitely without charges.

Now that he has been indicted, Justice Department officials said they would ask to have the Supreme Court case dismissed.

Al-Marri's transfer is the first signal of how the Obama administration is likely to handle accused terrorists, a significant shift from the strategy of the Bush administration.

Since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, government lawyers argued that the president has the wartime authority to send the military into any U.S. neighborhood, capture a citizen -- or legal resident like al-Marri -- and hold him in prison without charge, indefinitely.

With al-Marri's indictment, President Barack Obama ordered the military to turn al-Marri over to the Justice Department, when requested by Attorney General Eric Holder. It was not immediately clear when that handover would take place.

Holder said in a statement the charges show the government's ''resolve to protect the American people and prosecute alleged terrorists.''

The attorney general said the Obama administration ''will hold accountable anyone who attempts to do harm to Americans, and we will do so in a manner consistent with our values.''

The government has said al-Marri is an al-Qaida sleeper agent who has met Osama bin Laden and spent time at a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan.

A legal U.S. resident when he was arrested, al-Marri has been held in solitary confinement at the brig since 2003.

Al-Marri was arrested in late 2001 as part of the FBI's investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks. Prosecutors at first indicted him on charges of credit card fraud and lying to the FBI, not terror charges.

In June 2003, Bush said al-Marri had vital information about terror plots, declared him an enemy combatant and ordered him transferred to military custody.

    Indictment of Enemy Combatant Is Unsealed, NYT, 27.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/02/27/washington/AP-Enemy-Combatant.html?hp






Freed Guantanamo Detainee

Says U.S. Behind His Torture


February 23, 2009
Filed at 7:56 a.m. ET
The New York Times


LONDON (Reuters) - Binyam Mohamed, a British resident held at Guantanamo Bay for more than four years, was released and put on a plane to Britain on Monday and accused the U.S. government of orchestrating his torture.

Mohamed, 30, was due to arrive back in Britain shortly following his release from the U.S. prison camp on Cuba. His statement was issued via his lawyers after his release.

"I have been through an experience that I never thought to encounter in my darkest nightmares," said Mohamed, an Ethiopian citizen who has British residency.

"Before this ordeal, 'torture' was an abstract word for me. I could never have imagined that I would be its victim. It is difficult for me to believe that I was abducted, hauled from one country to the next, and tortured in medieval ways -- all orchestrated by the United States government."

The United States agreed to release Mohamed last week after 18 months of pressure from the British government. He is the first Guantanamo Bay detainee to be released since President Barack Obama came to power.

Mohamed was detained in Pakistan in April 2002, where his lawyers say he was held for nearly four months, during which he says he was tortured and abused by Pakistani intelligence officers in the presence of a British intelligence agent.

He was taken to Morocco on a CIA flight in July 2002, his lawyers say, and again subjected to torture and abuse. Morocco has denied holding him and the U.S. government has denied that he was subjected to "extraordinary rendition."

Mohamed has been accused of receiving al Qaeda training in Afghanistan and Pakistan and of plotting to detonate a "dirty bomb" on the U.S. transport network, but all charges brought against him have been dropped and he has never been tried.

In his statement, he accused the British government of colluding with foreign governments during his abuse and torture.

"For myself, the very worst moment came when I realized in Morocco that the people who were torturing me were receiving questions and materials from British intelligence," he said.

"I had met with British intelligence in Pakistan. I had been open with them. Yet the very people who I had hoped would come to my rescue, I later realized, had allied themselves with my abusers."

(Reporting by Luke Baker; editing by Tim Pearce)

    Freed Guantanamo Detainee Says U.S. Behind His Torture, NYT, 23.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2009/02/23/world/international-us-britain-guantanamo-detainee.html






Obama’s War on Terror

May Resemble Bush’s

in Some Areas


February 18, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Even as it pulls back from harsh interrogations and other sharply debated aspects of George W. Bush’s “war on terrorism,” the Obama administration is quietly signaling continued support for other major elements of its predecessor’s approach to fighting Al Qaeda.

In little-noticed confirmation testimony recently, Obama nominees endorsed continuing the C.I.A.’s program of transferring prisoners to other countries without legal rights, and indefinitely detaining terrorism suspects without trials even if they were arrested far from a war zone.

The administration has also embraced the Bush legal team’s arguments that a lawsuit by former C.I.A. detainees should be shut down based on the “state secrets” doctrine. It has also left the door open to resuming military commission trials.

And earlier this month, after a British court cited pressure by the United States in declining to release information about the alleged torture of a detainee in American custody, the Obama administration issued a statement thanking the British government “for its continued commitment to protect sensitive national security information.”

These and other signs suggest that the administration’s changes may turn out to be less sweeping than many had hoped or feared — prompting growing worry among civil liberties groups and a sense of vindication among supporters of Bush-era policies.

In an interview, the White House counsel, Gregory B. Craig, asserted that the administration was not embracing Mr. Bush’s approach to the world. But Mr. Craig also said President Obama intended to avoid any “shoot from the hip” and “bumper sticker slogans” approaches to deciding what to do with the counterterrorism policies he inherited.

“We are charting a new way forward, taking into account both the security of the American people and the need to obey the rule of law,” Mr. Craig said. “That is a message we would give to the civil liberties people as well as to the Bush people.”

Within days of his inauguration, Mr. Obama thrilled civil liberties groups when he issued executive orders promising less secrecy, restricting C.I.A. interrogators to Army Field Manual techniques, shuttering the agency’s secret prisons, ordering the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, closed within a year and halting military commission trials.

But in more recent weeks, things have become murkier.

During her confirmation hearing last week, Elena Kagan, the nominee for solicitor general, said that someone suspected of helping finance Al Qaeda should be subject to battlefield law — indefinite detention without a trial — even if he were captured in a place like the Philippines rather than in a physical battle zone.

Ms. Kagan’s support for an elastic interpretation of the “battlefield” amplified remarks that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. made at his own confirmation hearing. And it dovetailed with a core Bush position. Civil liberties groups argue that people captured away from combat zones should go to prison only after trials.

Moreover, the nominee for C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, opened a loophole in Mr. Obama’s interrogation restrictions. At his hearing, Mr. Panetta said that if the approved techniques were “not sufficient” to get a detainee to divulge details he was suspected of knowing about an imminent attack, he would ask for “additional authority.”

To be sure, Mr. Panetta emphasized that the president could not bypass antitorture statutes, as Bush lawyers claimed. And he said that waterboarding — a technique that induces the sensation of drowning, and that the Bush administration said was lawful — is torture.

But Mr. Panetta also said the C.I.A. might continue its “extraordinary rendition” program, under which agents seize terrorism suspects and take them to other countries without extradition proceedings, in a more sweeping form than anticipated.

Before the Bush administration, the program primarily involved taking indicted suspects to their native countries for legal proceedings. While some detainees in the 1990s were allegedly abused after transfer, under Mr. Bush the program expanded and included transfers to third countries — some of which allegedly used torture — for interrogation, not trials.

Mr. Panetta said the agency is likely to continue to transfer detainees to third countries and would rely on diplomatic assurances of good treatment — the same safeguard the Bush administration used, and that critics say is ineffective.

Mr. Craig noted that while Mr. Obama decided “not to change the status quo immediately,” he created a task force to study “rendition policy and what makes sense consistent with our obligation to protect the country.”

He urged patience as the administration reviewed the programs it inherited from Mr. Bush. That process began after the election, Mr. Craig said, when military and C.I.A. leaders flew to Chicago for a lengthy briefing of Mr. Obama and his national security advisers. Mr. Obama then sent his advisers to C.I.A. headquarters to “find out the best case for continuing the practices that had been employed during the Bush administration.”

Civil liberties groups praise Mr. Obama’s early executive orders on national security, but say other signs are discouraging.

For example, Mr. Obama’s Justice Department last week told an appeals court that the Bush administration was right to invoke “state secrets” to shut down a lawsuit by former C.I.A. detainees who say a Boeing subsidiary helped fly them to places where they were tortured.

Margaret Satterthwaite, a faculty director at the human rights center at the New York University law school, said, “It was literally just Bush redux — exactly the same legal arguments that we saw the Bush administration present to the court.”

