History > 2009 > USA > Terrorism (I)
Cameron (Cam) Cardow
21 January 2009
Slows Closing of Guantánamo
April 24, 2009
The New York Times
By WILLIAM GLABERSON
and ROBERT F. WORTH
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
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
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
“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,
Court Says US
to Drop Torture Claim
March 23, 2009
Filed at 12:53 p.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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
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
''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 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
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
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,
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
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
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,
Tales From Torture’s Dark World
March 15, 2009
The New York Times
By MARK DANNER
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
Tales From Torture’s
Dark World, NYT, 15.3.2009,
Terrorist watch list hits 1 million
10 March 2009
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,
Detainees Say They Planned Sept. 11
March 10, 2009
The New York Times
By WILLIAM GLABERSON
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’
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,
Lingers Over Bush Lawyers
March 9, 2009
The New York Times
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
and SCOTT SHANE
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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.
Lingers Over Bush Lawyers, NYT, 9.3.2009,
March 6, 2009
Filed at 12:33 p.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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
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
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
The court had scheduled arguments for April 27 and would have issued a decision
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,
Indictment of Enemy Combatant
February 27, 2009
Filed at 2:09 p.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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
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,
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
"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
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,
Obama’s War on Terror
May Resemble Bush’s
in Some Areas
February 18, 2009
The New York Times
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
Issue of Terrorists' Rights
to Test Obama's Pledge
January 25, 2009
Filed at 8:47 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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
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
Among the unknowns is how many of the 245 detainees now at Guantanamo Bay will
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
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
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
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,
Freed by U.S.,
Saudi Becomes a Qaeda Chief
January 23, 2009
The New York Times
By ROBERT F. WORTH
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
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
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
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,
Obama Issues Directive
to Shut Down Guantánamo
January 22, 2009
The New York Times
By MARK MAZZETTI and WILLIAM GLABERSON
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
"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
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
"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,
Rulings of Improper Detentions
as the Bush Era Closes
January 19, 2009
The New York Times
By WILLIAM GLABERSON
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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,
Priority No. 1: Close Guantánamo
January 16, 2009
The New York Times
To the Editor:
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
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.”
Austin, Tex., Jan.
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
Hanoi, Vietnam, Jan.
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
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.
Marlborough, N.H., Jan.
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.
Scarsdale, N.Y., Jan.
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,
Urges Jihad Against Israel
January 14, 2009
Filed at 8:47 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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
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
''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
Bin Laden accused Arab leaders of ''avoiding their responsibility'' to liberate
''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
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,
Detainee Was Tortured,
a Bush Official Confirms
January 14, 2009
The New York Times
By WILLIAM GLABERSON
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
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,
Obama’s Plan to Close Prison
at Guantánamo May Take Year
January 13, 2009
The New York Times
By WILLIAM GLABERSON
and HELENE COOPER
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
“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,
Feds Say Inauguration
Attractive Terrorist Target
January 8, 2009
Filed at 2:30 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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 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
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,
Obama Is Reported Set
to Revise Counterterrorism Efforts
January 8, 2009
The New York Times
By PETER BAKER
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
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
“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
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
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
“That’s nonsense,” she said.
Obama Is Reported Set to
Revise Counterterrorism Efforts, NYT, 8.1.2009,
Ex-Detainee of U.S.
Describes a 6-Year Ordeal
January 6, 2009
The New York Times
By JANE PERLEZ,
and SALMAN MASOOD
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,