History > 2009 > USA > Terrorism (II)
Obama, Cheney and the Terror Fight
C.I.A. Abuse Cases Detailed
in Report on Detainees
August 26, 2009
The New York Times
By MARK MAZZETTI
and SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON —The Justice Department released a long-secret report Monday
chronicling abuses inside the Central Intelligence Agency’s overseas prisons,
showing how interrogators choked a prisoner repeatedly and threatened to kill
another detainee’s children.
In response to the findings, Attorney General Eric H Holder Jr. chose John H.
Durham, a veteran prosecutor from Connecticut who has been investigating the
C.I.A.’s destruction of interrogation videotapes, to determine whether a full
criminal investigation of the conduct of agency employees or contractors was
warranted. The review will be the most politically explosive inquiry since Mr.
Holder took over the Justice Department in February.
The decision was a significant blow to the C.I.A, and Mr. Holder said he would
be criticized for undercutting the intelligence agency’s work. He said that he
agreed with President Obama’s oft-expressed desire not to get mired in disputes
over the policies of former President George W. Bush, but that his review of
reports on the C.I.A. interrogation program left him no choice.
“As attorney general, my duty is to examine the facts and to follow the law,”
Mr. Holder said in a statement. “Given all of the information currently
available, it is clear to me that this review is the only responsible course of
action for me to take.”
Although large portions of the 109-page report are blacked out, it gives new
details about a variety of abuses inside the C.I.A.’s overseas prisons,
including suggestions about sexually assaulting members of a detainee’s family,
staging mock executions, intimidation with a handgun and power drill, and
blowing cigar and cigarette smoke into prisoners’ faces to make them vomit.
The report found that the interrogations obtained critical information to
identify terrorists and stop potential plots and said some imprisoned terrorists
provided more information after being exposed to brutal treatment.
But the inspector general’s review raised broad questions about the legality,
political acceptability and effectiveness of the harshest of the C.I.A.’s
methods, including some not authorized by the Justice Department and others that
were approved, like the near-drowning technique of waterboarding.
“This review identified concerns about the use of the waterboard, specifically
whether the risks of its use were justified by the results, whether it has been
unnecessarily used in some instances,” the report said, and whether the
frequency and volume of water poured over the prisoner’s mouth and nose exceeded
the Justice Department’s legal authorization.
The attorney general said his decision to order an inquiry was based in part on
the recommendation of the Justice Department’s ethics office, which called for a
new review of several interrogation cases.
In what appeared to be a response to the Justice Department’s release, the
C.I.A. later on Monday released previously secret agency reports from 2004 and
2005 that detailed intelligence scoops produced by the interrogation program.
One of the reports calls the program “a crucial pillar of U.S. counterterrorism
efforts” and describes how interrogations helped unravel a network headed by an
Indonesian terrorist known as Hambali. The other report details information
elicited from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, chief planner of the Sept. 11, 2001,
attacks, saying it “dramatically expanded our universe of knowledge on Al
Those reports, which former Vice President Dick Cheney had sought to have
released earlier this year, do not refer to any specific interrogation methods
and do not assess their effectiveness.
The inspector general’s report, by contrast, offers details of abusive methods.
During one session, a C.I.A. interrogator told Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri, charged
with plotting the 2000 bombing of the Navy destroyer Cole, that if he did not
cooperate with his captors, “we could get your mother in here” and “we can bring
your family in here.”
According to the report, the interrogator wanted Mr. Nashiri to infer for
“psychological” reasons that his female relatives might be sexually abused.
In another session of questioning, the report said, one C.I.A. interrogator told
investigators that Mr. Mohammed was told that if there was another attack on
American soil, the C.I.A. would “kill your children.” Mr. Mohammed’s young sons
were in the custody of Pakistani and American authorities at the time.
Among a litany of C.I.A. tactics, the report describes the “hard takedown,” when
a detainee was grabbed and thrown to the floor before being moved to a
sleep-deprivation cell. It details baths given to Mr. Nashiri, saying he was
sometimes scrubbed with “the kind of brush one uses in a bath to remove stubborn
dirt” to induce pain. In July 2002, the report says, a C.I.A. interrogator
grabbed a detainee’s neck to restrict the prisoner’s carotid artery until he
began to faint. Another officer then “shook the detainee to wake him,” and the
“pressure point” technique was repeated twice more.
Interrogators also staged a mock execution in 2002 to intimidate a detainee.
C.I.A. officers began screaming outside the room where he was being
interrogated. When leaving the room, he “passed a guard who was dressed as a
hooded detainee, lying motionless on the ground, and made to appear as if he had
been shot to death.”
In 2003, C.I.A. officers began using another technique — called “water dousing”
— that involved laying a detainee on a plastic sheet and pouring water over him
for 10 to 15 minutes.
According to the report, an interrogator believed this was an effective
technique, and sent a cable back to C.I.A. headquarters requesting guidelines.
A return cable explained that a detainee “must be placed on a towel or sheet,
may not be placed naked on the bare cement floor, and the air temperature must
exceed 65 degrees if the detainee will not be dried immediately.”
Such detailed guidelines reflected concern throughout the C.I.A. about the
potential legal consequences for agency officers. Officers “expressed
unsolicited concern about the possibility of recrimination or legal action” and
said “they feared that the agency would not stand behind them,” the report said.
The C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, issued a statement to employees Monday
that carefully avoided defending the brutal treatment while expressing support
for the agency’s efforts.
Mr. Panetta wrote that he was not “eager to enter the debate, already
politicized, over the ultimate utility of the agency’s past detention and
interrogation effort.” He said the program had produced crucial intelligence but
added that use of the harsh methods “will remain a legitimate area of dispute.”
Members of Congress from the left and the right criticized Mr. Holder’s
Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and a member of the Senate Intelligence
Committee, criticized the potential focus on interrogators, suggesting that
ignoring Justice Department lawyers and senior Bush administration officials in
the investigation had echoes of the Abu Ghraib scandal, when “lower ranking
troops who committed abuses were hung out to dry.”
But Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the top Republican on the House
Intelligence Committee, said the Justice Department inquiry risked disrupting
current counterterrorism operations. He said abuse charges had already been
The choice of Mr. Durham is likely to speed the review’s progress, because his
team of F.B.I. agents and lawyers was already deeply immersed in the details of
the C.I.A. program. Since January 2008, they have been investigating C.I.A.
officials’ decision in 2005 to destroy videotapes documenting interrogations of
Abu Zubaydah and Mr. Nashiri.
The inspector general’s staff reviewed the 92 tapes before they were destroyed,
and the report released Monday revealed that 11 of the videotapes were entirely
blank and that two others were almost blank. The report does not indicate
whether the videotapes were erased by C.I.A officers.
David Johnston contributed reporting.
C.I.A. Abuse Cases
Detailed in Report on Detainees, NYT, 26.8.2009,
Report Provides New Details
on C.I.A. Prisoner Abuse
August 23, 2009
The New York Times
By MARK MAZZETTI
WASHINGTON — A Central Intelligence Agency inspector general’s report set to
be released Monday provides new details about abuses that took place inside the
agency’s secret prisons, including details of how C.I.A. officers carried out
mock executions and threatened at least one prisoner with a gun and a power
C.I.A. jailers at different times held the handgun and the drill close to the
detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, threatening to harm him if he did not
cooperate with his interrogators, a government official familiar with the
contents of the report said.
Mr. Nashiri, who was implicated in the bombing of the Navy destroyer Cole in
2000, was one of two C.I.A. detainees whose interrogation sessions were
videotaped — tapes that were destroyed by C.I.A. officers in 2005. It is unclear
whether the threats with the gun and the power drill were documented on the
In a separate episode detailed in the report — completed in 2004 by the
inspector general, John L. Helgerson, but emerging now after a lawsuit by the
American Civil Liberties Union forced its release — C.I.A. officers fired a
gunshot in a room next to a detainee, leading the prisoner to believe that a
second detainee had been killed.
It is a violation of the federal torture statute to threaten a detainee with
The C.I.A. declined to comment on specifics of the report, which were first
reported Friday evening by Newsweek.
Paul Gimigliano, a C.I.A. spokesman, said: “The C.I.A. in no way endorsed
behavior — no matter how infrequent — that went beyond the formal guidance. This
has all been looked at; professionals in the Department of Justice decided if
and when to pursue prosecution.”
A federal prosecutor is now investigating the destruction of the C.I.A. tapes,
but the Justice Department has thus far declined to open a formal investigation
into the abuses in C.I.A. prisons.
That may be about to change, as Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is
considering whether to appoint a prosecutor to examine the allegations in Mr.
Helgerson’s report, and to investigate a number of cases where detainees died in
President Obama has insisted that C.I.A. officers who adhered to Justice
Department interrogation guidelines should escape prosecution, and Mr. Holder is
not expected to single out Justice Department lawyers who approved the brutal
This would give any future investigation a somewhat narrow mandate: aiming only
at C.I.A. officers who carried out abuses that exceed the interrogation
Mr. Helgerson’s report is said to document in grim detail a number of abuse
cases, and its release on Monday is likely to reinvigorate a partisan debate on
Even as White House officials say that they are hesitant to dwell on the
detainee abuse during the Bush administration, the A.C.L.U. lawsuit has forced
officials to make public a number of classified documents from that era.
Besides the inspector general’s report, other documents expected to be released
Monday are a 2007 Justice Department memo reauthorizing the C.I.A.’s “enhanced”
interrogation techniques, documents that former Vice President Dick Cheney has
said provide evidence that the interrogation methods produced valuable
information about Al Qaeda; and Justice Department memos from 2006 concerning
conditions of confinement in C.I.A. jails.
In Mr. Nashiri’s case, military prosecutors announced in July 2008 that they
would seek the death penalty as they brought war crimes charges against him. He
has been held at the prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and is suspected of
helping to plan the bombing of the Cole, an attack that killed 17 sailors.
Mr. Nashiri is a Saudi who has long been described by American officials as Al
Qaeda’s operations chief in the Persian Gulf and the primary planner of the
October 2000 attack on the Cole.
Mr. Nashiri is one of three detainees who the C.I.A. has acknowledged were
subjected to waterboarding. Mr. Nashiri was interrogated in the agency’s secret
prisons before he was transferred to Guantánamo in 2006.
In announcing the charges, which will be heard by the Bush administration’s
military commission tribunals at Guantánamo, the Pentagon official, Brig. Gen.
Thomas W. Hartmann, appeared to back away from years of assertions by American
officials about Mr. Nashiri when he was asked at a news conference if Mr.
Nashiri was suspected of being the primary planner or mastermind of the Cole
“I’m not going to say either of those,” General Hartmann said. “I’m going to say
he helped to plan and organize and direct the attacks.”
Report Provides New
Details on C.I.A. Prisoner Abuse, NYT, 23.8.2009,
to Be Freed
July 31, 2009
The New York Times
By WILLIAM GLABERSON
WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Thursday ordered that one of the youngest
detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, be released by late August in a case that
drew wide attention because of rulings that he had been tortured by Afghan
officials and abused in American custody.
“Enough has been imposed on this young man to date,” the judge, Ellen Segal
Huvelle, said in a courtroom crowded with people drawn by what had become a
confrontation between the judge and the Obama administration.
But it was not clear Thursday whether Judge Huvelle’s order will mean freedom
for the detainee, Mohammed Jawad, who has long faced American charges that, as a
teenager, he threw a hand grenade in Kabul in 2002 that injured two American
servicemen and their Afghan interpreter.
The ruling on Thursday came after a concession by the government last week that
it could no longer defend Mr. Jawad’s military detention in the habeas corpus
case before Judge Huvelle. She had declared that the administration’s case for
continuing his detention after nearly seven years was “riddled with holes” and
that virtually all of the government’s evidence came from confessions he made
after being threatened with death.
Justice Department officials said they were studying whether to file civilian
criminal charges against Mr. Jawad. If they do, officials say, he could be
transferred to the United States to face charges, instead of being sent to
Afghanistan, where his lawyers say he would be released to his mother.
“It is a very real possibility,” a Justice Department official said in an
interview, “but whether we can compile enough evidence to support a case is a
question we don’t yet know the answer to.” The official spoke on condition of
anonymity because the department does not discuss investigations.
Mr. Jawad’s military lawyer, Maj. David J. R. Frakt, said he would file court
challenges to any effort by the administration to move his client to the United
States to face charges. But Major Frakt conceded that the Aug. 21 deadline Judge
Huvelle gave the government to send Mr. Jawad to Afghanistan also gave
prosecutors time to work on a grand jury investigation.
“We have won the battle,” he said outside the federal courthouse here. “Have we
won the war? Perhaps it remains to be seen.”
The Obama administration had asked for the 22 days to comply with a recently
passed provision requiring that Congress be given 15-days notice of any detainee
transfer. The administration said it needed an additional week to prepare the
Mr. Jawad’s age is unknown, but his lawyers say he was 14 or 15 at the time of
the grenade attack. Military prosecutors have been pursuing war crimes charges
against Mr. Jawad in the military commission system at Guantánamo. But their
case foundered after a military judge ruled last year that it was largely based
on confessions Mr. Jawad gave after being tortured.
Justice Department lawyers told Judge Huvelle they would no longer use those
statements. But they said they had additional evidence, including witnesses to
From the bench on Thursday, Judge Huvelle criticized the government for what she
described as inattention to the case and a “continuing pattern” of delay both by
the Bush and Obama administrations. She said any prosecution would face
difficulties, including what she said was a possible denial of Mr. Jawad’s right
to a speedy trial and evidence that his treatment at Guantánamo was harsher than
any juvenile defendant would face in the United States.
“I hope,” Judge Huvelle said, “the government will succeed in getting him sent
Judge Orders Guantánamo
Detainee to Be Freed, NYT, 31.7.2009,
The Military Is Not the Police
July 30, 2009
The New York Times
It was disturbing to learn the other day just how close the last
administration came to violating laws barring the military from engaging in law
enforcement when President George W. Bush considered sending troops into a
Buffalo suburb in 2002 to arrest terrorism suspects. Unfortunately, this is not
necessarily a problem of the past. More needs to be done to ensure that the
military is not illegally deployed in this country.
The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 generally prohibits the military from law
enforcement activities within the United States. If armed officers are going to
knock on Americans’ doors, or arrest them in the streets, they should answer to
Despite this bedrock principle, The Times’s Mark Mazzetti and David Johnston
reported last week, top Bush administration officials, including (no surprise)
Vice President Dick Cheney, argued that the president had the authority to use
the military to round up a suspected terrorist cell known as the Lackawanna Six.
Mr. Cheney and others cited a legal memorandum co-written by John C. Yoo (author
of the infamous torture memo), which made the baseless claim that the military
can go after accused Al Qaeda terrorists on United States soil because it would
be a matter of national security, not law enforcement.
The Lackawanna Six controversy is history, but there are troubling signs the
military may be injecting itself today into law enforcement. The American Civil
Liberties Union has been sounding the alarm about the proliferation of “fusion
centers,” in which federal, state and local law enforcement cooperate on
anti-terrorism work. According to the A.C.L.U., the lines have blurred, and the
centers have involved military personnel in domestic law enforcement. Congress
Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary, said Wednesday that fusion
centers were not intended to have a military presence, and that she was not
aware of ones that did. She promised greater transparency about what role, if
any, the active military was playing.
Civil libertarians are also raising questions about a program known as the
Chemical, Biological, Radiological/Nuclear and High-Yield Explosives Consequence
Management Response Force. The Army says its aim is to have active-duty troops
ready to back up local law enforcement in catastrophic situations, like an
attack with a nuclear weapon. That could be legal, but the workings of these
units are murky. Again, Congress should ensure that the military is not moving
into prohibited areas.
Some of the military’s line-crossing seems ad hoc. Earlier this year, when a man
in a small town in Alabama went on a shooting spree, Army troops reportedly went
out on the streets to participate in the law enforcement effort. It is still
unclear precisely what role they played. It is important that the military be
thoroughly trained on what the law does and does not permit.
After the lack of respect for posse comitatus at the highest ranks of the
previous administration, the Obama White House and Congress must ensure that the
lines between military and law enforcement have been restored, clearly, and that
they are respected.
The Military Is Not the
Police, NYT, 30.7.2009,
July 27, 2009
The New York Times
By MICHAEL HAYDEN
THE recent report of inspectors general on the President’s Surveillance Program
operated by the National Security Agency has led some to make hasty and deeply
flawed judgments about the value and legality of what was a critical part of
protecting America from further attack after Sept. 11.
The program was crucial in addressing one of the most stinging criticisms of the
9/11 commission — the need to reduce the gap between foreign intelligence and
domestic security. This was an especially difficult task, which helps explain
both the program’s importance and its sensitivity. The program was lawful,
effective and necessary.