Mr. Craig said Mr. Holder and others reviewed the case and “came to the conclusion that it was justified and necessary for national security” to maintain their predecessor’s stance. Mr. Holder has also begun a review of every open Bush-era case involving state secrets, Mr. Craig said, so people should not read too much into one case.

“Every president in my lifetime has invoked the state-secrets privilege,” Mr. Craig said. “The notion that invoking it in that case somehow means we are signing onto the Bush approach to the world is just an erroneous assumption.”

Still, the decision caught the attention of a bipartisan group of lawmakers. Two days after the appeals court hearing, they filed legislation to bar using the state-secrets doctrine to shut down an entire case — as opposed to withholding particular evidence.

The administration has also put off taking a stand in several cases that present opportunities to embrace or renounce Bush-era policies, including the imprisonment without trial of an “enemy combatant” on domestic soil, Freedom of Information Act lawsuits seeking legal opinions about interrogation and surveillance, and an executive-privilege dispute over Congressional subpoenas of former White House aides to Mr. Bush over the firing of United States attorneys.

Addressing the executive-privilege dispute, Mr. Craig said: “The president is very sympathetic to those who want to find out what happened. But he is also mindful as president of the United States not to do anything that would undermine or weaken the institution of the presidency. So for that reason, he is urging both sides of this to settle.”

The administration’s recent policy moves have attracted praise from outspoken defenders of the Bush administration. Last Friday, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page argued that “it seems that the Bush administration’s antiterror architecture is gaining new legitimacy” as Mr. Obama’s team embraces aspects of Mr. Bush’s counterterrorism approach.

Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the sequence of “disappointing” recent events had heightened concerns that Mr. Obama might end up carrying forward “some of the most problematic policies of the Bush presidency.”

Mr. Obama has clashed with civil libertarians before. Last July, he voted to authorize eavesdropping on some phone calls and e-mail messages without a warrant. While the A.C.L.U. says the program is still unconstitutional, the legislation reduced legal concerns about one of the most controversial aspects of Mr. Bush’s antiterror strategy.

“We have been some of the most articulate and vociferous critics of the way the Bush administration handled things,” Mr. Craig said. “There has been a dramatic change of direction.”

    Obama’s War on Terror May Resemble Bush’s in Some Areas, NYT, 18.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/18/us/politics/18policy.html






Issue of Terrorists' Rights

to Test Obama's Pledge


January 25, 2009
Filed at 8:47 a.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama's pledge of bipartisan cooperation with Congress will be tested as he tries to fulfill a campaign promise to close Guantanamo Bay and establish a new system for prosecuting suspected terrorists.

The undertaking is an ambitious one. Fraught with legal complexities, it gives Republicans ample opportunity to score political points if he doesn't get it right. There's also the liklihood of a run-in with his former rival, Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war who before running for president staked his career on overhauling the nation's detainee policies.

''We look forward to working with the president and his administration on these issues, keeping in mind that the first priority of the U.S. government is to guarantee the security of the American people,'' McCain, R-Ariz., said in a joint statement with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

The statement seemed aimed at putting Obama on notice that he must deal with Congress on the matter.

In his first week in office, Obama ordered Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba to be closed within a year, CIA secret prisons shuttered and abusive interrogations ended.

So far, Obama's team has given every indication it will engage lawmakers, including Republicans, on the issue. Graham and McCain were among several Republicans briefed last week by White House counsel Greg Craig and handed drafts of the executive orders.

But once the two sides begin delving into details, there will be ample room for dispute.

Among the unknowns is how many of the 245 detainees now at Guantanamo Bay will be prosecuted.

Administration officials said that, pending an internal review, federal and military courts may be used. But, the officials added, a version of the secretive military tribunals, as established under President George W. Bush with the help of McCain, remains an option, too.

Officials say the tribunals may be needed to prosecute suspected terrorists who are too dangerous to release but whose cases would otherwise fail, either because evidence was coerced or trying them in a less secretive court would expose classified information.

Obama could take a page from the Bush administration and try to revamp the system on his own, through executive order. But that approach failed for Bush, who angered members of his own party and wound up seeking congressional approval anyway after the Supreme Court in June 2006 ruled his tribunal system was unconstitutional.

Obama's other option is to seek legislation on the issue, potentially exposing his administration to a bruising fight with Republicans on how to handle the most dangerous of terrorism suspects.

A narrow majority of Americans supports shutting down Guantanamo Bay on a priority basis. But people are likely to become much less sympathetic to detainee rights if there is another terrorism attack inside the United States or if the new system is portrayed as too lenient on suspected al-Qaida members.

Republicans already are trying to portray Obama's review of detainee rights as soft on terrorism. House Republicans on Friday mobilized a ''rapid response team'' of lawmakers to speak out against the president's plans.

''The Guantanamo Bay prison is filled with the worst of the worst -- terrorists and killers bent on murdering Americans and other friends of freedom around the world,'' said House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio. ''If it is closed, where will they go, will they be brought to the United States and how will they be secured?''

Democrats have suggested they expect to be important players in the debate.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who heads the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said the panel planned to hold back on legislation ''for a time'' to allow the administration to complete its own assessment. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he would like ''to at least have an advisory role'' on the final plan.

In 2006, the question of detainee trials and interrogations enveloped Congress and exposed Republican infighting. McCain, Graham and now retired Sen. John Warner, R-Va., sharply challenged Bush's handling of detainees. In the end, the two sides emerged with complex legislation that outlined the inner workings of military tribunals and defined what constitutes a war crime, effectively banning specific interrogation techniques seen as too harsh.

Human rights groups and Democrats said the system still gave too much power to the president. But now, Republicans are worried Obama will swing too far in the other direction.

Graham, a colonel in the Air Force Reserves assigned to the service's Judge Advocate General School, said he is concerned that Obama will wind up giving civilian courts too heavy a hand in dealing with terrorists handled by the military and CIA.

''Federal judges in my opinion should not be making battlefield decisions. ... I don't want to lose sight of the fact that we are at war,'' he said.

    Issue of Terrorists' Rights to Test Obama's Pledge, NYT, 25.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/01/25/washington/AP-Guantanamo-Politics.html






Freed by U.S.,

Saudi Becomes a Qaeda Chief


January 23, 2009
The New York Times


BEIRUT, Lebanon — The emergence of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year.

The militant, Said Ali al-Shihri, is suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sana, in September. He was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with Al Qaeda in Yemen.

His status was announced in an Internet statement by the militant group and was confirmed by an American counterterrorism official.

“They’re one and the same guy,” said the official, who insisted on anonymity because he was discussing an intelligence analysis. “He returned to Saudi Arabia in 2007, but his movements to Yemen remain unclear.”

The development came as Republican legislators criticized the plan to close the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, detention camp in the absence of any measures for dealing with current detainees. But it also helps explain why the new administration wants to move cautiously, taking time to work out a plan to cope with the complications.

Almost half the camp’s remaining detainees are Yemenis, and efforts to repatriate them depend in part on the creation of a Yemeni rehabilitation program — partly financed by the United States — similar to the Saudi one. Saudi Arabia has claimed that no graduate of its program has returned to terrorism.

“The lesson here is, whoever receives former Guantánamo detainees needs to keep a close eye on them,” the American official said.

Although the Pentagon has said that dozens of released Guantánamo detainees have “returned to the fight,” its claim is difficult to document, and has been met with skepticism. In any case, few of the former detainees, if any, are thought to have become leaders of a major terrorist organization like Al Qaeda in Yemen, a mostly homegrown group that experts say has been reinforced by foreign fighters.

Long considered a haven for jihadists, Yemen, a desperately poor country in the southern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, has witnessed a rising number of attacks over the past year. American officials say they suspect that Mr. Shihri may have been involved in the car bombings outside the American Embassy in Sana last September that killed 16 people, including six attackers.

In the Internet statement, Al Qaeda in Yemen identified its new deputy leader as Abu Sayyaf al-Shihri, saying he returned from Guantánamo to his native Saudi Arabia and then traveled to Yemen “more than 10 months ago.” That corresponds roughly to the return of Mr. Shihri, a Saudi who was released from Guantánamo in November 2007. Abu Sayyaf is a nom de guerre, commonly used by jihadists in place of their real name or first name.

A Saudi security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Mr. Shihri had disappeared from his home in Saudi Arabia last year after finishing the rehabilitation program.

A Yemeni journalist who interviewed Al Qaeda’s leaders in Yemen last year, Abdulela Shaya, confirmed Thursday that the deputy leader was indeed Mr. Shihri, the former Guantánamo detainee. Mr. Shaya, in a phone interview, said Mr. Shihri had described to him his journey from Cuba to Yemen and supplied his Guantánamo detention number, 372. That is the correct number, Pentagon documents show.

“It seems certain from all the sources we have that this is the same individual who was released from Guantánamo in 2007,” said Gregory Johnsen, a terrorism analyst and the editor of a forthcoming book, “Islam and Insurgency in Yemen.”

Mr. Shihri, 35, trained in urban warfare tactics at a camp north of Kabul, Afghanistan, according to documents released by the Pentagon as part of his Guantánamo dossier. Two weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he traveled to Afghanistan via Bahrain and Pakistan, and he later told American investigators that his intention was to do relief work, the documents say. He was wounded in an airstrike and spent a month and a half recovering in a hospital in Pakistan.

The documents state that Mr. Shihri met with a group of “extremists” in Iran and helped them get into Afghanistan. They also say he was accused of trying to arrange the assassination of a writer, in accordance with a fatwa, or religious order, issued by an extremist cleric.

However, under a heading describing reasons for Mr. Shihri’s possible release from Guantánamo, the documents say he claimed that he traveled to Iran “to purchase carpets for his store” in Saudi Arabia. They also say that he denied knowledge of any terrorists or terrorist activities, and that he “related that if released, he would like to return to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, wherein he would reunite with his family.”

“The detainee stated he would attempt to work at his family’s furniture store if it is still in business,” the documents say.

The Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda has carried out a number of terrorist attacks over the past year, culminating in the assault on the American Embassy in Sana on Sept. 16. In that assault, the attackers disguised themselves as Yemeni policemen and detonated two car bombs. The group has also begun releasing sophisticated Internet material, in what appears to be a bid to gain more recruits.

Yemen began cooperating with the United States on counterterrorism activities in late 2001. But the partnership has been a troubled one, with American officials accusing Yemen of paroling dangerous terrorists, including some who were wanted in the United States. Some high-level terrorism suspects have also mysteriously escaped from Yemeni jails. The disagreements and security lapses have complicated efforts to repatriate the 100 or so Yemenis remaining in Guantánamo.

Despite some notable Yemeni successes in fighting terrorist groups, Al Qaeda in Yemen appears to be gaining strength.

“They are bringing Saudi fighters in, and they want to start to use Yemen as a base for attacks throughout region, including Saudi Arabia and the Horn of Africa,” said Mr. Johnsen, an expert on Al Qaeda in Yemen.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington; Khalid al-Hammadi from Sana, Yemen; and Muhammad al-Milfy from Beirut.

    Freed by U.S., Saudi Becomes a Qaeda Chief, NYT, 23.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/23/world/middleeast/23yemen.html?hp






Obama Issues Directive

to Shut Down Guantánamo


January 22, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama signed executive orders Thursday directing the Central Intelligence Agency to shut what remains of its network of secret prisons and ordering the closing of the Guantánamo detention camp within a year, government officials said.

The orders, which are the first steps in undoing detention policies of former President George W. Bush, rewrite American rules for the detention of terrorism suspects. They require an immediate review of the 245 detainees still held at the naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to determine if they should be transferred, released or prosecuted.

And the orders bring to an end a Central Intelligence Agency program that kept terrorism suspects in secret custody for months or years, a practice that has brought fierce criticism from foreign governments and human rights activists. They will also prohibit the C.I.A. from using coercive interrogation methods, requiring the agency to follow the same rules used by the military in interrogating terrorism suspects, government officials said.

But the orders leave unresolved complex questions surrounding the closing of the Guantánamo prison, including whether, where and how many of the detainees are to be prosecuted. They could also allow Mr. Obama to reinstate the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation operations in the future, by presidential order, as some have argued would be appropriate if Osama bin Laden or another top-level leader of Al Qaeda were captured.

The new White House counsel, Gregory B. Craig, briefed lawmakers about some elements of the orders on Wednesday evening. A Congressional official who attended the session said Mr. Craig acknowledged concerns from intelligence officials that new restrictions on C.I.A. methods might be unwise and indicated that the White House might be open to allowing the use of methods other than the 19 techniques allowed for the military.

Details of the directive involving the C.I.A. were described by government officials who insisted on anonymity so they could not be blamed for pre-empting a White House announcement. Copies of the draft order on Guantánamo were provided by people who have consulted with Mr. Obama’s transition team and requested anonymity for the same reason.

In remarks prepared for delivery at his confirmation hearings to become director of national intelligence in the Obama administration, Dennis C. Blair, a retired admiral with a long background in intelligence, endorsed the new approach and promised to enforce it rigorously. “It is not enough to set a standard and announce it,” he said.

“I believe strongly that torture is not moral, legal or effective,” he told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “Any program of detention and interrogation must comply with the Geneva Conventions, the Conventions on Torture, and the Constitution. There must be clear standards for humane treatment that apply to all agencies of U.S. Government, including the Intelligence Community,” his written statement said.

As for closing Guantanamo, he said that would take time but must be done because it has become “a damaging symbol to the world.”

“It is a rallyingcry for terrorist recruitment and harmful to our national security, so closing it is important for our national security,” Admiral Blair’s statement said.

“The guiding principles for closing the center should beprotecting our national security, respecting the Geneva Conventions and the rule of law, and respecting the existing institutions of justice in this country. I also believe we should revitalize efforts to transfer detainees to their countries of origin or other countries whenever that would be consistent with these principles. Closing this center and satisfying these principles will take time, and is the work of many departments and agencies.”

The executive order on interrogations is certain to be received with some skepticism at the C.I.A., which for years has maintained that the military’s interrogation rules are insufficient to get information from senior Qaeda figures like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The Bush administration asserted that the harsh interrogation methods were instrumental in gaining valuable intelligence on Qaeda operations.

The intelligence agency built a network of secret prisons in 2002 to house and interrogate senior Qaeda figures captured overseas. The exact number of suspects to have moved through the prisons is unknown, although Michael V. Hayden, the departing director of the agency, has in the past put the number at “fewer than 100.”

The secret detentions brought international condemnation, and in September 2006, President Bush ordered that the remaining 14 detainees in C.I.A. custody be transferred to Guantánamo Bay and tried by military tribunals.

But Mr. Bush made clear then that he was not shutting down the C.I.A. detention system, and in the last two years, two Qaeda operatives are believed to have been detained in agency prisons for several months each before being sent to Guantánamo.

A government official said Mr. Obama’s order on the C.I.A. would still allow its officers abroad to temporarily detain terrorism suspects and transfer them to other agencies, but would no longer allow the agency to carry out long-term detentions.

Since the early days after the 2001 attacks, the intelligence agency’s role in detaining terrorism suspects has been significantly scaled back, as has the severity of interrogation methods the agency is permitted to use. The most controversial practice, the simulated drowning technique known as water-boarding, was used on three suspects but has not been used since 2003, C.I.A. officials said.

But at the urging of the Bush administration, Congress in 2006 authorized the agency to continue using harsher interrogation methods than those permitted for use by other agencies, including the military. Those exact methods remain classified. The order on Guantánamo says that the camp, which received its first hooded and chained detainees seven years ago this month, “shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order.”

The order calls for a cabinet-level panel to grapple with issues including where in the United States prisoners might be moved and what courts they could be tried in. It also provides for a new diplomatic effort to transfer some of the remaining men, including more than 60 that the Bush administration had cleared for release.

The order also directs an immediate assessment of the prison itself to ensure that the men are held in conditions that meet the humanitarian requirements of the Geneva Convention. That provision appeared to be a pointed embrace of the international treaties that the Bush administration often argued did not apply to detainees captured in the war against terrorism.

The seven years of the detention camp have included four suicides, hunger strikes by scores of detainees, and accusations of extensive use of solitary confinement and abusive interrogations, which the Department of Defense has long denied. Last week a senior Pentagon official said she had concluded that interrogators at Guantánamo had tortured one detainee, who officials have said was a would-be “20th hijacker” in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The report of Thursday’s announcement came after the new administration late Tuesday night ordered an immediate halt to the military commission proceedings for prosecuting detainees at Guantánamo and filed a request in Federal District Court in Washington to stay habeas corpus proceedings there. Government lawyers described both delays as necessary for the administration to make a broad assessment of detention policy.