The reflexive judgments to the contrary seem hasty at best. Although the
inspectors general report notes that the compartmented nature of the program
hurt its utility (it should be noted that restricting access to especially
sensitive data is hardly a unique phenomenon in an intelligence community that
forever has to balance using information and protecting it), it also notes that
users of the information rated the program “of value,” “useful” and a “key
resource,” albeit one that was most often used in combination with other
Intelligence professionals call that “connecting the dots,” something for which
we were roundly criticized after Sept. 11 as not sufficiently doing. The report
also suggested that there were counterterrorism successes associated with the
program but that these could not be discussed in an unclassified venue. Although
little commented on, the report also mentions that “even those read into the
program would have been unaware of the full extent” of reporting.
Let’s be clear: when the National Security Agency reported intercepted
communications from this program, the reports were often disseminated in the
normal intelligence production stream. An analyst would have no way of knowing
the source of the information.
Some critics claim that Congress was not aware of the full extent of the
program, but the ultimate judgment on the effectiveness of much of the program
may actually have been the actions of Congress. In the 2008 amendment to the
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Congress judged it appropriate not only
to provide additional legal underpinnings for much of what the agency had been
doing but also to recognize the value of its activities by providing additional
critically needed capabilities. In my briefings to Congressional overseers from
2001 to 2005, I continually made the point that we simply could not achieve the
program’s operational effect under FISA procedures as they then existed and it
is clear that Congress ultimately agreed.
There has been much controversy about the lawfulness of the program. Here I must
point out that agency lawyers — career attorneys with deep expertise in the law,
privacy and intelligence — assisted their professional Justice Department
counterparts in their review of the program but remained comfortable throughout
with the lawfulness of all aspects of the surveillance effort.
IN any event, the aspect of the program that was so contentious in March 2004,
when some Justice Department officials objected, resumed in only slightly
modified form within six months under a new legal regime that all the players in
March’s crisis supported. And it should be pointed out that the elements of the
program made public in news reports in December 2005 had been consistently
deemed lawful by the Justice Department.
Some have been tempted to read ominous undertones into the report’s careful
prose: a passing reference without further definition to the program’s “effect
on privacy interests of U.S. persons,” the parting words that information
collected under the surveillance program and FISA "should be carefully
monitored,” and a reminder that there were other highly classified parts of the
president’s program out there still publicly unacknowledged. Such phrases have
already led to incorrect assumptions that the report concluded that the wiretaps
violated the privacy of millions of American citizens.
Let me stress that Congressional overseers were told of all activities conducted
by the agency under this authorization. We made clear that this program was not
a minor effort but neither was it the “Big Brother” project that some have
alleged. In fact, at every briefing we reported daily and cumulative activities
for the program.
There is also one very large finding in the report that hasn’t received the
attention it deserves: “No evidence of intentional misuse” of the program was
That is, the agency work force heeded, to the very best of its ability, the
direction I gave them when the program was begun: do what the president has
authorized us to do and not one photon or one electron more.
This debate on law and policy will no doubt continue, but learning will only
begin when we turn down the volume, moderate our language and recognize that
there is more information that will appropriately become available in time to
allow both us and history to inform our judgments.
Michael Hayden was the director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2006 to
2009 and the director of the National Security Agency from 1999 to 2005.
Their Own Private Guantánamo
July 23, 2009
The New York Times
By CHISUN LEE
AS the Obama administration and Congress try to forge a legal framework for
detaining suspected terrorists, they might want to take a close look at what’s
happening at the federal district courthouse just a short walk down Pennsylvania
Avenue from both the White House and the Capitol.
Trial judges there have quietly decided 31 of some 200 cases brought by
Guantánamo inmates seeking freedom. Dossier by dossier, the jurists have
answered the core questions that policy experts have been addressing in theory:
When can the president place someone in preventive detention, and how solid does
the evidence need to be?
President Obama, like George W. Bush before him, has claimed the power to detain
not only Qaeda and Taliban members, but also those who “support” them. Last year
the Supreme Court ruled that the courts can scrutinize these detention decisions
and overturn them if they are invalid. But the court didn’t say exactly what a
valid detention looks like, and Congress hasn’t stepped in to make it clear.
Thus the federal judges in Washington have had to develop their own guidelines —
functioning, in essence, as the country’s national security court.
A close examination of the decisions shows that some of the fears about sending
terrorism cases to civilian courts have not been realized. The judges haven’t
been particularly hard on the government, holding it to a low standard of proof:
If more than half the evidence tips in the government’s favor, then the detainee
stays put — a far lower bar than “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The judges have
also admitted hearsay evidence, and they’ve sealed courtrooms to protect
Yet despite these allowances, the government has not fared well. Twenty-six
detainees have won their lawsuits, known as habeas petitions, while five have
lost. So far, the Obama administration has filed just one appeal.
These initial judgments may not be typical, because they involved relatively
low-level suspects. But they offer the first tangible indication of what members
of the third branch of government believe it takes to make preventive detention
While the federal trial judges are working largely without guidance, the Supreme
Court did offer some clues in its decision on a 2004 challenge by Yaser Hamdi,
an American accused by the Bush administration of fighting the United States in
Afghanistan. The justices said the situation in which he was captured was enough
like a classic battlefield that detention without charge was justified until the
end of hostilities, as is typical in wartime.
But the fight against terrorism won’t have a “clear terminal point,” as
President Obama said recently, and many of the detainees weren’t captured on an
obvious battlefield. The president says he can detain not only anyone who
contributed to the 9/11 attacks, but also people “who were part of, or
substantially supported, Taliban or Al Qaeda forces or associated forces that
are engaged in hostilities against the United States.” The habeas suits have
opened this claim to dispute. Some judges have pushed back at President Obama’s
assertion of power, particularly when assessing the concept of “supporting” the
In the case of Ghaleb Nassar al-Bihani, a Yemeni being held at Guantánamo Bay,
Judge Richard Leon agreed with the government that simply cooking meals for the
Taliban was “more than sufficient ‘support’ ” of the enemy to justify his
detention. Yet Judge Gladys Kessler ordered another Yemeni, Ali bin Ali Ahmed,
freed despite the government’s claim that he’d stayed at a suspect guesthouse
and “traveled ... in the company of terrorist fighters fleeing the battlefield.”
Another judge, Reggie Walton, who is handling the challenges of more than a
dozen men, defined “substantial support” as membership in “the ‘armed forces’ of
an enemy organization.” Judge John Bates scrapped the “substantial support”
concept altogether, which he said comes from the world of criminal law.
Perhaps the sharpest curb on presidential authority came from Judge Ellen Segal
Huvelle, who ruled in March that even if a Taliban fighter named Yasim Muhammed
Basardah had deserved detention when captured, he now deserved freedom because
he had informed on other detainees and “any ties with the enemy have been
The judges have been more accommodating of the government on technical matters,
including the protection of national security secrets. All have routinely
concealed important facts — sometimes even the very basis for deciding to keep
someone locked up — despite the principle that American courts should be open.
That’s what happened in the case of Moath Hamza Ahmed al-Alwi, a Yemeni whose
lawyer insisted he had traveled to Afghanistan to fight in its civil war, not
against the United States, and was “easy prey for locals who were eager to hand
over anyone they could find in return for American rewards.” Judge Leon rejected
the argument, saying there was “more than ample evidence” of Mr. Alwi’s
affiliation with America’s enemies, but that evidence isn’t revealed in the
unclassified version of the judge’s decision released to the public.
In the case of six Algerian men arrested in Bosnia, Judge Leon ruled in favor of
five because the evidence that they had planned to travel to Afghanistan to take
up arms against the United States was unreliable. But the judge decided against
the sixth man because of other “credible and reliable” evidence that he kept
The judges have also overlooked technical imperfections in the government’s
evidence, admitting anonymous and other unverifiable information. One government
lawyer explained that military and intelligence officers aren’t accustomed to
following the “finer points” of evidence rules, and the court doesn’t appear to
expect them to be: in no case has a judge decided against the government merely
because its evidence lacked proper form, as far as the publicly available
The judges were more demanding when it came to interpreting the substance of the
government’s evidence. In the case of Mr. Ahmed, Judge Kessler agreed to
consider hearsay “because of the exigencies of the circumstances.” But she
eventually ruled that he should be released because the accuracy of the evidence
was “hotly contested for a host of different reasons ranging from the fact that
it contains second- and third-hand hearsay to allegations that it was obtained
by torture to the fact that no statement purports to be a verbatim account of
what was said.”
The trial judges have also rejected much of the intelligence community’s “mosaic
theory,” which calls for interpreting minor facts to suggest a greater threat.
Judge Kessler, for example, refused to infer that Mr. Ahmed was an enemy fighter
simply based on a “web of statements” that he had associated with enemy
She acknowledged that the mosaic approach “is a common and well-established mode
of analysis in the intelligence community,” but that the legal system required
more specific evidence. Likewise, in January Judge Leon ordered the release of
Mohammed el- Gharani, a citizen of Chad, after dismissing the main evidence
against him: contradictory statements from two detainees whose credibility the
government itself had “directly called into question.”
In the absence of guidelines from Congress and the president for evaluating
preventive detention cases, these judges have succeeded in coming up with their
own, individual approaches. Yet whenever ground rules seem ad hoc, people worry
about fairness — is the man in the next courtroom getting a better shake? One
step toward assuring the public that justice will be uniform is to establish
At the top of the list, the government could clearly state what makes a person
subject to indefinite detention by the president. Is “supporting” the enemy
enough? If so, what exactly is “support?” And, once a judge has concluded that
someone has been unjustifiably detained, what is the president required to do?
Seventeen of the 26 detainees who’ve been cleared for release by judges remain
in custody. President Obama has given mixed signals on how he views the issue.
He has resisted a judge’s order to release immediately 13 Chinese Uighurs,
saying that the courts can’t override the president’s discretion to decide when
detainees will be freed. Yet that position contrasts sharply with his message in
a recent televised speech, when he said he accepted judges’ rulings that certain
prisoners should be released. “The courts have spoken,” Mr. Obama said. “We must
abide by these rulings.”
But as these cases show, neither the guidelines for deciding the cases nor the
consequences of the decisions are quite so clear.
Chisun Lee, a lawyer, is a reporter for ProPublica, a nonprofit
Their Own Private
Guantánamo, NYT, 23.7.2009,
Illegal, and Pointless
July 17, 2009
The New York Times
We’ve known for years that the Bush administration ignored and broke the law
repeatedly in the name of national security. It is now clear that many of those
programs could have been conducted just as easily within the law — perhaps more
effectively and certainly with far less damage to the justice system and to
Americans’ faith in their government.
That is the inescapable conclusion from a devastating report by the inspectors
general of the intelligence and law-enforcement community on President George W.
Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program. The report shows that the longstanding
requirement that the government obtain a warrant was not hindering efforts to
gather intelligence on terrorists after the 9/11 attacks. In fact, the argument
that the law was an impediment was concocted by White House and Justice
Department lawyers after Mr. Bush authorized spying on Americans’ international
We know less, so far, about the Bush administration’s plan to send covert
paramilitary teams to assassinate Al Qaeda leaders. But what is overwhelmingly
clear is that there was no legal or rational justification for Vice President
Dick Cheney’s order to conceal the program from Congress. The plan was never put
into effect, apparently because it was unworkable. But it’s hard to imagine
Congress balking at killing terrorists.
So why break the law, again and again? Two things seem disturbingly clear.
First, President Bush and his top aides panicked after the Sept. 11 attacks. And
second, Mr. Cheney and his ideologues, who had long chafed at any legal
constraints on executive power, preyed on that panic to advance their agenda.
According to the inspectors general, the legal memo justifying warrantless
wiretapping was written by John Yoo, then the deputy head of the Justice
Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and author of other memos that twisted the
law to justify torture.
In this case, the report said, he misrepresented both the law and the details of
the wiretapping operation to make it seem as if the 1978 Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act was outdated and that Mr. Bush could ignore it. And, according
to the report, Mr. Yoo bypassed his bosses at the Justice Department and
delivered his reports directly to, you guessed it, Mr. Cheney’s office.
For four years, until The Times revealed the warrantless wiretapping, Mr. Bush
reauthorized the eavesdropping every 45 days based on memos from the
intelligence community and Justice Department. The report said that when the
“scary memos,” as they came to be called, were not sufficiently scary, lawyers
under the direction of Alberto Gonzales, White House counsel and later attorney
general, revised them or ordered up additional “threat information.” Each ended
with a White House-written paragraph asserting that communications were
intercepted from terrorists who “possessed the capability and intention” to
attack this country.
After Mr. Yoo and his boss, Jay Bybee, left the Justice Department, their
replacements concluded that the wiretapping program was illegal. The White House
did eventually change parts of the program and then demanded that Congress
legalize it, but only after the White House tried to force the Justice
Department to ignore its own conclusions and after Robert Mueller, the director
of the F.B.I., threatened to resign.
Mr. Cheney has tried to head off a reckoning by claiming that the warrantless
wiretapping saved thousands of lives. The report said the C.I.A. could point to
little direct benefit. The F.B.I. said most of the leads it produced were false.
Others never led to an arrest.
This is not an isolated case. Once the Bush team got into the habit of breaking
the law, it became their operating procedure that any means are justified:
ordering the nation’s intelligence agents to torture prisoners; sending
innocents to be tortured in foreign countries; creating secret prisons where
detainees were held illegally without charge.
Americans still don’t have the full story. Even now, most of what the inspectors
general found remains classified, including other wiretapping that Mr. Bush
authorized. Mr. Yoo’s original memo is also classified.
President Obama has refused to open a full investigation of the many laws that
were evaded, twisted or broken — pointlessly and destructively — under Mr. Bush.
Mr. Obama should change his mind. A full accounting is the only way to ensure
these abuses never happen again.
Illegal, and Pointless,
Renews Concerns in Congress
June 17, 2009
The New York Times
By JAMES RISEN
and ERIC LICHTBLAU
WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency is facing renewed scrutiny over the
extent of its domestic surveillance program, with critics in Congress saying its
recent intercepts of the private telephone calls and e-mail messages of
Americans are broader than previously acknowledged, current and former officials
The agency’s monitoring of domestic e-mail messages, in particular, has posed
longstanding legal and logistical difficulties, the officials said.
Since April, when it was disclosed that the intercepts of some private
communications of Americans went beyond legal limits in late 2008 and early
2009, several Congressional committees have been investigating. Those inquiries
have led to concerns in Congress about the agency’s ability to collect and read
domestic e-mail messages of Americans on a widespread basis, officials said.
Supporting that conclusion is the account of a former N.S.A. analyst who, in a
series of interviews, described being trained in 2005 for a program in which the
agency routinely examined large volumes of Americans’ e-mail messages without
court warrants. Two intelligence officials confirmed that the program was still
Both the former analyst’s account and the rising concern among some members of
Congress about the N.S.A.’s recent operation are raising fresh questions about
the spy agency.
Representative Rush Holt, Democrat of New Jersey and chairman of the House
Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, has been investigating the incidents and
said he had become increasingly troubled by the agency’s handling of domestic
In an interview, Mr. Holt disputed assertions by Justice Department and national
security officials that the overcollection was inadvertent.
“Some actions are so flagrant that they can’t be accidental,” Mr. Holt said.
Other Congressional officials raised similar concerns but would not agree to be
quoted for the record.
Mr. Holt added that few lawmakers could challenge the agency’s statements
because so few understood the technical complexities of its surveillance
operations. “The people making the policy,” he said, “don’t understand the
The inquiries and analyst’s account underscore how e-mail messages, more so than
telephone calls, have proved to be a particularly vexing problem for the agency
because of technological difficulties in distinguishing between e-mail messages
by foreigners and by Americans. A new law enacted by Congress last year gave the
N.S.A. greater legal leeway to collect the private communications of Americans
so long as it was done only as the incidental byproduct of investigating
individuals “reasonably believed” to be overseas.
But after closed-door hearings by three Congressional panels, some lawmakers are
asking what the tolerable limits are for such incidental collection and whether
the privacy of Americans is being adequately protected.
“For the Hill, the issue is a sense of scale, about how much domestic e-mail
collection is acceptable,” a former intelligence official said, speaking on
condition of anonymity because N.S.A. operations are classified. “It’s a
question of how many mistakes they can allow.”
While the extent of Congressional concerns about the N.S.A. has not been shared
publicly, such concerns are among national security issues that the Obama
administration has inherited from the Bush administration, including the use of
brutal interrogation tactics, the fate of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba,
and whether to block the release of photographs and documents that show abuse of
In each case, the administration has had to navigate the politics of continuing
an aggressive intelligence operation while placating supporters who want an end
to what they see as flagrant abuses of the Bush era.
The N.S.A. declined to comment for this article. Wendy Morigi, a spokeswoman for
Dennis C. Blair, the national intelligence director, said that because of the
complex nature of surveillance and the need to adhere to the rules of the
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret panel that oversees
surveillance operation, and “other relevant laws and procedures, technical or
inadvertent errors can occur.”