The cases immediately affected include those of five detainees charged as the coordinators of the 2001 attacks, including the case against Mr. Mohammed, the self-described mastermind.

The decision to stop the commissions was described by the military prosecutors as a pause in the war-crimes system “to permit the newly inaugurated president and his administration time to review the military commission process generally and the cases currently pending before the military commissions, specifically.”

More than 200 detainees’ habeas corpus cases have been filed in federal court, and lawyers said they expected that all of the cases would be stayed.

Mr. Obama had suggested in the campaign that, in place of military commissions, he would prefer prosecutions in federal courts or, perhaps, in the existing military justice system, which provides legal guarantees similar to those of American civilian courts.

Some human rights groups and lawyers for detainees said they were concerned about the one-year timetable. “It only took days to put these men in Guantánamo; it shouldn’t take a year to get them out,” said Vincent Warren, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, which has coordinated detainees’ lawyers.

But several groups that had criticized the Bush administration’s policies applauded the rapid moves by the new administration. Mr. Obama’s actions “reaffirmed American values and are a ray of light after eight long, dark years,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.


Mark Mazzetti reported from Washington, and William Glaberson from New York. Carl Hulse contributed reporting from Washington.

    Obama Issues Directive to Shut Down Guantánamo, NYT, 22.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/22/us/politics/22gitmo.html






Obama Seeks

Halt to Guantanamo Trials


January 21, 2009
Filed at 7:37 a.m. ET
The New York Times


GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - Hours after taking office on Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama ordered military prosecutors in the Guantanamo war crimes tribunals to ask for a 120-day halt in all pending cases.

Military judges were expected to rule on the request on Wednesday at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, an official involved in the trials said.

The request would halt proceedings in 21 pending cases, including the death penalty case against five Guantanamo prisoners accused of plotting the September 11 hijacked plane attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Prosecutors said in their written request that the halt was "in the interests of justice."

Obama has pledged to shut down the Guantanamo prison camp that was widely seen as a stain on the United States' human rights record and a symbol of detainee abuse and detention without charge under the administration of his predecessor, former President George W. Bush.

Human rights activists and military defense lawyers had urged him to halt the special tribunals that are formally known as military commissions and urged him to move the prosecutions into the regular U.S. courts for trial under long-established rules.

"In order to permit the newly inaugurated president and his administration time to review the military commission process, generally, and the cases currently pending before the military commissions, specifically, the secretary of defense has, by order of the president directed the chief prosecutor to seek continuances of 120 days in all pending case," prosecutor Clay Trivett said in the written request to the judges.

The request said freezing the trials until May 20 would give the new administration time to evaluate the cases and decide what forum best suits any future prosecution.

About 245 foreign captives are still held at the detention center that opened in January 2002. The Bush administration had said it planned to try 80 prisoners on war crimes charges, but only three cases have been completed.

Defense lawyers expected and supported a freeze of the tribunals, which have moved in fits and spurts amid numerous legal challenges. They had complained that the tribunals allowed hearsay evidence and coerced testimony and were subject of so much political interference that fairness was impossible.

Obama's order was widely anticipated. Jamil Dakwar, who is monitoring the tribunals for the American Civil Liberties Union, had said earlier Tuesday that waiting for the order was comparable to a death watch for a patient whose demise was certain.

"We're just waiting for the reading of the will," Dakwar said.

(Editing by Doina Chiacu)

    Obama Seeks Halt to Guantanamo Trials, NYT, 21.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2009/01/21/washington/news-us-guantanamo-trials.html






Rulings of Improper Detentions

as the Bush Era Closes


January 19, 2009
The New York Times


For nearly six years, Haji Bismullah, an Afghan detainee at Guantánamo Bay, has insisted that he was no terrorist, but had actually fought the Taliban and had later been part of the pro-American Afghan government.

Over the weekend, the Bush administration flew him home after a military panel concluded that he “should no longer be deemed an enemy combatant.”

Asked about the panel’s decision, which was not publicly announced and seemed to acknowledge a mistake of grand proportions, a Pentagon spokeswoman said, “Mr. Bismullah was lawfully detained as an enemy combatant based on the information that was available at the time.”

The decision was part of a pattern that has emerged in the closing chapter of the administration. In the last three months, at least 24 detainees have been declared improperly held by courts or a tribunal — or nearly 10 percent of the population at the detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where about 245 men remain.

The Bush administration has maintained that the detention camp holds “the worst of the worst.” In a radio interview Tuesday, Vice President Dick Cheney said that “now what’s left, that is the hardcore.”

But for Guantánamo’s critics, the timing of the decisions on the two dozen detainees adds new urgency to a review of all Guantánamo cases, which the incoming Obama administration is expected to announce as soon as Wednesday. “The house of cards is finally falling down,” said Vincent Warren, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has coordinated detainees’ lawyers.

Lawyers for Mr. Bismullah, 29, presented sworn statements from officials of the American-supported Afghanistan government of Hamid Karzai that indicated Mr. Bismullah had been named as a terrorist by collaborators of the Taliban who wanted to take over his position as a provincial official. In fact, after Mr. Bismullah was shipped to Guantánamo, a local official said in a sworn statement, one of his accusers stole his car and drove it for two years.

President-elect Barack Obama, who plans to close Guantánamo, has said that some of the detainees are too dangerous to release. Mr. Obama’s administration is expected to begin an effort to sort these detainees from those who pose less of a threat or are being held on weak evidence.

While hundreds of suspects have been released from the detention camp in the seven years it has been operating, the recent decisions came after the Bush administration said it had reduced the population to the most dangerous terrorists.

While Mr. Bismullah’s case was decided by a military panel, the rulings for the other 23 detainees occurred in habeas corpus hearings in federal court. Since a Supreme Court decision in June gave detainees the right to have their detentions reviewed by federal judges in habeas cases, the government has won only three of them. The government is appealing some of the rulings it lost.

The cases provide a snapshot of the intelligence collected by the government on the suspects and suggest that there was little credible evidence behind the decision to declare some of the men enemy combatants and to hold them indefinitely.

In a decision on Wednesday ordering the release of a prisoner who had been a Saudi resident, Judge Richard J. Leon of Federal District Court said the government’s case was largely based on inconsistent accusations from two other Guantánamo detainees whose credibility the government itself had questioned.

That case involved Mohammed el Gharani, who was detained when he was 14. One of the government’s claims was that Mr. Gharani had been a member of a Qaeda cell in London. His lawyers at the British legal group Reprieve argued that the government’s assertions would have meant that he was a member of the cell at age 11.

“Putting aside the obvious unanswered questions as to how a Saudi minor from a very poor family could have even become a member of a London-based cell,” Judge Leon said, “the government simply advances no corroborating evidence for these statements.”

In a separate case involving five Algerian detainees, Judge Leon, an appointee of President Bush, ruled last fall that he was not persuaded by the government’s claim that the men had planned to go to Afghanistan to fight Americans. The claim, he ruled, turned out to have been based on an assertion from a single unnamed person in a classified government document.

“The government’s failure in case after case after case to be able to prove its case calls into question everybody who is there,” said Susan Baker Manning, a lawyer for 17 Uighur detainees from western China who were ordered released by a federal judge in October. The Justice Department has appealed that order from a federal district judge, Ricardo M. Urbina, and the men are still at Guantánamo.

A Justice Department official who discussed the pattern of rulings only if not identified said the department had long argued that legal proceedings were not well suited to review classified evidence gathered during wartime. The defeats, the official said, were a “consequence of the fact that neither the Supreme Court nor Congress has provided rules on how these habeas corpus cases should proceed in this unprecedented context.”

In Mr. Bismullah’s case, a military tribunal considered new evidence. His lawyers had fought his case up to the federal appeals court in Washington, which issued a ruling in 2007 that would have required the government to turn over all the information it had gathered on all detainees.

The Bush administration, in fighting that decision, told the court that it would hold a new military hearing at Guantánamo to review Mr. Bismullah’s claims of innocence. That new hearing, people knowledgeable about the case said, led to his release over the weekend, along with five other detainees.