“When such errors are identified,” Ms. Morigi said, “they are reported to the
appropriate officials, and corrective measures are taken.”
In April, the Obama administration said it had taken comprehensive steps to
bring the security agency into compliance with the law after a periodic review
turned up problems with “overcollection” of domestic communications. The Justice
Department also said it had installed new safeguards.
Under the surveillance program, before the N.S.A. can target and monitor the
e-mail messages or telephone calls of Americans suspected of having links to
international terrorism, it must get permission from the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Court. Supporters of the agency say that in using computers to
sweep up millions of electronic messages, it is unavoidable that some innocent
discussions of Americans will be examined. Intelligence operators are supposed
to filter those out, but critics say the agency is not rigorous enough in doing
The N.S.A. is believed to have gone beyond legal boundaries designed to protect
Americans in about 8 to 10 separate court orders issued by the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Court, according to three intelligence officials who
spoke anonymously because disclosing such information is illegal. Because each
court order could single out hundreds or even thousands of phone numbers or
e-mail addresses, the number of individual communications that were improperly
collected could number in the millions, officials said. (It is not clear what
portion of total court orders or communications that would represent.)
“Say you get an order to monitor a block of 1,000 e-mail addresses at a big
corporation, and instead of just monitoring those, the N.S.A. also monitors
another block of 1,000 e-mail addresses at that corporation,” one senior
intelligence official said. “That is the kind of problem they had.”
Overcollection on that scale could lead to a significant number of privacy
invasions of American citizens, officials acknowledge, setting off the concerns
among lawmakers and on the secret FISA court.
“The court was not happy” when it learned of the overcollection, said an
administration official involved in the matter.
Defenders of the agency say it faces daunting obstacles in trying to avoid the
improper gathering or reading of Americans’ e-mail as part of counterterrorism
efforts aimed at foreigners.
Several former intelligence officials said that e-mail traffic from all over the
world often flows through Internet service providers based in the United States.
And when the N.S.A. monitors a foreign e-mail address, it has no idea when the
person using that address will send messages to someone inside the United
States, the officials said.
The difficulty of distinguishing between e-mail messages involving foreigners
from those involving Americans was “one of the main things that drove” the Bush
administration to push for a more flexible law in 2008, said Kenneth L.
Wainstein, the homeland security adviser under President George W. Bush. That
measure, which also resolved the long controversy over N.S.A.’s program of
wiretapping without warrants by offering immunity to telecommunications
companies, tacitly acknowledged that some amount of Americans’ e-mail would
inevitably be captured by the N.S.A.
But even before that, the agency appears to have tolerated significant
collection and examination of domestic e-mail messages without warrants,
according to the former analyst, who spoke only on condition of anonymity.
He said he and other analysts were trained to use a secret database, code-named
Pinwale, in 2005 that archived foreign and domestic e-mail messages. He said
Pinwale allowed N.S.A. analysts to read large volumes of e-mail messages to and
from Americans as long as they fell within certain limits — no more than 30
percent of any database search, he recalled being told — and Americans were not
explicitly singled out in the searches.
The former analyst added that his instructors had warned against committing any
abuses, telling his class that another analyst had been investigated because he
had improperly accessed the personal e-mail of former President Bill Clinton.
Other intelligence officials confirmed the existence of the Pinwale e-mail
database, but declined to provide further details.
The recent concerns about N.S.A.’s domestic e-mail collection follow years of
unresolved legal and operational concerns within the government over the issue.
Current and former officials now say that the tracing of vast amounts of
American e-mail traffic was at the heart of a crisis in 2004 at the hospital
bedside of John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, as top Justice Department
aides staged a near revolt over what they viewed as possibly illegal aspects of
the N.S.A.’s surveillance operations.
James Comey, then the deputy attorney general, and his aides were concerned
about the collection of “meta-data” of American e-mail messages, which show
broad patterns of e-mail traffic by identifying who is e-mailing whom, current
and former officials say. Lawyers at the Justice Department believed that the
tracing of e-mail messages appeared to violate federal law.
“The controversy was mostly about that issue,” said a former administration
official involved in the dispute.
Renews Concerns in Congress, NYT, 17.6.2009,
A Threat in Every Port
June 15, 2009
The New York Times
By LAWRENCE M. WEIN
WHILE President Obama’s future vision of “a world with no nuclear weapons” is
certainly laudable, for the present America still needs to do everything it can
to prevent a terrorist from detonating such a bomb on our soil.
The Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, part of the Department of Homeland
Security, is in charge of developing a worldwide nuclear-detection system that,
primarily, would use technology to monitor vehicles and shipping containers
along the various transportation networks by which nuclear weapons could be
smuggled into America. Yet the Government Accountability Office found last year
that the detection office “lacks an overarching strategic plan,” despite the
$2.8 billion a year spent on the initiative.
How should the detection office proceed? The best way to view the problem
strategically is through game theory. In this case, the government plays first
and uses its budget to place detection resources — technology, security experts
and the like — at the various “nodes” along the transportation network, like
seaports, airports and border stations. The terrorists, in turn, can be expected
to choose the path that gives them the best chance to carry out an attack.
As the accompanying chart illustrates, there are a dizzying number of paths that
terrorists could use to transport a foreign-built weapon to an American target
city — 132 variations, in fact, taking into consideration all four likely modes
of transport: commercial airplane, cargo airplane, container ship and cruise
So, how do we decide which route the terrorists are most likely to choose and
which path we the are most vulnerable to? Game theory implies that we should
maintain an equal chance of detecting fissile material along each of the 132
paths because if we harden one path too much, the terrorists will simply choose
an easier one. On top of it all, the agency needs to consider
cost-effectiveness: if certain sets of nodes along the transportation network
are much more cost-effective to reinforce than others, then the best defense may
not come from allocating resources equitably across the system.
First, the terrorists’ obtaining nuclear material and transferring it to a
foreign airport or seaport are the two steps that are on all 132 paths, and
hence represent excellent choke points. The Pentagon and Energy Department
agencies that try to detect fissile material at foreign ports are actually quite
well financed and efficient, but given the size of the globe, the number of
nations producing nuclear material and the political barriers inherent in
working in another nation’s territory, we can hardly assume these efforts are a
solid defense of our homeland.
Next we must look at the 12 paths that terrorists have to get nuclear material
from a foreign nation to an American port. Whether by sea or air, the trip could
either be direct to the United States or routed through a port in Canada or in
Central or South America.
On the direct-to-America route, game theory tells us to equalize the likelihood
of detection for the four methods of transportation. Yet the Domestic Nuclear
Detection Office has inexplicably concentrated its efforts on seaborne commerce
and commercial flights: every United States-bound shipping container and piece
of baggage on international flights is now screened by professionals (cruise
lines do their own checking). The agency has dragged its feet on aviation cargo,
with a goal of 100 percent inspections by 2014. As it looks to reshape its
strategy, speeding up the monitoring of cargo planes would seem an obvious place
Once the terrorists have a weapon in our hemisphere, they have several possible
paths into the United States other than bringing it to a secure seaport or
airport. One would involve making a covert trip in either a small boat or plane
to a discreet coastal dock or landing strip. Or, if the weapon is in either
Canada or Mexico, the terrorists could cross into American soil at an official
land port of entry like the Ambassador Bridge that connects Windsor, Ontario,
with Detroit. Or they could sneak into the country at any unguarded spot along
our long northern and southern land borders.
Strategically, we should aim to have identical detection probabilities for each
route. But this does not mean pouring equal amounts of money, manpower and
technology into each. For example, although the long northern border is more
porous (and more costly to harden) than the southern border, it would be far
easier to improve security at Canada’s seaports than at all those littered along
the coasts of Central and South America.
Thus we should put far more effort into increasing security along the Mexican
border than along the northern border, but we should work closely with Canada to
harden its seaports and airports. Canada now screens all shipping containers,
but we must push it — using its obligations under the Security and Prosperity
Partnership of North America Program of 2005 — to move quickly toward 100
percent screening of cargo at air terminals.
As for our preventive strategy along the southern border, we need to consider
what we now do well and what we are struggling at, particularly the
effectiveness of the Coast Guard along the coasts and of Customs and Border
Protection agents along the land borders. We now screen for radiation all cargo
containers and privately owned vehicles arriving at official ports of entry, but
security experts have for some time put the likelihood of detecting anyone
crossing at unguarded spots along the United States-Mexico border in the 20
percent to 30 percent range (although carrying a bomb or even tens of pounds of
fissile material may make evasion more difficult).
The seaborne route is even more worrisome. The Coast Guard is undertaking a
three-year pilot project aimed at securing maritime routes, but faces daunting
challenges in both identifying suspect vessels and detecting fissile material
amid the background radiation present at sea. This pathway will perhaps be the
weakest link in our border defense for the next several years, and should be one
of the highest priorities of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office.
Last, assuming the terrorists aren’t planning to detonate the device at the
point of entry, they must move it to the target city. They could do this in
several ways: with a truck, a small airplane or, for coastal cities, a small
boat. As we have no idea which is most likely, our goal should be to ensure an
equal chance of detection no matter which form of transportation is used.
The detection office has a pilot project called the Securing the Cities
Initiative, which is testing techniques of detecting fissile material, at land
or sea, within 45 miles of New York City. Given the many crowded roads and
waterways leading into the city, this is no easy task. It requires creating a
detection architecture that cannot be easily bypassed by a vehicle; sensors that
can operate amid all manner of background confusion and false signals; and a
communications network that can track vehicles amid swarms of cars after the
alarm is given.
What about attack by a small plane? Given the impracticality of shooting down a
tiny aircraft before it could detonate a bomb from the air, the best approach is
to begin screening all domestic departures of small airplanes. This effort
should be folded into the Securing the Cities Initiative.
The one thing each of these strategies has in common is the use of technology to
detect fissile material. But what sort of nuclear fuel are the terrorists likely
to use? While existing equipment detects plutonium much more easily than highly
enriched uranium, most experts believe that terrorists are more likely to have
uranium weapons, as they are far easier to build. Development aimed at detecting
highly enriched uranium needs to be a much higher priority.
The criticism of the accountability office aside, the Domestic Nuclear Detection
Office has done a good job since its inception in 2005 at identifying the weak
links in our global detection network. But its bigger task is to turn that
analysis into action, initially by stepping up the screening of air cargo,
better monitoring domestic flights by small planes, and improving the ability to
detect highly enriched uranium and fissile material at sea.
Lawrence M. Wein is a professor of management science at the Stanford
Graduate School of Business.
A Threat in Every Port,
Out of Guantánamo,
Uighurs Bask in Bermuda
June 15, 2009
The New York Times
By ERIK ECKHOLM
ST. GEORGE, Bermuda — Almost exactly seven years after arriving at Guantánamo
in chains as accused enemy combatants, and four days after their surprise
predawn flight to Bermuda, four Uighur Muslim men basked in their new-found
freedom here, grateful for the handshakes many residents had offered and
marveling at the serene beauty of this tidy, postcard island.
In newly purchased polo shirts and chinos, the four husky men, members of a
restive ethnic minority from western China, might blend in except for their
scruffy beards. Smelling hibiscus flowers, luxuriating in the freedom to drift
through scenic streets and harbors, they expressed wonder at their good fortune
in landing here after a captivity that included more than a year in solitary
“I went swimming in the ocean for the first time ever yesterday, and it was the
happiest day of my life,” said Salahidin Abdulahat, 32.
Over a lunch of fish and chips on Sunday, they praised Bermuda for showing
courage in the face of potential Chinese pressures that, in their view, powerful
European countries had failed to muster.
The men were among a larger group of Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gers) who had fled
what they called Chinese persecution of Muslims in western China and spent part
of 2001 in a Uighur camp in Afghanistan. They fled, apparently unarmed, when the
Americans bombed the camp, and were later turned in to the authorities by
Pakistani villagers in return for an American bounty.
The four brought here, like 13 other Uighurs still at Guantánamo but expected to
depart soon to other destinations, had been cleared by American officials and
courts of taking up arms against the United States or ties to global terrorism.
But proposals to resettle them in the United States caused a political furor
that the Obama administration did not want to aggravate. On Sunday, these four
expressed a surprising lack of bitterness toward the United States, saying — as
they had during interrogations years ago in Guantánamo — that they had never
been anti-American and just wanted to get on with their lives.
“Before we were asking, ‘Why are the Americans doing this to us?’ ” said Mr.
Abdulahat. Now, he said, with others nodding in agreement, “We have ended up in
such a beautiful place. We don’t want to look back, and we don’t have any hard
feelings toward the United States.”
While two of the men speak some English, all spoke in Uighur, aided by a Uighur
woman who has translated at Guantánamo for them and for their lawyers.
Their resettlement on this British colony, known for yachting and pastel
buildings, is a small step toward the administration’s aim of closing down
Guantánamo by January. It has created a political tempest for the premier of
Bermuda, who some say acted in an autocratic manner, and angered Britain’s
Foreign Office, which is in charge of foreign policy and says it was not
But most objections voiced here concerned the secrecy of the deal rather than
fears of having former terrorist suspects at large, as some have expressed in
the United States. No quid pro quo has become public.
While some less affluent residents said they felt it was unfair to offer jobs
and citizenship to men the United States itself would not take, many others
shrugged and expressed pride at Bermudan hospitality. As the men venture from
the seaside cottage where they temporarily live until they get jobs and figure
out next steps, people often come up to shake their hands and wish them well,
and the men said they were deeply touched.
Their homeland of Xinjiang, a largely Muslim region in western China where many
residents chafe under Chinese rule, is landlocked, and many of the Uighur
detainees saw an ocean — still a distant, mysterious presence — for the first
time ever through fences at Guantánamo.
Now they can play in the waters. Khaleel Mamut, 31, said he went fishing on a
boat on Saturday and caught his first fish ever. “I was so excited,” he said.
“You just drop the hook in the water and you get a fish.” Hearing that fishing
did not always bring such quick results, one of the other men quipped that
perhaps the fish were joining in Bermuda’s welcome.
They have been promised work visas and, in perhaps a year or so, possible
citizenship, their American lawyers said. That would give them passports and a
right to travel.
“The intent is that they shall become Bermudians,” said Maj. Gen. Glenn W.
Brangman, a retired officer appointed by the government to help the new arrivals
and who greets them with hearty bear hugs.
Under the current arrangement, Bermuda will not allow the men to visit the
United States. It is unclear whether they will ever be able to do so even if
they gain Bermuda citizenship.
The four said they wanted nothing to do with their ostensible home country of
China, which has demanded their repatriation and would almost certainly imprison
During interrogations at Guantánamo, these four and other Uighurs said they had
ended up in Afghanistan after fleeing Chinese persecution and had wanted to work
for the “liberation” of the Uighur people — a position regarded as treason in
Many said they had been shown how to fire a Kalashnikov rifle at the Uighur
encampment, but had no real training, knew nothing of Al Qaeda, and did not
fight the Americans or consider them the enemy.
These four were among a larger group that hid in mountain caves near Jalalabad
after their camp was bombed by American forces in late 2001. Hungry, frightened
and unarmed, they made their way to Pakistan, where villagers turned them in to
the authorities in exchange for American reward money.
Years into their captivity, American officials concluded that the men should not
be considered enemy combatants. Last October, a court ordered their release, but
it was delayed by the inability to find a host country and a court reversal that
prevented their move to American soil.
In 2007, five Uighurs were sent to Albania. Negotiations are under way to send
all or most of the remaining 13 to the Pacific island of Palau.
Bermudans awoke Thursday to learn that the four had been flown in before dawn,
with Premier Ewart F. Brown, who had negotiated in secret with the Americans,
calling this “the right thing to do.” Opponents, who already regarded Mr. Brown
as autocratic, called for a vote of no confidence, which could occur in weeks.
At the same time, the British governor here expressed his displeasure at being
kept in the dark, and the British Foreign Office complained to Washington.
Mr. Brown’s fate may be uncertain, but when confronted with the four men in the
flesh, many residents seem to warm to them.
Washington has walked a thin line in the handling of the Uighurs. It sought
China’s support in antiterrorism efforts after the Sept. 11 attacks, branded an
obscure Uighur independence group as terrorist and in 2002 allowed Chinese
officials into Guantánamo to interrogate Uighur captives. The four men released
here said that interrogation was a low point of their Guantánamo incarceration,
with Chinese officials questioning them for long hours without food and
threatening them and their families.
From the men’s own statements, it is clear that their presence in Afghanistan
was linked to their animosity toward China. Whatever they might have wished in
2001, there is no evidence they sought to become part of a global jihad.
Now, over Chinese objections, the men are being released to third countries.
All that seems distant, the men said Sunday as they pondered, with some
pleasure, the unexpected new turn in their lives.
Out of Guantánamo,
Uighurs Bask in Bermuda, NYT, 15.6.2009,
Judge Allows Civil Lawsuit
Over Claims of Torture
June 14, 2009
The New York Times
By JOHN SCHWARTZ
The decision issued late Friday by a judge in San Francisco allowing a civil
lawsuit to go forward against a former Bush administration official, John C.
Yoo, might seem like little more than the removal of a procedural roadblock.
But lawyers for the man suing Mr. Yoo, Jose Padilla, say it provides substantive
interpretation of constitutional issues for all detainees and could have a broad
Mr. Padilla was held as an “enemy combatant” in solitary confinement for more
than three years in the Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. Mr. Padilla, who was
convicted of supporting terrorism and other crimes, demands that Mr. Yoo be held
accountable for actions that Mr. Padilla claims led to his being tortured.
During the time Mr. Padilla was held in the brig, according to his filings in
the case, he “suffered gross physical and psychological abuse at the hands of
federal officials as part off a systematic program of abusive interrogation
intended to break down Mr. Padilla’s humanity and his will to live.”
In the 42-page ruling, Judge Jeffrey S. White of Federal District Court in San
Francisco characterized the conflict as one that embodies the tension “between
the requirements of war and the defense of the very freedoms that war seeks to
Mr. Yoo, as part of a senior administrative group called the War Council, helped
to shape Bush administration policy in the war on terrorism, and as deputy
attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel from 2001 to 2003, wrote many
memorandums authorizing harsh treatment. Mr. Yoo had argued that he should be
immune from the suit because it was not clearly established that the treatment
would be unconstitutional.
Judge White, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, rejected all but one
of Mr. Yoo’s immunity claims and found that Mr. Padilla “has alleged sufficient
facts to satisfy the requirement that Yoo set in motion a series of events that
resulted in the deprivation of Padilla’s constitutional rights.”
Tahlia Townsend, one of Mr. Padilla’s lawyers, called it “a significant victory
for American values, government accountability and our system of checks and
balances.” Mr. Padilla’s legal team also included students from Yale Law
School’s international human rights clinic.
Ms. Townsend said the decision “announced that fundamental protections against
abuse apply to all individuals detained by the government” and established what
federal officials should know about the limits of abuse. “That holding goes a
long way to making sure that what happened to Mr. Padilla can never happen
again,” she said.
Mr. Padilla and his mother, Estela Lebron, are seeking $1 in damages along with
a declaration by the court that his treatment was unconstitutional.
As a former government official, Mr. Yoo is being represented by the Justice
Department. Charles S. Miller, a department spokesman, said, “We’re reviewing
Mr. Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, did not
respond to an e-mail message seeking comment, but in a column he wrote about the
suit last year in The Wall Street Journal, he said, “The legal system should not
be used as a bludgeon against individuals targeted by political activists to
impose policy preferences they have failed to implement via the ballot box.”
Mr. Padilla, a Brooklyn-born convert to Islam, was arrested in June 2002 and
initially charged with taking part in a plot by Al Qaeda to detonate a
radioactive “dirty bomb” in the United States. After his time in the brig, the
government tried him in Miami, and in 2007, he and two co-defendants were found
guilty of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people in a foreign country. Mr.
Padilla was sentenced to more than 17 years in prison.
Judge Allows Civil
Lawsuit Over Claims of Torture, NYT, 13.6.2009,
6 Detainees Are Freed
as Questions Linger
June 12, 2009
The New York Times
By WILLIAM GLABERSON
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration released six Guantánamo detainees to
other countries on Thursday, including four Chinese Muslims whose cases drew
wide attention as the president has struggled to meet his goal of closing the
prison by January.
The day’s events were the biggest steps the administration has taken toward that
goal. But the moves did not address central questions, including whether
political pressure had made the administration back away from meeting the demand
of some countries that the United States accept some prisoners for resettlement
to gain their cooperation in accepting others.
The Chinese prisoners, from the largely Muslim Uighur region of western China,
arrived in Bermuda early in the day and expressed relief at their first taste of
freedom in more than seven years.
“Today you have let freedom ring,” one of the Uighur men, Abdul Nasser, said in
a statement thanking the Bermudans. In a long legal fight, a federal appeals
court had ridiculed as inadequate the government’s evidence against one of the
men and the Bush administration had conceded that none of the 17 Uighurs held at
Guantánamo were enemy combatants.
Two other detainees, an Iraqi and a Chadian, were released Thursday to their
countries. There were indications that the United States was close to releasing
a few other detainees as well.
On top of Thursday’s departures there were numerous other signs of the
aggressive diplomacy on Guantánamo that has taken place largely out of public
view since President Obama was inaugurated.
European countries moved Thursday toward cooperating with one another to work
with the Obama administration in evaluating other detainees for possible
resettlement there. There have also been recent signs that the administration is
increasingly hopeful of persuading Saudi Arabia to accept some of the 96 Yemeni
detainees who remain at the prison camp.
Earlier this week the Pacific nation of Palau said it, too, would accept some of
the Uighur prisoners, though it was not clear if it would take all of the 13
The developments amounted to more movement than there had been in a long time on
closing the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a seemingly intractable issue for
two administrations, said Ken Gude, a specialist on detention issues at the
Center for American Progress in Washington.
“This is ‘closing Guantánamo.’ This is what it looks like,” Mr. Gude said.
President George W. Bush long said he wanted to close the prison but could not
overcome the considerable difficulties of where to send the men and how to
assure American security.
On his second day in office, Mr. Obama committed to closing the prison within a
year. After the releases on Thursday, there were 232 detainees.
But the recent events also underscored the challenges that remain.
After the departures from Guantánamo became public on Thursday, American critics
of the administration accused the president of releasing terrorists.
In addition, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of China, which has long
demanded the return of the Uighurs, called the four men in Bermuda terrorist
suspects and asserted that the United States was ignoring international law by
failing to turn them over to China. American officials have said for years that
they could not return the Uighurs to China for fear of persecution or execution.
Bermuda’s acceptance of the men even brought unusual turbulence between it, a
British territory, and Britain itself. The British government, which has control
over Bermuda’s foreign policy, issued a terse statement indicating that
Bermuda’s premier, Ewart F. Brown, did not advise it that Bermuda was planning
to take the detainees.
The British statement said it would “carry out a security assessment of the
men.” The statement added, “We have underlined to the Bermuda government that it
should have consulted the U.K.”
Lawyers for the Iraqi who was released, Jawad Jabbar Sadkhan al-Sahlani, said he
was an innocent man caught in the net of Guantánamo, an assertion that focused
attention on disputes over the isolated prison that the Obama administration is
trying to push into the past.
The criticism from at home and the intensity of the reactions abroad illustrate
the challenges the Obama administration faces in closing Guantánamo, detention
policy experts said.
They said the recent moves raised new questions about the administration’s
strategy for closing the prison. Indications that the administration had
negotiated with other countries to accept perhaps all of the 17 Uighurs made it
appear that it had backed down in the face of intense political pressure in
Congress and around the country from what had seemed to be its plan to resettle
some of the Uighurs in the United States, the experts said.
Sarah E. Mendelson, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in
Washington, said that there had been an understanding across the political
spectrum that the Uighurs, enemies of China whose terrorism ties were sharply
disputed, were the least controversial detainees to bring into the United States
for potential release.
If the Obama administration has no plans to accept any detainees, Ms. Mendelson
said, other countries are likely to ask, “Why are you asking us to do this if
you are not willing to?”
Andrew Jacobs contributed reporting from Beijing, Judy Dempsey from Berlin
and Sharon Otterman from New York.
6 Detainees Are Freed as
Questions Linger, NYT, 12.6.2009,
Ex-Ga. Tech Student
Convicted of Video Terror Plot
June 10, 2009
Filed at 10:40 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ATLANTA (AP) -- A federal judge convicted a former Georgia Tech student
Wednesday of plotting to aid a terrorist group by videotaping landmarks around
U.S. District Judge Bill Duffey found 24-year-old Syed Haris Ahmed guilty of one
count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism in the U.S. and
Ahmed faces up to 15 years in prison. The judge delayed sentencing until after a
codefendant's trial that is scheduled to begin in August.
Prosecutors based the case against Ahmed on a series of videos that he and
codefendant Ehsanul Islam Sadequee shot of U.S. landmarks, including the
Pentagon and the Capitol. They said Ahmed sought to use the videos to earn
respect from overseas terrorist leaders and attempted to connect with terrorists
in Canada and Pakistan.
But Ahmed's defense attorney Jack Martin countered during the bench trial that
investigators had no evidence that Ahmed sought to act on his talk. He claimed
it was boastful chatter from a misguided student who fell prey to anti-American
During Ahmed's four-day trial, assistant U.S. Attorney Robert McBurney said the
government had to stop Ahmed before he could take action because he was ''one
step removed from the bomb-throwers.''
Martin portrayed the allegations as ''momentary ideas'' from an immature student
whose idea of paramilitary training was shooting paintball guns in the north
''This is a silly video, amateurish video,'' Martin said. ''It was nothing more
than a childish act to achieve stature from people abroad.''
Ahmed had waived his right to a jury trial so that he could deliver his own
closing arguments. During a 45-minute speech last week, he said he was
''misguided'' but never directly addressed the charges.
Instead, the former mechanical engineering student read nine verses of the Quran
in Arabic, spoke of linguistic similarities between Hebrew and Arabic, and
delved into some of the shared beliefs of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
''I hope that if I deliver the message that has been revealed by Allah, the
promise of protection from evil will come to me,'' Ahmed said.
Ahmed, wearing a white skullcap, made no comment when the verdict was read. His
father, Syed Riaz Ahmed, said the judge's decision was not surprising.
''He's not guilty in the eyes of Allah, just in the U.S. law. He didn't do
anything,'' the father said, characterizing the prosecution as overblown. ''You
think something and you are guilty of something.''
Federal authorities said they began building a case after Ahmed and Sadequee --
both U.S. citizens -- took a bus to Toronto in March 2005 and met with at least
three other targets of an FBI investigation.
Authorities said they brainstormed strikes against targets that ranged from
military bases to oil refineries, and plotted to disrupt the Global Positioning
System satellite network.
Martin contended it was just ''passing talk'' of using sophisticated weaponry to
knock out the system, but prosecutors said the talk amounted to the beginnings
of a conspiracy and that Ahmed wanted to translate his plot into action.
They said Ahmed drove his pickup truck to Washington, D.C., with Sadequee a few
weeks later and made the videos of U.S. landmarks, as well as a fuel depot and a
Masonic Temple in northern Virginia. The two also were accused of discussing an
attack against Dobbins Air Reserve Base just outside Atlanta.
He took another step toward acting on his plot, McBurney said, when he traveled
to Pakistan on a one-way ticket in July 2005 to seek out Lashkar-e-Taiba, a
Pakistan-based group linked with attacks in the disputed state of Kashmir.
He returned to Atlanta about a month later after abandoning his attempt to join
the group. But McBurney said Ahmed began to regret his decision soon after he
''The ultimate goal was to get into a training camp,'' McBurney said, ''and
pursue violent jihad.''
Ex-Ga. Tech Student
Convicted of Video Terror Plot, NYT, 10.6.2009,
Guantánamo Detainee Arrives in U.S.
June 9, 2009
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 6:45 a.m. ET
The New York Times
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. authorities have brought the first Guantanamo Bay
detainee to the United States, flying him into New York to face trial for
bombing U.S. embassies, the Justice Department said Tuesday.
The department said Ahmed Ghailani arrived in the early morning hours Tuesday.
U.S. Marshals took custody of Ghailani from his military jailers and brought him
to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. Ghailani is scheduled to
appear in Manhattan federal court later Tuesday.
''With his appearance in federal court today, Ahmed Ghailani is being held
accountable for his alleged role in the bombing of U.S. Embassies in Tanzania
and Kenya and the murder of 224 people,'' Attorney General Eric Holder said in a
press release. ''The Justice Department has a long history of securely detaining
and successfully prosecuting terror suspects through the criminal justice
system, and we will bring that experience to bear in seeking justice in this
Ghailani's trial will be an important test case for the Obama administration's
plan to close the detention center at Guantanamo in seven months and bring some
of the suspects to trial.
Ghailani was indicted in 1998 for the al-Qaida bombings of U.S. embassies in
Kenya and Tanzania, attacks which killed more than 224 people, including 12
U.S. officials charge Ghailani began his terrorist career on a bicycle
delivering bomb parts and rose through the al-Qaida ranks to become a bodyguard
to Osama bin Laden.
Ghailani, a Tanzanian, was in his twenties when prosecutors say he helped
terrorists build one of the bombs that destroyed U.S. embassies in East Africa
He left Africa just before the bombings, according to investigators.
After the Aug. 7, 1998, bombings at U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam,
Tanzania, Ghailani worked for al-Qaida as a document forger, trainer at a terror
camp and bodyguard to bin Laden, according to military prosecutors.
He was categorized as a high-value detainee by U.S. authorities after he was
captured in Pakistan in 2004 and was transferred to the detention center at the
U.S. naval base in Cuba two years later.
Since his capture, Ghailani has denied knowing the TNT and oxygen tanks he
delivered would be used to make a bomb. He also denied buying a vehicle used in
one of the attacks, saying he could not drive.
Now, the Obama administration is trying to put him into the U.S. criminal
justice system, despite claims by Republican critics that doing so would
endanger American lives. Some lawmakers have opposed bringing any Guantanamo
detainees to the U.S. for trial, even in heavily guarded settings.
Last month, President Barack Obama said that preventing Ghailani from coming to
U.S. soil ''would prevent his trial and conviction. And after over a decade, it
is time to finally see that justice is served, and that is what we intend to
Relatives of those killed in the embassy attacks have supported the decision to
bring Ghailani to the U.S. for trial. Many of those relatives say that since the
2001 terror attacks, the earlier victims of al-Qaida have been forgotten.
Yet the president faces pressure from across the political spectrum on his plan
to close the detention center. Democrats have said they want to see the
president's plan for closing the base before approving money to finance it, and
Republicans are fighting to keep Guantanamo open.
The decision to try Ghailani in New York also revives a long-dormant case
charging bin Laden and top al-Qaida leadership with plotting the embassy attacks
that killed more than 200 people and injured thousands, including many who were
blinded by shards of flying glass. The attacks prompted then-President Bill
Clinton to launch cruise missile attacks two weeks later on bin Laden's Afghan
Four other men have been tried and convicted in the New York courthouse for
their roles in the embassy attacks. All were sentenced to life in prison.
Arrives in U.S., NYT, 9.6.2009,
Cleared of Terror Charges,
June 4, 2009
The New York Times
By DAMIEN CAVE
MOORE HAVEN, Fla. — Youssef Samir Megahed toyed with a piece of lint on the
other side of the bulletproof glass and described his case as simply “weird.”
In April, a federal jury acquitted him on charges of transporting explosives
during a road trip with a friend who had packed model rocket propellants in the
trunk. But three days later, in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Tampa, Mr. Megahed was
arrested again in connection with the case, this time by immigration
The new charge is that he “is engaged in or is likely to engage in” terrorist
activities, a violation of his legal residency in the United States.
“They just label you a terrorist and that’s it,” said Mr. Megahed, 23, who moved
to Florida from Egypt with his family 11 years ago and is being held here at an
immigration detention center.
Mr. Megahed is at least the third Florida defendant in three years to be brought
up on immigration charges after prosecutors failed to win terrorism convictions
in federal court. If convicted of the new charges and deported, he would join
thousands of other Muslim and Arab men sent home since Sept. 11, 2001, as part
of an extensive law enforcement strategy that relies on the immigration courts
to remove potential threats.
Some national security experts say the country is safer without such men, and
immigration officials declare the deportations both legal and fair. But with
President Obama scheduled to speak in Cairo on Thursday about repairing
relations with the Muslim world, Mr. Megahed is being presented by critics of
the immigration strategy here and abroad as a test case of the president’s
pledge to break with some of the Bush administration’s most unpopular policies.
Egyptian news outlets and blogs have taken up Mr. Megahed’s cause. Several
federal jurors who acquitted him have also made the rare move of publicizing
their outrage at their verdict’s being second-guessed, while Arab-American
groups, civil rights organizations and churches have lobbied the Obama
administration for his release.
“We are sending the wrong message to American Muslims and the Muslim world,”
said Ramzy Kiliç, executive director of the Tampa chapter of the Council on
American-Islamic Relations, an advocacy group for Muslims. “If Obama really
wants to make a new way forward with mutual respect, he has to start here at
Immigration courts have not been central to the prosecution of cases involving
terrorism. But in such cases, they share prosecutorial advantages similar to
those found in the controversial military tribunals for suspects accused of
being foreign fighters.
In immigration courts, for example, hearings can be closed to the public, the
burden of proof is lower than in federal court, and a wider scope of evidence,
including hearsay, can be used. Michael Wishnie, a law professor at Yale
University, said using immigration courts in these cases amounted to
“second-class justice” because “the defendant’s rights are reduced.”