The tale Mr. Bismullah’s lawyers assembled was one of complex tribal loyalties and evident confusion by his American captors. Sher Mohammed Akhundzada, a Karzai ally and member of the Afghan Senate, described in a sworn statement that he had known Mr. Bismullah and his family for years. When they fought the Taliban, he said, “Haji Bismullah was with us.”

After the fall of the Taliban, Mr. Bismullah became an official of the pro-American regional government in Helmand Province, where tribal loyalties had brought assassinations and other brutal infighting, according to sworn statements. His job as chief of transportation was coveted by a rival clan, whose members had held the position under the Taliban. Mr. Akhundzada said the rival clan members had demanded the job, and when they did not get it, they told American forces that Mr. Bismullah was in league with the Taliban.

Though the accusation worked, the rival clan’s candidate was not appointed transportation chief. It was then that Mr. Bismullah’s car was seen being driven by one of his accusers, who, according to Karzai officials, were themselves tied to the Taliban.

At Guantánamo, Mr. Bismullah insisted he was innocent. He told military officials to contact his brother to vouch for him. The officials concluded that the brother was “not reasonably available” as a witness. At the time the brother, Haji Mohammad Wali, was the chief spokesman for a pro-American provisional governor who regularly gave news conferences, legal filings say.

In 2006, the brother filed a sworn statement with Guantánamo officials. Mr. Bismullah and his whole family, he wrote, “fought to drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan.”

Mr. Bismullah, he added, had a wife and three children, including a son born while he was in Guantánamo. “The boy,” he wrote, “has never seen his father.”

Margot Williams contributed reporting.

    Rulings of Improper Detentions as the Bush Era Closes, NYT, 19.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/19/washington/19gitmo.html?hp







Priority No. 1: Close Guantánamo


January 16, 2009
The New York Times


To the Editor:

Re “Obama’s Closing of Guantánamo May Take a Year” (front page, Jan. 13):

It is essential for the future of the United States that one of the first acts of President-elect Barack Obama after his inauguration be the repudiation of the shameful and immoral policies of secret and indefinite detention beyond the reach of civilized recourse to legal protections.

These protections are not only fundamental to the founding of the United States, but are also proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Conventions.

Guantánamo is symbolic of the reprehensible detention policies of the Bush administration, so a symbolic executive order to close it is appropriate. But it must not stop there. To close Guantánamo but expand the American prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan or similar detention facilities would be a cynical sham and not “change we can believe in.”

Robert Rankin
Austin, Tex., Jan.

13, 2009

To the Editor:

The problem with the prison at Guantánamo Bay is not the location (other than being a continuing affront to Cuba), but the indefinite delay of prosecution in violation of established principles of law.

Scattering prisoners in other countries will not resolve the problem.

If we are a society of laws, bring the prisoners to the United States for trial in our federal court system, establish a short time period for the decision to be made whether to prosecute, and return those not prosecuted to their countries.

Tom Miller
Hanoi, Vietnam, Jan.

13, 2009

The writer is general counsel of Global Exchange, a human rights organization.

To the Editor:

Like many who voted for President-elect Barack Obama, I have been alternately amused and astounded at reports of his failures even before he has been sworn in. The report that closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay may take up to a year may be yet another story of a projected failure even before the man becomes president.

That said, if closing Guantánamo does take a year, I will be dismayed. It is not as if the Pentagon leadership will, on Jan. 21, be shocked to learn of Mr. Obama’s decision to close the prison. Surely contingency plans have been drafted for such an eventuality.

The article observes that decisions must be made on where and how to relocate selected detainees outside the United States and how to try others in the United States. This may be true, but it is imperative that these prisoners be relocated to civil or military facilities in the United States.

After Jan. 20, there will be no reason to employ the sort of extralegal (illegal) methods represented by the very existence of Guantánamo Bay.

At the same time, Mr. Obama should also provide verifiable assurances that all secret American-run or American-supported prisons worldwide have been closed.

Matt Meyer
Marlborough, N.H., Jan.

13, 2009

To the Editor:

President-elect Barack Obama is learning that national security is a far more complex and difficult issue than many are willing to acknowledge.

It’s one thing to demand a “justice recovery package,” as does Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. It’s another to prevent detainees at Guantánamo from endangering American citizens and soldiers, and yet another to prevent a terrorist attack.

Closing Gitmo, while significant, is just one of several issues that Mr. Obama must address as he assumes the heavy burden of keeping our country safe.

Andrea Economos
Scarsdale, N.Y., Jan.

13, 2009

To the Editor:

President-elect Barack Obama’s incoming administration should promptly close Guantánamo and stop the continuing injustice of incarcerating men in violation of our rule of law.

More than 240 prisoners remain at Guantánamo Bay. Last month Vice President Dick Cheney said that “what we have left is the hard core.” That is simply not true.

There are still scores of innocent men languishing at Guantánamo. Only a handful of the prisoners have been charged with anything. Many have been cleared for release. All of these men deserve the fair and “prompt” habeas corpus hearings the Supreme Court promised them last June 12.

My colleagues and I have represented 19 men at Guantánamo. Thirteen were released — all after spending more than four years under exceedingly harsh conditions. None of our remaining six clients belong there.

There is no reason that closing Guantánamo should take six months to a year. Mr. Obama’s administration should take immediate steps to prosecute the few men who deserve to be prosecuted, and to release the prisoners who never should have been there for one day — let alone for seven years now.

Jeffrey D. Colman
Chicago, Jan.14, 2009

    Priority No. 1: Close Guantánamo, NYT, 16.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/16/opinion/l16gitmo.html






Bin Laden

Urges Jihad Against Israel


January 14, 2009
Filed at 8:47 a.m. ET
The New York Times


CAIRO, Egypt (AP) -- Al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden urged Muslims to launch a jihad against Israel and condemned Arab governments as allies of the Jewish state in a new message aimed at harnessing anger in the Mideast over the Gaza offensive.

Bin Laden spoke in an audiotape posted Wednesday on Islamic militant Web sites where al-Qaida usually issues its messages. It was his first tape since May and came nearly three weeks after Israel started its campaign against Gaza's militant Hamas rulers.

The al-Qaida leader also vowed that the terror network would open ''new fronts'' against the United States and its allies beyond Iraq and Afghanistan. He said President-elect Barack Obama has received a ''heavy inheritance'' from George W. Bush -- two wars and ''the collapse of the economy,'' which he said will render the United States unable to sustain a long fight against the mujahedeen, or holy warriors.

''There is only one strong way to bring the return of Al-Aqsa and Palestine, and that is jihad in the path of God,'' bin Laden said in the 22-minute audiotape, referring to the revered Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. ''The duty is to urge people to jihad and to enlist the youth into jihad brigades.''

''Islamic nation, you are capable of defeating the Zionist entity with your popular capabilities and your great hidden strength -- without the support of (Arab) leaders and despite the fact that most of (the leaders) stand in the barracks of the Crusader-Zionist alliance,'' bin Laden said.

The authenticity of the tape could not be independently confirmed, but the voice resembled that of bin Laden in previous messages.

The tape, entitled ''a call for jihad to stop the aggression on Gaza,'' was played over a still picture of bin Laden and the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City, one of Islam's holiest sites. But there were no English subtitles and flashy production graphics that usually accompany such messages.

That suggested the message had been hastily put together and issued to best exploit anger in the region over the Gaza offensive, which Palestinian medical officials say has killed more than 940 Palestinians, half of them civilians. Israel said the offensive aims to halt rocket fire from Gaza against Israeli towns.

Bin Laden accused Arab leaders of ''avoiding their responsibility'' to liberate Palestine.

''If you are not convinced to fight, then open the way to those who are convinced,'' he said.

Bin Laden and his lieutenants frequently use the Palestinian issue to try to rally support for al-Qaida and often call for holy war to free Jerusalem. But there has been little sign that the terror group has carried out attacks in Israel. Bin Laden made no direct reference to Hamas, which seized power in Gaza in 2007. Al-Qaida leaders have frequently criticized the Palestinian militant group for participating in elections and failing to seriously pursue jihad against Israel.

The al-Qaida leader also said the world economic crisis was a sign that the United States' power was falling apart, boasting that ''the Islamic nation's jihad is one of the main causes of these destructive results for our enemies.''

Pointing to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, bin Laden said al-Qaida was prepared to fight ''for seven more years, and seven more after that, then seven more.''

''We are on the way to opening new fronts,'' he said, urging Muslims to ''join hands with the mujahedeen to continue the jihad against the enemy, to continue bleeding them on these two fronts and on the others that are open to you.''

''The question is, can America continue the war against us for several more decades? The reports and signs show us otherwise,'' he said. He said Bush had left his successor ''with a heavy inheritance,'' forcing Obama to choose between withdrawing from the wars or continuing.

''If he withdraws from the war, it is a military defeat. If he continues, he drowns in economic crisis,'' bin Laden said.

It was the first time bin Laden have spoken of Obama, though he did not mention him by name. Bin Laden's top deputy Ayman al-Zawahri has previously spoken against Obama, warning Muslims he will not bring major change in U.S. policies.

    Bin Laden Urges Jihad Against Israel, NYT, 14.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/01/14/world/AP-ML-Al-Qaida-Israel.html?hp






Detainee Was Tortured,

a Bush Official Confirms


January 14, 2009
The New York Times


The senior Pentagon official in the Bush administration’s system for prosecuting detainees said in a published interview that she had concluded that interrogators had tortured a Guantánamo detainee who has sometimes been described as “the 20th hijacker” in the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The public record of the Guantánamo interrogation of the detainee, Mohammed al-Qahtani, has long included what officials labeled abusive techniques, including exposure to extreme temperatures and isolation, but the Pentagon has resisted acknowledging that his treatment rose to the level of torture.

But the official, Susan J. Crawford, told Bob Woodward of The Washington Post that she had concluded that his treatment amounted to torture when she reviewed military charges against him last year. In May she decided that the case could not be referred for trial but provided no explanation at the time.

“His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution, Ms. Crawford was quoted as saying in an article published in The Post on Wednesday.

Ms. Crawford, the convening authority of military commissions, had never given an interview on Guantánamo. She is an appointee of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and a retired military judge who was Pentagon inspector general when Dick Cheney was secretary of defense.

Ms. Crawford said she drew her conclusions from a combination of techniques that she said had a “medical impact.”

Mr. Qahtani was originally accused of a role in the 2001 attacks along with five other Guantánamo detainees, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. The military prosecutors sought the death penalty.

Mr. Qahtani, a Saudi, was denied entry into the United States at the Orlando, Fla., airport in August 2001.

“There’s no doubt in my mind he would’ve been on one of those planes had he gained access to the country in August 2001,” Ms. Crawford said in the interview. “He’s a muscle hijacker.”

She added: “He’s a very dangerous man. What do you do with him now if you don’t charge him and try him? I would be hesitant to say, ‘Let him go.’ ”

Military documents show that Mr. Qahtani’s repeated interrogations at Guantánamo in 2002 and 2003 included prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, exposure to cold and involuntary grooming. He was also forced to dance with a male interrogator and to obey dog commands, including “stay,” “come” and “bark.”

A Pentagon inquiry in 2005 found that the methods were “degrading and abusive.”

In a statement Tuesday night, the Pentagon said that more than a dozen prior investigations had concluded that the interrogations were lawful.

“However, subsequent to those reviews,” the statement said, “the department adopted new and more restrictive policies and improved oversight procedures for interrogation and detention operations.”

“Some of the aggressive questioning techniques used on al-Qahtani,” the statement continued, “although permissible at the time, are no longer allowed in the updated Army field manual.”

Military prosecutors said this fall that they planned to file new charges with Ms. Crawford, who is permitted wide discretion under the Pentagon’s rules for its Military Commission system of prosecuting detainees at Guantánamo.

The prosecutors said at the time that they had evidence independent of any statements that Mr. Qahtani made in his interrogations but they had yet to file those new charges.

Mr. Qahtani’s lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York have said they believe he can never be prosecuted because of his treatment, which they said left him a broken man who has attempted suicide.

His case has drawn wide international notice. It is one of the best documented examples of extreme interrogation methods that critics of the Bush administration have said were later used as a model for other interrogations elsewhere in the world.

If new charges were filed in the current military commission system by the military prosecutors, Ms. Crawford would review them.

People who have been briefed by aides to President-elect Barack Obama have said, however, that he plans to suspend all activity in the system and may direct that all prosecutions be in federal courts.

    Detainee Was Tortured, a Bush Official Confirms, NYT, 14.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/14/us/14gitmo.html?hp






Obama’s Plan to Close Prison

at Guantánamo May Take Year


January 13, 2009
The New York Times



President-elect Barack Obama plans to issue an executive order on his first full day in office directing the closing of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, people briefed by Obama transition officials said Monday.

But experts say it is likely to take many months, perhaps as long as a year, to empty the prison that has drawn international criticism since it received its first prisoners seven years ago this week. One transition official said the new administration expected that it would take several months to transfer some of the remaining 248 prisoners to other countries, decide how to try suspects and deal with the many other legal challenges posed by closing the camp.

People who have discussed the issues with transition officials in recent weeks said it appeared that the broad outlines of plans for the detention camp were taking shape. They said transition officials appeared committed to ordering an immediate suspension of the Bush administration’s military commissions system for trying detainees.

In addition, people who have conferred with transition officials said the incoming administration appeared to have rejected a proposal to seek a new law authorizing indefinite detention inside the United States. The Bush administration has insisted that such a measure is necessary to close the Guantánamo camp and bring some detainees to the United States.

Mr. Obama has repeatedly said he wants to close the camp. But in an interview on Sunday on ABC, he indicated that the process could take time, saying, “It is more difficult than I think a lot of people realize.” Closing it within the first 100 days of his administration, he said, would be “a challenge.”

The president-elect drew criticism from some human rights groups Monday who said his remarks suggested that closing Guantánamo was not among the new administration’s highest priorities. But even if the detention camp remains open for months, the decision to address Guantánamo on the day after his inauguration seemed intended to make a symbolic break with some of the most controversial policies of the Bush administration.

Several national security and legal analysts have argued in recent weeks that Mr. Obama is in a delicate political position after having committed himself to closing the prison. Sarah Mendelson, the author of a report for the Center for Strategic and International Studies on how to close the prison, said Mr. Obama’s remarks on Sunday appeared intended to indicate the difficulty of the task, which she said it could take a year to complete.

“I thought he was trying to manage expectations of how quickly those detainees who remain can be sorted into two categories: those who will be released and those who will be prosecuted,” Ms. Mendelson said.

Aside from analyzing intelligence and legal filings on each of the remaining detainees, diplomats and legal experts have said the new administration will need to begin an extensive new international effort to resettle as many as 150 or more of the remaining men. Portugal and other European countries have recently broken a long diplomatic standoff, saying they would work with the new administration and might accept some detainees who cannot be sent to their home countries because of concerns about their potential treatment.

The transition official, who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the plans, said the administration expected to announce its Guantánamo plans next Wednesday.

Brooke Anderson, a transition spokeswoman, declined to comment on any plans, saying only, “President-elect Obama has repeatedly said that he believes that the legal framework at Guantánamo has failed to successfully and swiftly prosecute terrorists, and he shares the broad bipartisan belief that Guantánamo should be closed.”

In formulating their policy in recent weeks, Obama transition officials have consulted with a variety of authorities on legal and human rights and with military experts. Several of those experts said the officials had expressed great interest in alternatives to the military commission system, like trying detainees in federal courts, and appeared to have grown hostile to proposals like an indefinite detention law.

They also said the transition officials were intensely focused on new international efforts to transfer many of the detainees to other countries.

Several said the officials appeared concerned that a proposal for a new law authorizing indefinite detention would bring the new administration much of the criticism that has been directed at the Bush administration over Guantánamo. A former military official who was part of a series of briefings at the transition headquarters in Washington said the officials had spoken about the indefinite detention proposal as a way of creating a “new Guantanámo someplace else.”

“That is very much not the desire of the Obama team,” said the former military official, who insisted on anonymity because of his concerns about how the transition officials would react to public discussion of their comments.

Catherine Powell, an associate professor of law at Fordham, said transition officials appeared most interested at a meeting last month in showing international critics that they were returning to what they see as traditional American legal values.

“They are really looking for tools that we have in our existing system short of creating an indefinite detention system,” Ms. Powell said.

Mark P. Denbeaux, a Seton Hall law professor who has been a prominent lawyer for Guantánamo detainees, said that at a briefing he attended with senior officials of the transition last month the officials seemed to have decided to suspend the military commissions immediately.