In Mr. Megahed’s case, officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement have
emphasized that his deportation hearing is a civil, not a criminal, proceeding,
possibly with new evidence, and does not amount to “double jeopardy” — the
prohibition on trying defendants more than once for the same crime.
“This is nothing new,” said Bill West, chief of national security for
immigration enforcement until he retired in 2003. “The concept goes back to Al
Capone — get the bad guys any way you can, on any violation you can.”
Still, the main question in the immigration case is essentially the same as it
was in the federal trial: Is Mr. Megahed a danger to society, or, as his lawyer
argues, is he only “guilty of having stupid friends”?
Mr. Megahed’s legal problems began two years ago on a road trip with Ahmed
Mohamed, who, like Mr. Megahed, was Egyptian, Muslim and an engineering student
at the University of South Florida. Mr. Megahed said he had known Mr. Mohamed
for only a few months before traveling with him in the summer of 2007.
“It was for fun,” Mr. Megahed said in an interview here. “To see the Southeast
of the United States.”
They took turns driving north until they reached Goose Creek, S.C., where the
police pulled them over for going 60 miles an hour in a 45-m.p.h. zone. One of
two deputies involved said he had become suspicious when the men quickly put
away a laptop; a recording of the traffic stop captured the officer saying, “I
think they’re part of the Taliban.”
The officers searched the trunk and found “several pipe bombs;” more
specifically, four pieces of PVC tubing, about 2 to 2.5 inches long and
three-quarters of an inch in diameter, which contained sugar, potassium nitrate
and cat litter.
Mr. Mohamed told the police they were homemade fireworks — similar recipes can
be found online. The authorities charged them with possession of an explosive
device, carrying a prison term of up to 15 years. A judge set bail at $500,000
for Mr. Mohamed and $300,000 for Mr. Megahed.
“That is when the bad dreams began,” Mr. Megahed’s father, Samir, an engineer,
said in an interview with his wife, Ahlem, at their upscale two-story town house
in Tampa. Declaring “I love America,” he said he had brought his family to the
state because the University of South Florida had accepted his two sons.
He described Youssef, the younger, as an outgoing joker who had lost a front
tooth rough-housing as a boy.
Mr. Megahed, in a visitation booth at the detention center, described himself as
clueless. He said he had not known the plastic tubes were in the trunk (his
fingerprints were not found on them) and had never even heard the term “pipe
bomb” until the police said it.
He also said he had not known they were seven miles from a naval base when they
were pulled over, or that Mr. Mohamed’s laptop had a video on it showing a
rocket attack somewhere in the Middle East.
“I thought it was going to be O.K.,” Mr. Megahed said. “I hadn’t done anything
After their arrest, federal investigators found a YouTube video that Mr. Mohamed
had made showing how to turn a toy into a detonator. In December, Mr. Mohamed
pleaded guilty in a separate case to providing material support to terrorists
and was sentenced to 15 years in prison; as part of the plea agreement, the
charges from the traffic stop were dropped.
Mr. Megahed was not involved with the video. His trial began three months later
and lasted three weeks. Gary Meringer, the jury foreman, said jurors were
initially suspicious about the circumstantial evidence in the case — the
fireworks in the trunk; the video on the laptop; a gas can in the car; that they
had tried to buy a gun, while their bags lacked toothpaste or bathing suits.
An initial survey of jurors, Mr. Meringer said, produced six guilty votes, four
undecided, and two not guilty. But as the jury examined each detail
individually, he said, holes emerged. For example, the prosecutor’s expert could
not get a simulated version of the alleged explosives to give off much more than
heat and smoke.
It was also unclear whether Mr. Megahed had watched the video on the laptop, or
if he had viewed a handful of Web sites — on AK-47s among other things — that
were found in the browsing history on a family computer at the Megaheds’ home.
By the third day of deliberations, the jury had arrived at unanimous verdicts of
not guilty of transporting explosive materials and of possessing a destructive
Mr. Megahed’s sister cried in the courtroom. He celebrated at the beach. Then
immigration authorities arrested Mr. Megahed after a shopping trip with his
father. Mr. Meringer, 57, the foreman, who is a corporate lawyer, was shocked
when he heard of the immigration charge. “It literally took the air right out of
my chest,” he said. “I felt the government had completely wasted the time of the
legal system, the judge, the jury, the bailiffs, all of those people.”
He contacted the other jurors, and three joined him in signing a statement
opposing Mr. Megahed’s detention. “We want a fair shake,” Mr. Meringer said. “A
fair shake for Youssef would be that he could finish college, become a citizen
and go on his merry way.”
Mr. Megahed’s hearing is scheduled for Aug. 17. By then, he will have spent
nearly a year behind bars, including nine months before his trial.
His lawyer, Charles Kuck, said immigration officials had suggested they would
rely in part on evidence from the family computer, which Mr. Megahed’s brother,
Yahia, said had been used by numerous friends and relatives.
In the criminal trial, the judge excluded eight video clips on the computer that
show rocket attacks in an unidentified Middle Eastern location; a ninth clip
shows an improvised explosive device that hits an American tank.
While Mr. Megahed waits, his parents visit him every five days, as often as is
allowed. His father said he worried that his son had become depressed. “Every
time he tells me to bring clothes for him in case they let him out,” he said.
But in the interview, Mr. Megahed seemed determined to appear stoic. He said he
had turned to an Arabic proverb for solace: “The longer you live, the more you
Lynn Waddell contributed reporting from Tampa, Fla.
Cleared of Terror
Charges, Facing Deportation, NYT, 4.6.2009,
Message on Obama
Attributed to Bin Laden
June 4, 2009
The New York Times
By MICHAEL SLACKMAN
CAIRO — Just as President Obama arrived in the Middle East, the Al Jazeera
television news broadcast an audiotape on Wednesday that it said was Osama bin
Laden condemning Mr. Obama for planting new seeds of “hatred and vengeance
The message focused on President Obama’s decision to step up pressure on
extremists in Pakistan. The speaker specifically blamed the president for the
Pakistani military’s drive to retake an area in the Swat Valley that had
recently come under the control of Taliban forces. He blamed Mr. Obama for the
“one million Muslims” who have had to flee their homes because of the fighting.
United Nations and Pakistani officials estimate that as many as three million
people have been displaced by the conflict. “Obama has followed the footsteps of
his predecessor in increasing animosity towards Muslims and increasing enemy
fighters and establishing long-term wars,” the recording said. “So the American
people should get ready to reap the fruits of what the leaders of the White
House have planted throughout the coming years and decades.”
The recording, if verified, is a signal that Mr. bin Laden, the fugitive leader
of Al Qaeda, remains alive and in touch with current events, and that he retains
effective channels of communication with the outside world. The message was
released one day after Mr. bin Laden’s lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahri, issued his
own audiotape condemning the president.
Many groups with a stake in the future of the Middle East and in relations
between the Muslim community and the United States are attempting to ride the
wave of attention to the president’s visit. Human rights groups, democracy
advocates, pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups have all tried to force their
agendas to the forefront as the president passes through.
Al Qaeda, however, easily rose to the top of the local news cycle here —
especially with what seems to be the recorded voice of Mr. bin Laden, who
continues to capture the imagination of those who revile him as well as those
who see him as an outlaw hero. It appeared to be the first recording attributed
to the Al Qaeda leader since January, when Al Jazeera aired an audio message
attributed to him during the Israeli offensive in Gaza and the last days of
former President George W. Bush’s term.
“He is of course asserting his ability to be a part of daily political events,”
said Amr el-Shobaky, an expert on Islamic movements with the Ahram Center for
Political and Strategic Studies, a government funded research institute here.
“He is twisting reality and blaming this new administration for things it is not
responsible for so that the new administration would look as extreme and no
different from the previous Bush administration.”
The recording released Wednesday said that the Pakistani authorities were doing
Washington’s bidding when they prevented “implementing Sharia law by fighting
and killing and through bombings and destruction.”
The recording continued: “Obama and his administration have planted new seeds to
increase hatred and revenge from America. The number of those seeds is the same
as the number of those harmed and displaced from Swat Valley and the tribal
regions in North and South Waziristan and the number of their sympathizers.”
This is not the first time Al Qaeda has attacked Mr. Obama. In a blunt personal
attack on the incoming president in November, Mr. Zawahri painted Mr. Obama as a
hypocrite and a traitor to his race, comparing him unfavorably with ”honorable
black Americans” like Malcolm X, the 1960s black Muslim leader, and referring to
him as a “house Negro,” using a direct translation of a term Malcolm X himself
The latest recording and the attention it provoked served as a reminder of what
is at stake as the president tries to recalibrate America’s image throughout the
Muslim world. This trip, and the speech he is scheduled to give in Cairo
tomorrow, are part of a broad diplomatic push that has included a speech in
Turkey, an appearance on an Arabic language satellite news channel and a video
message sent to Iran during Persian New Year celebrations.
“This is an important indicator as to how much we need this new administration
to exert more effort in marginalizing Osama Bin Laden’s discourse so that he is
not able to exploit popular causes towards violence,” Mr. Shobaky said.
The president faces a challenge as he tries appear sensitive to the Islamic
world, respectful of the region’s leaders, and yet not appear to turn a blind
eye to the human rights violations and autocratic practices the constrain the
lives of average people. That is one area that Al Qaeda continues to try to
“If Obama comes to Egypt he will be received by its torturers, its thieves, and
its corrupt who turned Egypt into an international station of torture in
America’s war against Islam,” Mr. Zawahri said.
The president plans to spend the night in Riyadh, the Saudi capital and is
scheduled to arrive in Cairo on Thursday morning. His speech is scheduled for
1:10 p.m. local time (6:10 a.m. Eastern time).
Message on Obama
Attributed to Bin Laden, NYT, 4.6.2009,
and the Terror Fight
May 23, 2009
The New York Times
To the Editor:
Would Move Some Terror Detainees to U.S.” (front page, May 22):
President Obama is indeed treading a fine line between our national security and
the values espoused by our Constitution where it is difficult to say which one
overrides the other.
With due respect, one has to bear in mind that while framing the American
Constitution our forefathers may not have ever imagined the threat and scope of
global terrorism, which has become a reality. Nevertheless, the fear of this
should not end up in a knee-jerk reaction, which eventually resulted in policies
and laws put forth by the Bush administration that further stoked distrust and
anger against America.
President Obama is right in calling it a “surgical approach” in formulating
national security strategy. I would go one step further and call it a
“neurosurgeon’s approach.” I fully agree with the president that due process of
law should not be compromised, and I think that in cases where terrorism
evidence is prima facie, prolonged detention should be lawfully invoked.
Atul M. Karnik
Woodside, Queens, May 22, 2009
To the Editor:
The contrast between the Obama and Bush administrations could not be greater, as
witnessed by the speeches on national security by President Obama and Dick
Cheney on Thursday.
Mr. Obama tapped the ideals that once made America the moral inspiration of the
world. Mr. Cheney drew his power from fear, suspicion of foreigners and the
false comfort offered by authoritarianism.
President Obama appealed to the better angels of our nature. Dick Cheney
appealed to the worst.
Steilacoom, Wash., May 22, 2009
To the Editor:
Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s glib rejection of the “middle ground” in the
fight against terrorism is nothing more than a recapitulation of Barry
Goldwater’s misguided 1964 notion that “extremism in the defense of liberty is
no vice.” The formulation is as entirely wrongheaded now as it was then, and
Americans should repudiate it just as decisively as they did nearly a
Robert D. Madoff
Minneapolis, May 22, 2009
To the Editor:
On 9/11, some 3,000 people were murdered. This was not just an attack on a
military installation like Pearl Harbor, but represented the basest form of
Every American deserved to believe post-9/11 that his government was doing
everything possible to forestall another such attack, and frankly, anything less
than an all-out interrogation of arrested terrorists would have represented
criminal dereliction of the government’s fundamental responsibility to protect
Belated criticism of those efforts years after the fact ignores the legitimate
fears gripping the country in 2001 and the years after and represents a classic
and disgraceful “second guess” of American decision makers.
A. E. Harazin
Amherst, Mass., May 22, 2009
To the Editor:
Re “The Real Path to Security” (editorial, May 22):
The debate on torture and Guantánamo Bay poses an important question for the
United States and that is, that it is one thing to have a constitution or laws,
and entirely another matter when it comes to carrying them out in trying times
when abandoning those laws and principles would seem most expedient. For
totalitarian governments the choice is easy, but for democratic ones it is a
moment of truth.
There was a reason German soldiers preferred to be captured by American forces
during World War II, and this was because they knew how they would be treated in
United States custody as opposed to being captured by the Russians. If we were
to agree with Dick Cheney’s argument, that choice easily made by the Germans
years ago would be a difficult one to make today.
The true character of a nation or person is not best measured on a pleasant day,
but rather it is made manifest on days when all precepts are tested to the core.
Baltimore, May 22, 2009
To the Editor:
The real danger with the Cheney philosophy is that, in his view, the ends
justify the means. When does it stop? If you excuse waterboarding by saying it
saves American lives, why not even more severe forms of interrogation?
It doesn’t seem that we’ve reached that point yet, but under duress it’s not
hard to imagine unless we as a nation say that torture of any kind is not
permissible in our society.
San Francisco, May 22, 2009
To the Editor:
Your May 21 front-page article “1 in 7 Detainees Rejoined Jihad, Pentagon Finds”
cites “terrorism experts” asserting a 14 percent recidivism rate that is far
lower than that among American prisoners, which can be as high as 68 percent.
This is fuzzy number-crunching.
More than half of American prisoners’ “recidivism” is due to technical parole
violations: curfew violations, reporting failures, failed urine tests or for
minor offenses. The more serious the original conviction, the longer the parole
period and the more scrutiny given to the offender.
A convicted murderer arrested for a D.U.I. is likely to be sent back to prison
and hence misleadingly counted as a murderer who has “recidivated.”
The solution to the problem of the detainees must be found in reaffirming the
constitutional principle that we cannot hold six innocent persons in order to
incapacitate one guilty person. Period.
Ronald L. Kuby
New York, May 21, 2009
The writer is a criminal defense and civil rights lawyer.
To the Editor:
How comforting that the Pentagon is able to determine, without the mess and fuss
of any trials, that some released detainees have “rejoined” the terrorists,
meaning that they are known for certain to have been terrorists in the first
That was, of course, what trials were supposed to establish. The detainees were
in fact not known “terrorists” but terror suspects whose actual involvement in
terrorist activity it was to be the prosecution’s job to prove.
If these people cannot be tried in ordinary civilian or even military courts and
if the military, which will run the tribunals that are supposed to try them, has
already made up its mind that they’re all guilty and all that remains is to fill
in the details, what’s the point of trying them at all?
Just lock ’em up and throw away the key — and the Constitution with it.
Eric B. Lipps
Staten Island, May 21, 2009
To the Editor:
The debate about how “enhanced interrogation” undermines the judicial system and
America’s position in the world misses a crucial point. If waterboarding is O.K.
for the C.I.A., how long will it be before the F.B.I. starts using it
domestically? And if the F.B.I. is using it, how long will it be before local
police start using it to extract confessions from suspects?
When that happens, what kind of society will we be living in? The people who
defend this kind of thing never talk about that.
New York, May 22, 2009
To the Editor:
Re “Changes Planned for Guantánamo Trials May Lead to Familiar Challenges” (news
article, May 19):
The Obama administration has embarked on a fool’s errand trying to devise
military commissions that are seen as fair. Any criminal tribunal specially
designed for a select group of defendants will be inherently suspect because it
violates the Golden Rule — giving them fewer rights than anyone else in United
States courts to challenge evidence against them or to prevent the use of
Whatever marginal benefit the administration sees in such due process shortcuts
will be vastly outweighed by the public relations costs. Tailor-made military
commissions, in any guise, will help the accused continue portraying themselves
as “warriors” rather than as “criminals” as they shift public attention from the
heinous crimes on trial to the fairness of the proceedings.
Regular federal courts have a long history of successfully prosecuting terrorist
crimes. To convict someone of conspiracy to commit terrorism requires proof of
only a criminal agreement between two or more people and a single step, no
matter how innocuous, to advance that plan. If the government cannot make that
modest factual showing in regular court, it should release the suspect, not
railroad him to “justice” in a substandard tribunal.
Human Rights Watch
New York, May 19, 2009
Obama, Cheney and the
Terror Fight, NYT, 23.5.2009,
Gates Defends Decision
to Close Guantanamo Prison
May 22, 2009
Filed at 7:33 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the
Obama administration had no choice but to order the shutdown of the prison at
Guantanamo because ''the name itself is a condemnation'' of U.S. anti-terrorism
In an interview broadcast Friday on NBC's ''Today'' show, Gates called the
facility on the island of Cuba ''probably one of the finest prisons in the world
today.'' But at the same time, he said it had become ''a taint'' on the
reputation of America.
Gates has served both President George W. Bush and now Barack Obama at the
Pentagon. The secretary said that once the decision was made to close
Guantanamo, ''the question is, where do you put them.'' He said Obama would do
nothing to endanger the public and said there has never been an escape from a
''super-max'' prison in this country.
Decision to Close Guantanamo Prison, NYT, 22.5.2009,
In Bronx Bomb Case,
Steps and Missteps, on Tape
May 22, 2009
The New York Times
By MICHAEL WILSON
They were four ex-convicts — one a crack addict, another whose most recent
arrest involved snatching purses — and they gathered their terror tools as they
They bought cellphones, the authorities said; they bought a camera in a Wal-Mart
to take photographs of the synagogues in New York City that they wanted to blow
up. When their attempt to buy guns in Newburgh, N.Y., fell through — their gun
dealer told them she had sold out — they drove downstate, buying a $700 pistol
from a Bloods gang leader in Brooklyn.
After months of planning, the authorities allege, the men had their first real
scare this month, driving to Stamford, Conn., to pick up a surface-to-air
missile that was waiting for them in a warehouse. One of the men in the car
believed they were being followed by law enforcement, so they returned to
Newburgh, drove around until they were satisfied they were in the clear, then
went back to Stamford for their missile and bombs.
They brought them back to Newburgh, locked them in a storage container, and
celebrated, shouting, “Allah akbar!”
These details as told by the authorities describe a homegrown terror plot to
bomb two synagogues in the Bronx and shoot down a military aircraft in Newburgh.
The outlines of the plan were fleshed out on Thursday, in court hearings,
documents and interviews, as were bits and pieces of the checkered life stories
of the four men charged in the plot.
Remarkably, vast passages of the conspiracy the federal authorities described —
the talk of killing Jews, the testing of the men’s would-be weaponry — played
out on a veritable soundstage of hidden cameras and secret microphones, and
involved material provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. A house in
Newburgh, a storage facility in Stamford, the planting of the would-be bombs in
the Bronx neighborhood of Riverdale — everything was recorded, according to the
“It’s hard to envision a more chilling plot,” Eric Snyder, an assistant United
States attorney, said on Thursday in federal court in Manhattan. “These are
extremely violent men. These are men who eagerly embraced an opportunity” to
“bring deaths to Jews.”
On Thursday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly
appeared at the Riverdale Jewish Center, which the F.B.I. identified as one of
the targets of the plot. Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Kelly praised the work of the
agencies behind the arrests and sought to tamp down any fears of a larger
terrorist organization at work.
“Sadly, this is just a reminder that peace is fragile and democracy is fragile
and we have to be vigilant all the time,” said Mr. Bloomberg, who along with Mr.
Kelly stressed that the four men had no connection to any international terror
groups. “The good news is that the N.Y.P.D. and F.B.I. prevented what could have
been a terrible event in our city.”
The case is the latest in a series in New York and around the country since
Sept. 11, 2001, and sounded familiar in some ways. The investigation, for
instance, began with the work of a confidential informant, who portrayed himself
as an agent of a Pakistani terror organization, and who became a critical member
of the men’s plot.
The full nature and extent of the informant’s role in facilitating the plot is
unknown. In other cases, defense lawyers have sought to portray these informants
as engaging in entrapment, suggesting they had, in effect, provoked and fueled
the actions of their clients.
But where past terror prosecutions have been based mostly on conversations about
a planned or imagined attack, this one went further, the authorities alleged:
the men went through critical acts in what they believed to be a deadly assault.
As for the defendants — James Cromitie, 44; David Williams, 28; Onta Williams,
32, and no apparent relation to David; and Laguerre Payen, 27 — most of the
details that emerged on Thursday stemmed from their criminal pasts.
David Williams, who lately had grown a beard and taken to reading the Koran on
slow nights at a steakhouse job, was described as particularly violent by
prosecutors on Thursday. When the plan to buy guns from a woman in Newburgh fell
through, it was David Williams who quickly improvised, arranging to buy a gun
from a man he described as a “supreme Blood gang leader” in Brooklyn, Mr. Snyder
said. After buying the gun in the company of the informant, David Williams said
he would have shot the gang leader if he were alone with him, and kept his $700.
Mr. Payen, described as a nervous, quiet sort who took medication for
schizophrenia or a bi-polar disorder, was unemployed and living in squalor in
Newburgh. His last arrest, in 2002, was for assault, after he drove around the
Rockland County village of Monsey, firing a BB gun out of the window — striking
two teens — and snatching two purses. A friend who visited Mr. Payen’s apartment
on Thursday said it contained bottles of urine, and raw chicken on the stovetop.
Onta Williams had been addicted to cocaine since he was a teenager, according to
his lawyer, Sol Lesser, at his sentencing in 2003. Mr. Cromitie has spent 12
years in prison, most recently for selling drugs to undercover officers behind a
Law enforcement officials initially said the four men were Muslims, but their
religious backgrounds remained uncertain Thursday. Mr. Payen reported himself to
be Catholic during his 15-month prison sentence that ended in 2005, according to
a state corrections official. Mr. Cromitie and Onta Williams both identified
themselves as Baptists in prison records, although Mr. Cromitie changed his
listed religion to Muslim upon his last two incarcerations; David Williams
reported no religious affiliation.
The men never served in the same prison together. Three of them regularly
lunched together at Danny’s Restaurant in Newburgh, chatting over plates of rice
and beans, said Danny DeLeon, the owner.
Salahuddin Mustafa Muhammad, the imam at the mosque where the authorities say
the confidential informant first encountered the men, said none of the men were
active in the mosque. An assistant imam, Hamin Rashada, said Mr. Cromitie and
Mr. Payen occasionally attended services.
Mr. Cromitie was there last June, and he met a stranger.
He had no way of knowing that the stranger’s path to the mosque began in 2002,
when he was arrested on federal charges of identity theft. He was sentenced to
five years’ probation, and became a confidential informant for the F.B.I. He
began showing up at the mosque in Newburgh around 2007, Mr. Muhammad said.
The stranger’s behavior aroused the imam’s suspicions. He invited other
worshipers to meals, and spoke of violence and jihad, so the imam said he
steered clear of him.
“There was just something fishy about him,” Mr. Muhammad said. Members “believed
he was a government agent.”
Mr. Muhammad said members of his congregation told him the man he believed was
the informant offered at least one of them a substantial amount of money to join
The informant met Mr. Cromitie, and it quickly appeared that Mr. Cromitie was of
a like mind with the apparent radical before him, according to the complaint.
Mr. Cromitie said his parents had lived in Afghanistan before he was born and
that he was angry at the killing of Muslims there.
The next month, on July 3, the two men met and discussed the terror organization
Jaish-e-Mohammed, based in Pakistan, with which the informant claimed to be
involved. Mr. Cromitie told him he wanted to join and “do jihad,” according to
All of this came as a shock to Mr. Cromitie’s mother after his arrest on
Wednesday. Adele Cromitie, 65, said her son was raised a Christian, and that
neither she nor his father, who left the family when Mr. Cromitie was a young
child, had lived in Afghanistan. She said Mr. Cromitie visited her, at her
apartment in the Castle Hill neighborhood of the Bronx, for the first time in
nearly 15 years about three years ago, after getting out of prison, and
announced he had converted to Islam.
“When he told me that, I said, ‘Get out of here,’ ” Ms. Cromitie recalled.
About six months ago, Mr. DeLeon, the restaurant owner, noticed that a new man
was showing up for lunch. He was about 50 and appeared to be South Asian, and he
usually paid for the group. Mr. DeLeon thought he was the boss.
Beginning in October, the informant began meeting Mr. Cromitie at a home in
Newburgh that was wired with hidden cameras and microphones, the criminal
complaint said. David Williams, Onta Williams and Mr. Payen attended these
meetings, and the group discussed Mr. Cromitie’s desire to strike a synagogue in
the Bronx and military aircraft at the Air National Guard base in Newburgh,
according to the complaint.
In December, the plan began to take shape in the Newburgh house. On Dec. 5, Mr.
Cromitie asked the informant whether he could acquire “rockets” and “devices”
for attacks, and the informant said he could provide C-4 plastic explosives to
fashion improvised bombs. On Dec. 17, Mr. Cromitie said he wanted to case the
air base later that week, and that he would remove his traditional Muslim attire
— a white jalabiya and cap — so as not to draw suspicion. David Williams
suggested they refer to the synagogues as “joints.”
On April 10, Mr. Cromitie, David Williams and the informant drove to a Wal-Mart
in Newburgh and bought a camera, and then went to the Bronx, where Mr. Cromitie
took pictures of synagogues. He said blowing up the Riverdale Jewish Center
would be “a piece of cake.”
Several days later, the three men met again and discussed picking up a Stinger
heat-seeking missile in Connecticut and synchronizing the aircraft strike and
On the night of April 28, after figuring out where they could get a gun, the men
reinforced their commitment to the plan to one another, according to the
authorities. They each said they were willing to perform jihad, and Onta
Williams spoke, saying the military is “killing Muslim brothers and sisters in
Muslim countries, so if we kill them here with I.E.D.’s and Stingers, it is
equal,” according to the complaint.
On May 6, the five men drove to Stamford to pick up the explosives and the
Stinger, according to the complaint. The location was carefully chosen in
advance, but not by any of the men in the vehicle.
The Stamford police were approached by the F.B.I. several months ago, officials
said, and asked for help in finding a warehouse where a meeting with the
suspected terror cell could take place. A warehouse on the Waterside section of
town was chosen and wired for video and audio for the meeting.
The men, after the brief scare about being followed, eventually made it to
Stamford. There, they inspected the explosive devices. Each weighed 37 pounds
and was inside a canvas bag. None of them, nor the Stinger missile at the
warehouse, was operational, having been disabled by the F.B.I.
The four men tested one of the detonators for the bombs, which was to be set off
with a cellphone, the compliant said. They drove the weapons to Newburgh, locked
them in a storage container and celebrated.
The five men met at the storage unit to inspect the weapons on May 8. Twelve
days later, they drove to the Bronx with the bombs.
In Bronx Bomb Case,
Steps and Missteps, on Tape, NYT, 22.5.2009,
N.Y. Bomb Plot Suspects Acted Alone,
May 22, 2009
The New York Times
By JAVIER C. HERNANDEZ
and SEWELL CHAN
The four men arrested Wednesday night in what the authorities said was a plot
to bomb two synagogues in the Bronx and shoot down military planes at an Air
National Guard base in Newburgh, N.Y. were petty criminals who appeared to be
acting alone, not in concert with any terrorist organization, the New York City
police commissioner said Thursday.
The men were arrested in an elaborate sting operation at around 9 p.m. on
Wednesday after planting what they believed to be bombs in cars outside the
Riverdale Temple, a Reform synagogue, and the nearby Riverdale Jewish Center, an
Orthodox synagogue. Once the explosives were planted, the men planned to drive
to the National Guard base to shoot down military aircraft with a Stinger
surface-to-air missile while detonating the bombs with a remote device.
The men did not know that the bombs, obtained with the help of an informant for
the Federal Bureau of Investigation, were fake, and that the missile was
incapable of being fired.
In a news conference at the Riverdale Jewish Center, one of the two synagogues
said to be the targets of the plot, the commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, offered
new details about the four defendants — James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta
Williams and Laguerre Payen — three of whom were arraigned in Federal District
Court in White Plains, N.Y., on Thursday.
“It’s hard to envision a more chilling plot,” Eric Snyder, an assistant United
States attorney, said at the arraignment. He added, “These are extremely violent
men. These are men who eagerly embraced an opportunity” to “bring deaths to
They were ordered to be held at a Westchester County jail, and their lawyers
declined to file bail applications.
The men, all of whom live in Newburgh, about 60 miles north of New York City,
had met in prison. Mr. Cromitie, 53, who authorities described as the plot’s
leader, had lived in Brooklyn and had as many as 27 arrests for minor crimes
both in upstate New York and in New York City, Mr. Kelly said. Mr. Cromitie,
David Williams, and Onta Williams were native-born Americans, while Mr. Payen
was born in Haiti and is a Haitian citizen.
The four men arrested are all Muslim, a law enforcement official said. Mr.
Cromitie, whose parents had lived in Afghanistan before his birth, had told the
informant that he was upset about the war in Afghanistan and that that he wanted
to do “something to America.” Mr. Cromitie stated “the best target” — the World
Trade Center — “was hit already,” according to the complaint.
Mr. Kelly said: “They stated that they wanted to commit jihad. They were
disturbed about what was happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan, that Muslims
were being killed. They were making statements that Jews were killed in this
attack and that would be all right — that sort of thing.”
“It speaks to our concern about homegrown terrorism,” Mr. Kelly said.
In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Cromitie’s sister, Wanda Cromitie, said she was
shocked to learn of her brother’s arrest while watching television this morning.
She said she was unaware that her brother may have had extreme political views,
and that she had last spoken to him about two years ago when she thought he was
working at a Wal-Mart or Kmart store.
“Right now, to me he’s, like, the dumbest person I ever came in contact with in
my life,” Ms. Cromitie said.
She added that as far as she knew, he was not a Muslim, but said “they do a
little time in jail and they don’t eat pork no more.”
At the Masjid al-Ikhlas mosque in Newburgh where the men first met the F.B.I.
informant, they were not considered devoted members, said an imam at the mosque,
Salahuddin Mustafa. He also said that the man he believes was the informant
showed up about two years ago and started inviting people to meals, where he
would talk about jihad and violence. The imam and others believed the man was a
government agent and steered clear of him, he said, but Mr. Cromitie apparently
took the bait.
An assistant imam at the mosque, Hamin Rashada, said that another one of the
four men, Mr. Payen, seemed disturbed. Mr. Payen often talked in circles, showed
signs of paranoia and kept bottles of urine in a messy apartment.
“He has some very serious psychological problems,” Mr. Rashada said
The arrests capped what officials described as a “painstaking investigation”
that began in June 2008, involving an F.B.I. agent who had been told by the
federal informant of the men’s desire to attack targets in America. The
informant had been cooperating with the authorities since 2002, when he pleaded
guilty to taking part in an unrelated fraud scheme and was sentenced to five
years of probation.
The charges against the four men represent some of the most significant
allegations of domestic terrorism in some time, and come as President Obama
grapples with the question of how to handle detainees at the Guantánamo Bay camp
in Cuba. He laid out his policy in a speech Thursday in Washington.
According to the criminal complaint, Mr. Cromitie and the three other men, who
were in their 20s and 30s, selected the synagogues and the air base as their
targets in April. On May 6, the defendants traveled to a warehouse in
Connecticut to obtain what they believed was a surface-to-air guided-missile
system and three improvised explosive devices, all of which were actually
incapable of being fired or detonated. The men then brought the weapons back to
a storage facility in Newburgh, the criminal complaint said.
Rabbi Jonathan I. Rosenblatt, the senior rabbi at the Riverdale Jewish Center,
said the police informed him on Wednesday evening that his synagogue was a
target of the plot, as well as the Riverdale Temple, a short distance away, on
Independence Avenue. Outside the synagogues on Wednesday night, the streets were
Rabbi Rosenblatt said in a phone interview Wednesday that he took the news with
“shock, surprise — a sense of disbelief that something which is supposed to
belong to the world of front pages and the evening news had invaded the quiet
world of our synagogue.”
Jonathan Mark, associate editor of The Jewish Week newspaper who grew up in
Riverdale, said it would have been the third plot in the past decade against the
synagogues in Riverdale.
The plot unfolded Wednesday night as one of the suspects placed what he believed
were homemade bombs — each equipped with about 37 pounds of inert C-4 plastic
explosives — into separate vehicles parked outside the synagogues. The other
three suspects served as lookouts, Mr. Kelly said.
“There was a driver who was a cooperator, and there was the individual who
placed the bombs in the vehicle, and then there were three lookouts,” Mr. Kelly
said. “As everyone was going back to the car, that is when the signal was given
to the emergency service officers to move in.”
An 18-wheel New York Police Department vehicle — known as a “low-boy” — blocked
the suspects’ black sport utility vehicle at 237th Street and Riverdale Avenue.
The F.B.I. informer also served as the driver of the suspects’ S.U.V., Mr. Kelly
Another armored vehicle arrived and officers from the department’s Emergency
Service Unit smashed the blackened windows of the S.U.V., removed the men from
the vehicle, and handcuffed them on the ground. None offered resistance.
Other police officers, along with members of the Joint Terrorist Task Force, the
F.B.I., and the state police, were also on hand, and “moved in and took those
individuals away,” Mr. Kelly said. Three of the four men were escorted by
federal agents from Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan around 1 a.m. Thursday.
They were handcuffed and did not respond to reporters’ questions as they were
loaded into the back of vehicles to be taken to the nearby Metropolitan
Correctional Center. There, they emerged one by one.
Mr. Cromitie, who was wearing a dark blue shirt and jeans, gazed at the
assembled reporters and photographers but again did not respond to questions.