“Their position is they’re a complete and utter failure,” Mr. Denbeaux said.

The Pentagon has been pressing ahead with plans to begin a trial on Jan. 26 of one of its high-profile suspects, a Canadian detainee named Omar Khadr. Mr. Khadr’s case has drawn wide attention, partly because he was 15 when he was first detained on charges of killing an American soldier in a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002.

Some human rights groups said Monday that they were alarmed by Mr. Obama’s vague timetable and lack of specifics in his remarks Sunday. They said they worried that the administration might yield to pressure to display its toughness in dealing with terrorism in its detention policies.

“The devil is in the details,” said Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, who has been pressing the new administration to publicly commit to immediately close Guantánamo.

Mr. Romero said he had grown concerned because transition officials had provided details of their plans for dealing with the economic crisis, but had yet to provide details for how they will close Guantánamo, which has brought worldwide criticism.

“Just like we need specifics on an economic recovery package,” Mr. Romero said, “we need specifics on a ‘justice recovery package.’ ”

    Obama’s Plan to Close Prison at Guantánamo May Take Year, NYT, 13.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/13/us/politics/13gitmo.html?hp






Feds Say Inauguration

Attractive Terrorist Target


January 8, 2009
Filed at 2:30 a.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- The upcoming inauguration of Barack Obama is an attractive target for international and domestic terrorists, but U.S. intelligence officials have no information about specific threats to the Jan. 20 event.

An internal intelligence assessment, obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday, says the high visibility of the event, the presence of dignitaries and the significance of swearing in the country's first black president make the inauguration vulnerable to attacks.

What concerns analysts most, the report says, is the potential use of improvised explosive devices, a hostage situation or suicide bombers.

While security will be tight around the U.S. Capitol, the joint FBI and Homeland Security assessment says nearby hotels, public gatherings, restaurants and roads could be vulnerable to some kind of attack.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said security concerns during inaugurations have been elevated since the 2001 terror attacks. ''I think it will be the most security, as far as I'm aware, that any inauguration has had,'' Chertoff said in an interview with the AP.

Chertoff also said there is no specific intelligence pointing to terrorist plots during the event.

''We have scrubbed very hard to look at anything that would suggest a credible, imminent threat or one that was specifically focused on the inauguration,'' Chertoff said, though not referring to the intelligence assessment. ''We're not, at this point, aware of a credible, specific, imminent threat that would affect the inauguration.''

The Secret Service, which is in charge of the overall security for the event, announced Wednesday that bridges into Washington and about 3.5 square miles of the downtown will be closed on Jan. 20. The security perimeter covers more of the city than previous inaugurations.

The analysis says that threats against Obama have increased since he was elected, which also poses concern for the inauguration.

According to the intelligence assessment, a so-called lone wolf poses the greatest threat during the inauguration because such criminals are generally not affiliated with any specific group or act without the direction of a group. There have been some lone wolf threats reported, but nothing points to a well-planned plot, the assessment said.

Officials are concerned about explosives placed in crowded areas and people impersonating emergency and law enforcement officials, but they have no specific information that indicates terrorists are planning to do this, the assessment said.

While intelligence officials have seen no credible threats to the event from international terrorists or domestic terrorists, al-Qaida and its affiliates remain a threat to U.S. interests within the country and abroad, and the significance of Obama's presidency raises the potential threat from hate groups.

    Feds Say Inauguration Attractive Terrorist Target, NYT, 8.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/01/08/washington/AP-Inauguration-Potential-Threats.html






Obama Is Reported Set

to Revise Counterterrorism Efforts


January 8, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama is preparing to scrap the way President Bush oversaw domestic security in the White House and name a former Central Intelligence Agency official to coordinate counterterrorism, people close to the transition said Wednesday.

The plan being discussed would eliminate the independent homeland security adviser’s office and assign those duties to the National Security Council to streamline sometimes overlapping functions. A deputy national security adviser would be charged with overseeing the effort to guard against terrorism and to respond to natural disasters.

Democrats close to the transition said Mr. Obama’s choice for that job was John O. Brennan, a longtime C.I.A. veteran who was the front-runner to head the spy agency until withdrawing in November amid criticism of his views on interrogation and detention policies. His appointment would not require Senate confirmation.

Mr. Obama has made no final decision about how to structure domestic security in his White House, and advisers plan to wait until his inauguration to conduct a formal review. But many key advisers have publicly advocated folding it into the National Security Council, and those involved in discussions said the only real questions appeared to be how to do that and how to explain it without looking like domestic security was being downgraded as a priority.

Mr. Bush first appointed a homeland security adviser after the Sept. 11 attacks, and Congress later institutionalized a Homeland Security Council inside the White House. The adviser holds the rank of assistant to the president, equivalent to the national security adviser , and reports directly to the Oval Office.

“It’s pretty clear they’ve made the decision,” said Frances Fragos Townsend, who was homeland security adviser under Mr. Bush and has talked with the Obama team about the issue. “It’s a question of timing and how they’re going to roll it out.”

Mr. Bush’s aides, including the national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, have privately urged Mr. Obama’s advisers not to get rid of the separate homeland security office, warning that it would load too many responsibilities on the National Security Council and risk important matters’ falling through the cracks.

The likely selection of Mr. Brennan to take over domestic security issues in the White House represents a turnaround. Mr. Brennan, a former C.I.A. officer in the Mideast who served as the first director of the National Counterterrorism Center, was seen as the favorite for C.I.A. director after the Nov. 4 election. But he abruptly pulled out after critics of Mr. Bush sharply criticized Mr. Brennan for past comments that seemed to defend C.I.A. operations after Sept. 11. Mr. Brennan defended his record and called himself an opponent of the harsh interrogation methods used in recent years.

In his new capacity, Mr. Brennan would report to Gen. James L. Jones, the retired Marine commandant slated to serve as Mr. Obama’s national security adviser. Dozens of aides now working for the homeland security adviser would largely be incorporated into the N.S.C. staff. The cabinet Department of Homeland Security would not be affected by any of these moves.

The idea of merging the two councils has been recommended by a number of reports, most notably in November by the Center for American Progress Action Fund and by Third Way. Among those preparing their report were John D. Podesta, Mr. Obama’s transition co-chairman, and members of his team.

The report argued that domestic security is inextricably tied to the nation’s broader foreign and military policy making.

“It was an artificial distinction to begin with,” said Matt Bennett, vice president of Third Way. “Homeland security is a function of national security in its purest form.”

C. Stewart Verdery Jr., a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security under Mr. Bush, said putting domestic security under the national security adviser would focus more attention on those matters, not less.

“It was very hard to get D.H.S. on the N.S.C. radar,” Mr. Verdery said. “You want your issues considered. You don’t want to be off in some second bucket.”

But some state officials are skeptical. “The National Security Council is focused outside,” said Nancy Dragani, director of the Ohio Emergency Management Agency and president of the National Emergency Management Association. “They’re not going to be, nor should they be, consumed with worrying about what’s happening in Ohio.”

Senator Susan E. Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican on the homeland security committee, said, “If the Homeland Security Council were to be merged with the National Security Council, I would be concerned that insufficient attention would be devoted to homeland security issues.”

Ms. Townsend, who held the job until about a year ago, said the council should remain independent, but acknowledged pros and cons. In fact, she said, she recommended to Mr. Hadley and his predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, that they assume responsibility for domestic security, but both persuaded her they already had too much to do.

Still, Ms. Townsend added that fellow Republicans should not use the organizational change to accuse Mr. Obama of not caring as much about domestic security.

“That’s nonsense,” she said.

    Obama Is Reported Set to Revise Counterterrorism Efforts, NYT, 8.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/08/us/politics/08council.html?hp






Ex-Detainee of U.S.

Describes a 6-Year Ordeal


January 6, 2009
The New York Times


LAHORE, Pakistan — When Muhammad Saad Iqbal arrived home here in August after more than six years in American custody, including five at the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, he had difficulty walking, his left ear was severely infected, and he was dependent on a cocktail of antibiotics and antidepressants.

In November, a Pakistani surgeon operated on his ear, physical therapists were working on lower back problems and a psychiatrist was trying to wean him off the drugs he carried around in a white, plastic shopping bag.