David and Onta Williams also did not answer questions as they quickly walked by,
staring at the ground. A federal law enforcement official described the plot as
“aspirational” — meaning that the suspects wanted to do something but had no
weapons or explosives — and described the operation as a sting with a cooperator
within the group.
“It was fully controlled at all times,” a law enforcement official said.
Mr. Kelly told Jewish leaders Wednesday evening that the attackers planned
simultaneous attacks. After the men left the bombs in cars in front of the two
synagogues, they planned to drive back to Newburgh and retrieve
cellphone-detonating devices and then proceed with the attack on the air base —
simultaneously shooting down aircraft while remotely setting off the devices in
Stewart International Airport is used by the New York Air National Guard and
United States Air Force, according to the complaint, and it stores aircraft used
to transport military supplies and personnel to the military in Iraq and
The shadowy figure of the F.B.I. informant is, in many ways, a driving force of
the plot laid out by prosecutors. The informant, who has been cooperating with
the F.B.I. for the past six years, first met with Mr. Cromitie at the Masjid
al-Ikhlas, a mosque in Newburgh, in June 2008. At that time, Mr. Cromitie told
the informant that he was interested in returning to Afghanistan. Mr. Cromitie
spoke about how, if he were to die a martyr, he would go to paradise, the
A month later, the informant lied to Mr. Cromitie, telling him that he was a
member of Jaish al-Mohammed, a terrorist organization based in Pakistan. Mr.
Cromitie said he would be interested in joining up “to do jihad.” The informant,
who audio and video taped many of his meetings with the defendants, later told
them that the surface-to-air missiles and explosives were provided by the
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and elected officials joined Mr. Kelly at the news
conference on Thursday morning, which was held as worshipers arrived for morning
The mayor praised the Police Department, which worked with the F.B.I. and other
agencies on the case, and described the disruption of the terror plot as a
frightening but exceptional occurrence. “Most people in New York City want to
live together, work together, and I think we’re as safe today as we’ve ever been
before,” the mayor said.
Political leaders responded to the news of the arrests with statements
State Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, a Bronx Democrat who represents Riverdale,
and is a member of the congregation at the Riverdale Temple, also praised law
enforcement authorities for their efforts.
“I think most people will agree that we’re very angry, but very sad, that this
kind of plot would take place in our community,” he said. “There are people out
there motivated by religious hatred, hatred against Jews frankly, but the good
news is that the N.Y.P.D. and F.B.I. were on top of this from the very
Reporting was contributed by Al Baker, Sharon Otterman, Sam Roberts, Anahad
O’Connor, David Johnston, Angela Macropoulos, Jennifer Mascia, Colin Moynihan,
William K. Rashbaum and Benjamin Weiser.
N.Y. Bomb Plot Suspects
Acted Alone, Police Say, NYT, 22.5.2009,
Civilian Trial for Man
Charged in ’98 Bombings
May 22, 2009
The New York Times
By BRIAN KNOWLTON
and WILLIAM GLABERSON
WASHINGTON — A suspected al-Qaeda militant accused in the deadly 1998
bombings of American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya will be tried in a civilian
court in New York, making him the first Guantánamo Bay detainee to be tried in
an American civilian court, the Justice Department said Thursday.
“By prosecuting Ahmed Ghailani in federal court, we will ensure that he finally
answers for his alleged role in the bombing of our embassies in Tanzania and
Kenya,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.
The decision to try Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani in New York stemmed directly from the
review ordered by President Obama in January of the cases of all 240 terror
suspects held at the Guantánamo detention center. Mr. Obama is scheduled to give
what the White House has billed as a major speech on the handling of the
detainees on Thursday morning.
The administration has encountered unexpectedly stiff opposition to moving some
of the detainees to the United States, including overwhelming votes in both the
House and Senate to oppose appropriating funds to close the Guantánamo Bay
Mr. Ghailani’s case is probably one of the easier one to bring to the forefront.
He faces charges in a pre-Sept. 11 crime; no one charged with Sept. 11 crimes
has yet been tried in an American civilian court. The case against him also
appears well-developed. And New York City has experience with terrorist trials.
The indictment alleges that Mr. Ghailani helped purchase the Nissan truck and
the oxygen and acetylene tanks used in the bombing of the United States embassy
in Tanzania, and that he helped load boxes of TNT, cylinder tanks, detonators,
fertilizer and other materials into the truck before the bombing.
He was captured in July 2004 and, in September 2006, transferred along with
other “high value detainees” to Guantánamo Bay.
While he is the first Guantánamo detainee to be sent to the United States for
trial, he is the second detainee under the Obama administration to be shifted to
the civilian court system. Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri was taken from a South
Carolina brig to Illinois and has already pleaded guilty without incident,
eliminating the need for a trial.
Mr. Ghailani, who is believed to be in his mid-30s, appeared in 2007 before a
military review panel at Guantánamo Bay. He claimed ignorance of the purpose of
the 1998 attacks, which killed more than 200 people, and issued an apology.
“It was without my knowledge what they were doing, but I helped them,” he said,
according to a transcript. “I’m sorry for what happened to those families who
lost, who lost their friends and their beloved ones.”
But he did acknowledge having once met Osama bin Laden, and also Khalid Shaikh
Mohammed, the senior Al Qaeda planner held at Guantánamo and the acknowledged
mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The charges facing him include murder, attacking civilians, destruction of
property and conspiracy, as well as providing material support to terrorism.
Trying to calm concerns and retake the initiative in the detainee debate,
President Obama delivered a major address on national security and on his
philosophy about detaining terror suspects at Guantánamo at the National
Archives on Thursday.
He contended that the Bush administration’s policies were an “ad hoc legal
approach for fighting terrorism that was neither effective nor sustainable — a
framework that failed to trust in our institutions, and that failed to use our
values as a compass.”
Mr. Obama referred directly to the Ghailani case, arguing that using federal
courts to try suspected terrorists was a sensible and tested approach. He said
that the courts had been successfully used in cases like those of Ramzi Yousef,
who tried to blow up the World Trade Center, and Zaccarias Moussaoui, the “20th
9/11 hijacker,” as the president described him.
As for Mr. Ghailani, he said, “Preventing this detainee from coming to our
shores would prevent his trial and conviction.”
Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Jeff Zeleny and Kate Phillips contributed reporting.
Civilian Trial for Man
Charged in ’98 Bombings, NYT, 22.5.2009,
Obama Mounts Defense of Detainee Plan
May 22, 2009
The New York Times
By DAVID STOUT
and BRIAN KNOWLTON
WASHINGTON — President Obama delivered an impassioned defense
of his administration’s anti-terrorism policies on Thursday, reiterating his
determination to close the prison at the Guantánamo Bay naval base in Cuba in
the face of growing Congressional pressure and declaring that America will
remain strong if it stands by its basic precepts.
The president said that what has gone on at Guantánamo for the past seven years
has demonstrated an unjust, haphazard “ad hoc approach” that has undermined
rather than strengthened America’s safety, and that moving its most dangerous
inmates to the United States is both practical and in keeping with the country’s
Moreover, he said that transferring some Guantánamo detainees to highly secure
prisons in the United States would in no way endanger American security.
Speaking at the National Archives, which houses the Constitution and other
documents embodying America’s system of government and justice, the president
promised to work with Congress to develop a safe and fair system for dealing
with a particularly thorny problem: what to do with those Guantánamo detainees
who, for one reason or another, cannot be prosecuted in civilian or military
courts “yet who pose a clear danger to the American people” and therefore cannot
simply be released.
“I want to be honest: this is the toughest issue we will face,” the president
said, pledging to help devise “clear, defensible and lawful standards for those
who fall in this category,” meaning former Taliban commanders, Al Qaeda-trained
explosives experts, acolytes of Osama bin Laden and others whose hatred of
America is deep and uncompromising.
Imprisoning people indefinitely without charging them is generally contrary to
principles of American justice, a reality that the American Civil Liberties
Union alluded to after the president’s speech.
“We welcome President Obama’s stated commitment to the Constitution, the rule of
law and the unequivocal rejection of torture,” said Anthony Romero, the
A.C.L.U.’s executive director. “But unlike the president, we believe that
continuing with the failed military commissions and creating a new system of
indefinite detention without charge is inconsistent with the values that he
expressed so eloquently at the National Archives today.”
President Obama said that, despite the evil intentions of some Guantánamo
detainees and the undeniable fact that Al Qaeda terrorists are determined to
attack America again, United States citizens should not feel uneasy about a
relatively small number of detainees being imprisoned in the American homeland.
“As we make these decisions, bear in mind the following fact: nobody has ever
escaped from one of our federal supermax prisons, which hold hundreds of
convicted terrorists,” the president said. “As Senator Lindsey Graham said: ‘The
idea that we cannot find a place to securely house 250-plus detainees within the
United States is not rational.’”
The problem of what to do with the Guantánamo detainees “was not caused by my
decision to close the facility,” Mr. Obama said. “The problem exists because of
the decision to open Guantánamo in the first place.”He said that “faced with an
uncertain threat” and “a sincere desire to protect the American people,” the
government — aided by Democrats and Republicans, politicians journalists and
citizens — “went off course.”
Only minutes after Mr. Obama finished speaking, former Vice President Dick
Cheney offered a far different perspective, defending the anti-terrorism
policies of the Bush administration, asserting that the country had never lost
“its moral bearings” and criticizing some of President Obama’s approaches. Taken
together, the speeches of President Obama and the former vice president outlined
a fundamental debate over the proper balance between personal liberties and
national security in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks.
Both speeches came in a week in which Congress has been wrestling with detention
issues. The Senate by a lopsided vote of 90-6 rebuffed the president over
financing for closing down the detention center. Republicans and Democrats alike
argued that the White House had yet to outline a realistic plan for what to do
with the remaining detainees after the center is closed.
The supermax prisons to which Mr. Obama alluded, familiar to viewers of
cable-television crime programs, are fortress-like structures of concrete and
steel where the inmates — the worst of the worst of hardened criminals — live in
“I know that creating such a system poses unique challenges,” Mr. Obama said.
“Other countries have grappled with this question, and so must we. But I want to
be very clear that our goal is to construct a legitimate legal framework for
Guantanamo detainees — not to avoid one. In our constitutional system, prolonged
detention should not be the decision of any one man.”
The president said Americans should resist the temptation to indulge in
“finger-pointing” over mistakes. But he offered scathing criticism of the
presidency of George W. Bush, referring repeatedly to the missteps, in Mr.
Obama’s view, of “the past eight years” and declaring that the harsh
interrogation methods used at Guantanamo have fomented terrorism.
In an address punctuated several times by applause, the president asserted over
and over that fidelity to American values is not a luxury to be dispensed with
in times of crisis but, rather, the compass that will steer the country to
safety in an age of terrorism.
“We uphold our most cherished values not only because doing so is right, but
because it strengthens our country and keeps us safe,” he said.
The president has said he wants the Guantánamo detention camp closed by January
2010, but he did not mention any timetable in his speech on Thursday. Senator
Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican minority leader, said the president
should avoid an “arbitrary timeline,” but the senator was critical of the
“With all due respect to the president, what we need here is not a speech but a
plan,” Mr. McConnell said. “And a plan is what was clearly missing from the
Another Republican senator, John Cornyn of Texas, was harsher in his criticism,
accusing the president of “downgrading the global war on terror to a law
enforcement action” and of complaining incessantly of problems that he
Shortly after President Obama finished his speech, television networks cut away
to Mr. Cheney’s speech, titled “Keeping America Safe,” delivered to the American
Mr. Cheney gave the president some credit for “wise decisions,” notably in some
of the steps he has taken in Afghanistan and in reversing his plan to release
photographs of detainee abuse. But the former vice president was vigorous in his
defense of the “enhanced interrogation” of detainees that the Obama
administration has denounced, saying that skilled and trained C.I.A. agents had
gained invaluable intelligence, using methods ruled legal by administration
lawyers, that had saved lives.
Mr. Cheney was sharply critical of Mr. Obama’s decision to release documents
detailing the Bush administration debate on what interrogation techniques could
legally be employed. Releasing the memos, Mr. Cheney said, “was flatly contrary
to the national security interest of the United States,” undercutting
anti-terror efforts by United States allies around the world, and leaving C.I.A.
agents unsure of high-level backing “when the going gets tough.”
Mr. Cheney suggested that the new administration was making a deeply flawed and
risky calculation that the Sept. 11 attacks were in effect one-time event and
not a persistent, existential threat. Mr. Cheney also offered a withering
critique of the suggestion that the Obama team was seeking middle ground in
policies on terrorism.
“In the fight against terrorism,” he said, “there is no middle ground, and
half-measures keep you half-exposed. You cannot keep just some nuclear-armed
terrorists out of the United States, you must keep every nuclear-armed terrorist
ouf of the United States.”
In addition, Mr. Cheney, a fierce opponent of releasing information about the
government’s wiretapping efforts, criticized The New York Times for its coverage
of the practice, which he said “let us intercept calls and track contacts
between al-Qaeda operatives and persons inside the United States.” “It impressed
the Pulitzer committee,” he said, “but it damn sure didn’t serve the interests
of our country, or the safety of our people.”
As for the closing of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, Mr. Cheney suggested
that Mr. Obama was short-sightedly playing to foreign audiences. “It’s easy to
receive applause in Europe for closing Guantánamo,” he said. “But it’s tricky to
come up with an alternative that will serve the interests of justice and
America’s national security.”
Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Jeff Zeleny and Kate Phillips contributed
Obama Mounts Defense
of Detainee Plan, NYT, 22.5.2009,
Some Detainees to U.S.
May 22, 2009
The New York Times
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
WASHINGTON — Despite stiff resistance from Congress, President
Obama said Thursday that he intended to transfer some detainees from Guantánamo
Bay, Cuba, to highly secure facilities inside the United States. He also
proposed “prolonged detention” for terrorism suspects who cannot be tried, a
problem he called “the toughest issue we face.”
In a speech at the National Archives here, Mr. Obama gave a full-throated
defense of his antiterrorism policies and his commitment to closing the
Guantánamo prison. With Republicans painting him as weak on terror, and
Democrats increasingly nervous about transferring terrorism suspects to the
United States, the White House sought to reclaim a debate over which even some
of his allies said he had lost control.
“We are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security,”
Mr. Obama declared, adding, “As we make these decisions, bear in mind the
following fact: Nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal super-max
prisons, which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists.”
Defense Secretary Robert Gates defended Mr. Obama’s decision to close the prison
in an interview broadcast on Friday on the “Today” program on NBC. He called it
a wise strategic move that could reduce terrorism.
“The truth is, it is probably one of the finest prisons in the world today, but
it has a taint,” Mr. Gates said of the detention cennter at Guantánamo Bay. “The
name itself is a condemnation. What the president is saying is that this will be
an advertisement for Al Qaeda as long as it is open.”
Mr. Gates, who held the same post in the final years of the Bush administration,
also dismissed as “fear-mongering” the assertion that Americans would be made
less safe if the detainees were moved to American maximum-security prisons.
“We have never had an escape from a ‘supermax’ prison, and that’s where these
guys will go — and if not one of the existing ones, we will create a new one,”
he said in the interview, which was taped on Thursday.
Mr. Obama, in describing his plans for the roughly 240 terrorism suspects still
held at Guantánamo Bay, accused his predecessor, George W. Bush, of having
embarked on “a misguided experiment” that resulted in “a mess.”
He said there would be no danger in transferring detainees to “highly secure
prisons” in this country, and pledged to seek trials for many in civilian or
military courts. But he also said he would move to “construct a legitimate legal
framework” to justify the detention of dangerous terrorism suspects who could
not be tried or released, a proposal that is creating unease among human rights
advocates who are among his staunchest backers.
Mr. Obama did not deliver his message in a vacuum. Just minutes after his
speech, cable news programs turned their focus to a competing address being
delivered by his staunchest Republican foe, former Vice President Dick Cheney.
The dueling appearances amounted to real-time philosophical combat between
competing national security visions, the debate Americans might have witnessed
had Mr. Cheney run for president.
The setting of Mr. Obama’s address — the soaring marble and limestone rotunda of
the Archives, where the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the
Bill of Rights are kept — was intended to underscore his main theme: that as
commander in chief he can uphold American values while also protecting the
“I believe with every fiber of my being,” Mr. Obama said, “that in the long run
we cannot also keep this country safe unless we enlist the power of our most
But Mr. Cheney, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, a bastion of
conservative thought, put forth another worldview, in which security is
“In the fight against terrorism,” the former vice president said, “there is no
middle ground, and half measures keep you half exposed.”
The back-to-back speeches brought to life the broad and very difficult questions
facing Mr. Obama as he tries to live up to his pledge to shut the Guantánamo
prison by January and at the same time rewrite the legal framework established
by Mr. Bush for imprisoning and trying terrorism suspects.
Among those questions is whether bringing to the United States those Guantánamo
detainees who could not be released to their home countries would make Americans
less secure. Mr. Obama quoted Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South
Carolina, in saying that “the idea that we cannot find a place to securely house
250-plus detainees within the United States is not rational.”