The maladies, said Mr. Iqbal, 31, a professional reader of the Koran, are the result of a gantlet of torture, imprisonment and interrogation for which his Washington lawyer plans to sue the United States government.

The coming administration of President-elect Barack Obama is weighing whether to close the Guantánamo prison, which many critics have called an extralegal system of detention and abuse.

But the full stories of individual detainees like Mr. Iqbal are only now emerging after years in which they were shuttled around the globe under the Bush administration’s system of extraordinary rendition, which used foreign countries to interrogate and detain terrorism suspects in sites beyond the reach of American courts.

Mr. Iqbal was never convicted of any crime, or even charged with one. He was quietly released from Guantánamo with a routine explanation that he was no longer considered an enemy combatant, part of an effort by the Bush administration to reduce the prison’s population.

“I feel ashamed what the Americans did to me in this period,” Mr. Iqbal said, speaking for the first time at length about his ordeal during several hours of interviews with The New York Times, including one from his hospital bed in Lahore.

Mr. Iqbal was arrested early in 2002 in Jakarta, Indonesia, after boasting to members of an Islamic group that he knew how to make a shoe bomb, according to two senior American officials who were in Jakarta at the time.

Mr. Iqbal now denies ever having made the statement, but two days after his arrest, he said, the Central Intelligence Agency transferred him to Egypt. He was later shifted to the American prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and ultimately to Guantánamo Bay.

Much of Mr. Iqbal’s account could not be independently corroborated. Two senior American officials confirmed that Mr. Iqbal had been “rendered” from Indonesia, but could not comment on, or confirm details of, how he was treated in custody. The Pentagon and C.I.A. deny using torture, and American diplomatic, military and intelligence officials agreed to talk about the case only on the condition of anonymity because the files are classified.

After Mr. Iqbal was picked up in Jakarta and interrogated for two days, American officials generally concluded that he was a braggart, a “wannabe,” and should be released, one of the senior American officials in Jakarta said. “He was a talker,” the senior American official said. “He wanted to believe he was more important than he was.”

There was no evidence that he had ever met Osama bin Laden, or had been to Afghanistan, the two senior American officials said. But in the atmosphere of fear and confusion in the months after Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Iqbal was secretly moved to Egypt for further interrogation, said one of the senior American officials.

Mr. Iqbal said he had been beaten, tightly shackled, covered with a hood and given drugs, subjected to electric shocks and, because he denied knowing Mr. bin Laden, deprived of sleep for six months. “They make me blind and stand up for whole days,” he said in halting English, meaning that he had been covered with a hood or blindfolded.

The Pentagon and the C.I.A. have a policy of not talking about the detainees, but a C.I.A. spokesman, Paul Gimigliano, said, “The agency’s terrorist detention program has used lawful means of interrogation, reviewed and approved by the Department of Justice and briefed to the Congress.

“This individual, from what I have heard of his account, appears to be describing something utterly different,” Mr. Gimigliano added. “I have no idea what he’s talking about. The United States does not conduct or condone torture.”

Mr. Iqbal said he traveled to Jakarta in November 2001 on a personal odyssey to inform his stepmother that her husband — Mr. Iqbal’s father — had died of a stroke in Pakistan.

He fell in with members of the Islamic Defenders Front, according to his statement to the combatant status review tribunal at Guantánamo in 2004. The group is an Indonesian urban-based organization. It is not banned in Indonesia and has not been connected to any terrorist attacks.

According to Mr. Iqbal’s statement before the review tribunal at Guantánamo, he said he had told his new friends that he knew how to make a bomb that could be tucked into a shoe. He denies that now, saying someone else in the group made the boast.

Whatever the truth, the conversation among that circle of acquaintances caught the attention of Indonesian intelligence.

The Indonesian agents passed the information on to the C.I.A. in Jakarta, and Mr. Iqbal was seized at his rented room just before dawn on Jan. 9, 2002.

Mr. Iqbal said he had received his first round of physical abuse at the Jakarta airport, before being shoved onto the plane, shackled and blindfolded.

“One person from Egyptian intelligence, he come and he punch me here, very hard,” he said, pounding his chest, “and he grab me like this and he throw me against the wall. Then they make me naked, they torture me.”

He said he knew that his assailant at the airport was Egyptian from his Arabic accent. According to a senior American official and two Indonesian officials, Mr. Iqbal was flown from Jakarta to Cairo on a C.I.A. aircraft.

During the flight to Cairo, Mr. Iqbal said, he was bleeding from his nose, mouth and ears, and was unable to move because shackles wound tightly around his body.

When the plane landed, he was told he was in Cairo, he said. He was assigned a basement room like “a grave,” about 6 feet by 4 feet, he said, and was kept there for 92 days, according to the transcript of his tribunal hearing. On Jan. 11, 12 and 20, 2002, he was interrogated for 12 to 15 hours on each occasion, he said during the interviews here.

He described the interrogators as Egyptians. Mr. Iqbal said there were other men in the room whose faces were covered and who did not speak, but who passed notes with questions to the Egyptians.

He was asked when he had gone to Afghanistan and how he had met Mr. bin Laden. When he replied that he had never been to Afghanistan and had not met Mr. bin Laden, the Egyptians tortured him with electric shocks, he said. “I cry and I yell,” he said. “Also they gave me brain electric shocks.” He said he was forced to consume liquids that were laced with drugs “so you don’t know what you are talking about.”

In early April, he said, the Americans flew him to Bagram, the American air base outside the Afghan capital, Kabul. He was held there for almost a year, at times shackled and handcuffed in a small cage with other detainees, and further interrogated, he said.

“A C.I.A. person said, ‘We forgive you; just accept you met Osama bin Laden.’ I said, ‘No, I’m not going to say that.’ ” Even though polygraph tests showed that he was telling the truth, he said, he was shifted from cell to cell every few hours and deprived of sleep for six months.

Once he arrived at Guantánamo, on March 23, 2003, Mr. Iqbal was treated as an outcast by the other prisoners because he had not been trained in Afghanistan, according to a fellow inmate, Mamdouh Habib, an Australian who befriended him.

Mr. Iqbal became so depressed he tried to hang himself twice, and went on three hunger strikes, Mr. Habib said.

According to a statement in April 2007 by Dr. Ronald L. Sollock, the commander of the Naval Hospital at Guantánamo Bay, filed with the Court of Appeals in Washington, Mr. Iqbal was diagnosed with a perforated left eardrum, inflammation of the left external ear canal and inflammation of the left middle ear.

From 2003, according to the court filing by Dr. Sollock, Mr. Iqbal was prescribed antibiotics.

By the time he returned home to Pakistan, Mr. Iqbal was dependent on a “long list of drugs,” Mohammad Mujeeb, a professor of ear, nose and throat at the Services Hospital in Lahore, said in an interview. He said that part of Mr. Iqbal’s difficulty in walking appeared to be psychological, with scans showing only “mild to moderate” compression of the nerves in his back.

After Guantánamo, he was flown on an American military aircraft to the Islamabad airport, where two American Embassy officers, First Lt. Brian Strait and Keith Easter, witnessed his release, according to a United States government document he displayed. He was admitted to a hospital in Islamabad for treatment, and then questioned for three weeks at a safe house by Pakistani intelligence officers in what Mr. Iqbal called friendly sessions. Pakistani security officers then drove him back to Lahore and his extended family. “It was like a new life for me,” he said. “I was born again. There is no word to explain.”

Mr. Iqbal’s case is now being fought in the American courts. His lawyer, Richard L. Cys of Davis Wright Tremaine, who visited him in Guantánamo, said he planned to sue the American government for the unlawful detention of Mr. Iqbal.

Mr. Cys has also filed a lawsuit in the federal courts to win the release of Mr. Iqbal’s medical records for the period he was at Guantánamo, hoping to confirm Mr. Iqbal’s account of his abuse in Egypt.

In Lahore, Mr. Iqbal wants to return to teaching the Koran. “It’s easy for the United States to say no charges were found,” he said. “But who is responsible for the seven years of my life?”

Jane Perlez and Salman Masood reported from Lahore, Pakistan, and Raymond Bonner from Jakarta, Indonesia.

    Ex-Detainee of U.S. Describes a 6-Year Ordeal, NYT, 6.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/06/world/asia/06iqbal.html?hp