But critics warn that housing dangerous terrorism suspects in United States
prisons would make those facilities, and the communities surrounding them,
vulnerable to attack; could allow militants a chance to plot strategy on
American soil; and could open the way for militants to stay in the country, if
they were acquitted at trial.
“I think the president will find, upon reflection,” Mr. Cheney warned Thursday,
“that to bring the worst of the worst terrorists inside the United States would
be cause for great danger and regret in the years to come.”
A second issue is whether to try the detainees in American courts. Mr. Obama
said Thursday that he would do so “whenever feasible,” citing the cases of two
other terrorists — Ramzi Yousef, who tried to blow up the World Trade Center in
1993, and Zacarias Moussaoui, identified as the 20th Sept. 11 hijacker — who are
serving life sentences in prison after being convicted in the United States.
But critics say there is a risk that classified information would be made public
in such criminal trials, a danger that David B. Rivkin, an official in the
Reagan Justice Department, calls “the conviction price.” Mr. Obama said that
military commissions, which allow defendants fewer rights, would be the
“appropriate venue” for the trials of at least some detainees.
Yet another question is what to do with the most problematic group of Guantánamo
detainees: those who pose a national security threat but cannot be prosecuted,
either for lack of evidence or because evidence is tainted.
The answer proposed by Mr. Obama would write an entirely new chapter in American
law to permit “prolonged detention” — just as at Guantánamo, but with oversight
by the courts and Congress. Human rights advocates express outrage at that
approach, however, saying it would violate the very civil liberties Mr. Obama, a
former lecturer on constitutional law, has vowed to protect.
“It is very troubling that he is intent on codifying in legislation the Bush
policies of indefinite detention without charge,” Anthony D. Romero, executive
director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said after the speech. “That
simply flies in the face of established American legal principle.”
As he moves ahead, Mr. Obama must still persuade lawmakers to release the $80
million he has requested to close the Guantánamo prison. On a vote of 86 to 3
Thursday night, the Senate, like the House earlier, passed a war financing bill
without that $80 million, which Congress has said it will not give him until he
provides a more detailed plan. Thursday’s speech did not appear to change that.
“We’ve received today a broad vision from President Obama, and it’s important
that he did that,” said the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada.
“We’re all awaiting the details of this plan, and he’s going to come up with
Mr. Obama ran for office on a promise of restoring America’s moral standing in
the world by rejecting Mr. Bush’s policies. But as president he has found that
doing so is fraught with political peril. He used Thursday’s speech to explain a
string of controversial national security decisions, including the apparent
contradiction between withholding photos showing abuse of detainees and the
release of classified memorandums about interrogation.
The president said he was trying to strike a balance between transparency and
“I ran for president promising transparency, and I meant what I said,” he
declared, adding, “But I have never argued — and I never will — that our most
sensitive national security matters are an open book.”
Obama Would Move Some
Detainees to U.S., NYT, 22.5.2009,
Obama’s Speech on National Security
May 21, 2009
The New York Times
Following is a text of President Obama’s speech on Thursday on
national security issues, as released by the White House.
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody. Please be seated.
Thank you all for being here. Let me just acknowledge the presence of some of my
outstanding Cabinet members and advisors. We've got our Secretary of State,
Hillary Clinton. We have our CIA Director Leon Panetta. We have our Secretary of
Defense William Gates; Secretary Napolitano of Department of Homeland Security;
Attorney General Eric Holder; my National Security Advisor Jim Jones. And I want
to especially thank our Acting Archivist of the United States, Adrienne Thomas.
I also want to acknowledge several members of the House who have great interest
in intelligence matters. I want to thank Congressman Reyes, Congressman
Hoekstra, Congressman King, as well as Congressman Thompson, for being here
today. Thank you so much.
These are extraordinary times for our country. We're confronting a historic
economic crisis. We're fighting two wars. We face a range of challenges that
will define the way that Americans will live in the 21st century. So there's no
shortage of work to be done, or responsibilities to bear.
And we've begun to make progress. Just this week, we've taken steps to protect
American consumers and homeowners, and to reform our system of government
contracting so that we better protect our people while spending our money more
wisely. (Applause.) The -- it's a good bill. (Laughter.) The engines of our
economy are slowly beginning to turn, and we're working towards historic reform
on health care and on energy. I want to say to the members of Congress, I
welcome all the extraordinary work that has been done over these last four
months on these and other issues.
In the midst of all these challenges, however, my single most important
responsibility as President is to keep the American people safe. It's the first
thing that I think about when I wake up in the morning. It's the last thing that
I think about when I go to sleep at night.
And this responsibility is only magnified in an era when an extremist ideology
threatens our people, and technology gives a handful of terrorists the potential
to do us great harm. We are less than eight years removed from the deadliest
attack on American soil in our history. We know that al Qaeda is actively
planning to attack us again. We know that this threat will be with us for a long
time, and that we must use all elements of our power to defeat it.
Already, we've taken several steps to achieve that goal. For the first time
since 2002, we're providing the necessary resources and strategic direction to
take the fight to the extremists who attacked us on 9/11 in Afghanistan and
Pakistan. We're investing in the 21st century military and intelligence
capabilities that will allow us to stay one step ahead of a nimble enemy. We
have re-energized a global non-proliferation regime to deny the world's most
dangerous people access to the world's deadliest weapons. And we've launched an
effort to secure all loose nuclear materials within four years. We're better
protecting our border, and increasing our preparedness for any future attack or
natural disaster. We're building new partnerships around the world to disrupt,
dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates. And we have renewed American
diplomacy so that we once again have the strength and standing to truly lead the
These steps are all critical to keeping America secure. But I believe with every
fiber of my being that in the long run we also cannot keep this country safe
unless we enlist the power of our most fundamental values. The documents that we
hold in this very hall -- the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the
Bill of Rights -- these are not simply words written into aging parchment. They
are the foundation of liberty and justice in this country, and a light that
shines for all who seek freedom, fairness, equality, and dignity around the
I stand here today as someone whose own life was made possible by these
documents. My father came to these shores in search of the promise that they
offered. My mother made me rise before dawn to learn their truths when I lived
as a child in a foreign land. My own American journey was paved by generations
of citizens who gave meaning to those simple words -- "to form a more perfect
union." I've studied the Constitution as a student, I've taught it as a teacher,
I've been bound by it as a lawyer and a legislator. I took an oath to preserve,
protect, and defend the Constitution as Commander-in-Chief, and as a citizen, I
know that we must never, ever, turn our back on its enduring principles for
I make this claim not simply as a matter of idealism. We uphold our most
cherished values not only because doing so is right, but because it strengthens
our country and it keeps us safe. Time and again, our values have been our best
national security asset -- in war and peace; in times of ease and in eras of
Fidelity to our values is the reason why the United States of America grew from
a small string of colonies under the writ of an empire to the strongest nation
in the world.
It's the reason why enemy soldiers have surrendered to us in battle, knowing
they'd receive better treatment from America's Armed Forces than from their own
It's the reason why America has benefitted from strong alliances that amplified
our power, and drawn a sharp, moral contrast with our adversaries.
It's the reason why we've been able to overpower the iron fist of fascism and
outlast the iron curtain of communism, and enlist free nations and free peoples
everywhere in the common cause and common effort of liberty.
From Europe to the Pacific, we've been the nation that has shut down torture
chambers and replaced tyranny with the rule of law. That is who we are. And
where terrorists offer only the injustice of disorder and destruction, America
must demonstrate that our values and our institutions are more resilient than a
After 9/11, we knew that we had entered a new era -- that enemies who did not
abide by any law of war would present new challenges to our application of the
law; that our government would need new tools to protect the American people,
and that these tools would have to allow us to prevent attacks instead of simply
prosecuting those who try to carry them out.
Unfortunately, faced with an uncertain threat, our government made a series of
hasty decisions. I believe that many of these decisions were motivated by a
sincere desire to protect the American people. But I also believe that all too
often our government made decisions based on fear rather than foresight; that
all too often our government trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological
predispositions. Instead of strategically applying our power and our principles,
too often we set those principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer
afford. And during this season of fear, too many of us -- Democrats and
Republicans, politicians, journalists, and citizens -- fell silent.
In other words, we went off course. And this is not my assessment alone. It was
an assessment that was shared by the American people who nominated candidates
for President from both major parties who, despite our many differences, called
for a new approach -- one that rejected torture and one that recognized the
imperative of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Now let me be clear: We are indeed at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates. We
do need to update our institutions to deal with this threat. But we must do so
with an abiding confidence in the rule of law and due process; in checks and
balances and accountability. For reasons that I will explain, the decisions that
were made over the last eight years established an ad hoc legal approach for
fighting terrorism that was neither effective nor sustainable -- a framework
that failed to rely on our legal traditions and time-tested institutions, and
that failed to use our values as a compass. And that's why I took several steps
upon taking office to better protect the American people.
First, I banned the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques by the
United States of America. (Applause.)
I know some have argued that brutal methods like waterboarding were necessary to
keep us safe. I could not disagree more. As Commander-in-Chief, I see the
intelligence. I bear the responsibility for keeping this country safe. And I
categorically reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of
interrogation. (Applause.) What's more, they undermine the rule of law. They
alienate us in the world. They serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists, and
increase the will of our enemies to fight us, while decreasing the will of
others to work with America. They risk the lives of our troops by making it less
likely that others will surrender to them in battle, and more likely that
Americans will be mistreated if they are captured. In short, they did not
advance our war and counterterrorism efforts -- they undermined them, and that
is why I ended them once and for all. (Applause.)
Now, I should add, the arguments against these techniques did not originate from
my administration. As Senator McCain once said, torture "serves as a great
propaganda tool for those who recruit people to fight against us." And even
under President Bush, there was recognition among members of his own
administration -- including a Secretary of State, other senior officials, and
many in the military and intelligence community -- that those who argued for
these tactics were on the wrong side of the debate, and the wrong side of
history. That's why we must leave these methods where they belong -- in the
past. They are not who we are, and they are not America.
The second decision that I made was to order the closing of the prison camp at
Guantanamo Bay. (Applause.)
For over seven years, we have detained hundreds of people at Guantanamo. During
that time, the system of military commissions that were in place at Guantanamo
succeeded in convicting a grand total of three suspected terrorists. Let me
repeat that: three convictions in over seven years. Instead of bringing
terrorists to justice, efforts at prosecution met setback after setback, cases
lingered on, and in 2006 the Supreme Court invalidated the entire system.
Meanwhile, over 525 detainees were released from Guantanamo under not my
administration, under the previous administration. Let me repeat that:
Two-thirds of the detainees were released before I took office and ordered the
closure of Guantanamo.
There is also no question that Guantanamo set back the moral authority that is
America's strongest currency in the world. Instead of building a durable
framework for the struggle against al Qaeda that drew upon our deeply held
values and traditions, our government was defending positions that undermined
the rule of law. In fact, part of the rationale for establishing Guantanamo in
the first place was the misplaced notion that a prison there would be beyond the
law -- a proposition that the Supreme Court soundly rejected. Meanwhile, instead
of serving as a tool to counter terrorism, Guantanamo became a symbol that
helped al Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause. Indeed, the existence of
Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever
So the record is clear: Rather than keeping us safer, the prison at Guantanamo
has weakened American national security. It is a rallying cry for our enemies.
It sets back the willingness of our allies to work with us in fighting an enemy
that operates in scores of countries. By any measure, the costs of keeping it
open far exceed the complications involved in closing it. That's why I argued
that it should be closed throughout my campaign, and that is why I ordered it
closed within one year.
The third decision that I made was to order a review of all pending cases at
Guantanamo. I knew when I ordered Guantanamo closed that it would be difficult
and complex. There are 240 people there who have now spent years in legal limbo.
In dealing with this situation, we don't have the luxury of starting from
scratch. We're cleaning up something that is, quite simply, a mess -- a
misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges that
my administration is forced to deal with on a constant, almost daily basis, and
it consumes the time of government officials whose time should be spent on
better protecting our country.
Indeed, the legal challenges that have sparked so much debate in recent weeks
here in Washington would be taking place whether or not I decided to close
Guantanamo. For example, the court order to release 17 Uighurs -- 17 Uighur
detainees took place last fall, when George Bush was President. The Supreme
Court that invalidated the system of prosecution at Guantanamo in 2006 was
overwhelmingly appointed by Republican Presidents -- not wild-eyed liberals. In
other words, the problem of what to do with Guantanamo detainees was not caused
by my decision to close the facility; the problem exists because of the decision
to open Guantanamo in the first place. (Applause.)
Now let me be blunt. There are no neat or easy answers here. I wish there were.
But I can tell you that the wrong answer is to pretend like this problem will go
away if we maintain an unsustainable status quo. As President, I refuse to allow
this problem to fester. I refuse to pass it on to somebody else. It is my
responsibility to solve the problem. Our security interests will not permit us
to delay. Our courts won't allow it. And neither should our conscience.
Now, over the last several weeks, we've seen a return of the politicization of
these issues that have characterized the last several years. I'm an elected
official; I understand these problems arouse passions and concerns. They should.
We're confronting some of the most complicated questions that a democracy can
face. But I have no interest in spending all of our time relitigating the
policies of the last eight years. I'll leave that to others. I want to solve
these problems, and I want to solve them together as Americans.
And we will be ill-served by some of the fear-mongering that emerges whenever we
discuss this issue. Listening to the recent debate, I've heard words that,
frankly, are calculated to scare people rather than educate them; words that
have more to do with politics than protecting our country. So I want to take
this opportunity to lay out what we are doing, and how we intend to resolve
these outstanding issues. I will explain how each action that we are taking will
help build a framework that protects both the American people and the values
that we hold most dear. And I'll focus on two broad areas: first, issues
relating to Guantanamo and our detention policy; but, second, I also want to
discuss issues relating to security and transparency.
Now, let me begin by disposing of one argument as plainly as I can: We are not
going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security, nor will we
release detainees within the United States who endanger the American people.
Where demanded by justice and national security, we will seek to transfer some
detainees to the same type of facilities in which we hold all manner of
dangerous and violent criminals within our borders -- namely, highly secure
prisons that ensure the public safety.
As we make these decisions, bear in mind the following face: Nobody has ever
escaped from one of our federal, supermax prisons, which hold hundreds of
convicted terrorists. As Republican Lindsey Graham said, the idea that we cannot
find a place to securely house 250-plus detainees within the United States is
We are currently in the process of reviewing each of the detainee cases at
Guantanamo to determine the appropriate policy for dealing with them. And as we
do so, we are acutely aware that under the last administration, detainees were
released and, in some cases, returned to the battlefield. That's why we are
doing away with the poorly planned, haphazard approach that let those detainees
go in the past. Instead we are treating these cases with the care and attention
that the law requires and that our security demands.
Now, going forward, these cases will fall into five distinct categories.
First, whenever feasible, we will try those who have violated American criminal
laws in federal courts -- courts provided for by the United States Constitution.
Some have derided our federal courts as incapable of handling the trials of
terrorists. They are wrong. Our courts and our juries, our citizens, are tough
enough to convict terrorists. The record makes that clear. Ramzi Yousef tried to
blow up the World Trade Center. He was convicted in our courts and is serving a
life sentence in U.S. prisons. Zacarias Moussaoui has been identified as the
20th 9/11 hijacker. He was convicted in our courts, and he too is serving a life
sentence in prison. If we can try those terrorists in our courts and hold them
in our prisons, then we can do the same with detainees from Guantanamo.
Recently, we prosecuted and received a guilty plea from a detainee, al-Marri, in
federal court after years of legal confusion. We're preparing to transfer
another detainee to the Southern District Court of New York, where he will face
trial on charges related to the 1998 bombings of our embassies in Kenya and
Tanzania -- bombings that killed over 200 people. Preventing this detainee from
coming to our shores would prevent his trial and conviction. And after over a
decade, it is time to finally see that justice is served, and that is what we
intend to do. (Applause.)
The second category of cases involves detainees who violate the laws of war and
are therefore best tried through military commissions. Military commissions have
a history in the United States dating back to George Washington and the
Revolutionary War. They are an appropriate venue for trying detainees for
violations of the laws of war. They allow for the protection of sensitive
sources and methods of intelligence-gathering; they allow for the safety and
security of participants; and for the presentation of evidence gathered from the
battlefield that cannot always be effectively presented in federal courts.
Now, some have suggested that this represents a reversal on my part. They should
look at the record. In 2006, I did strongly oppose legislation proposed by the
Bush administration and passed by the Congress because it failed to establish a
legitimate legal framework, with the kind of meaningful due process rights for
the accused that could stand up on appeal.
I said at that time, however, that I supported the use of military commissions
to try detainees, provided there were several reforms, and in fact there were
some bipartisan efforts to achieve those reforms. Those are the reforms that we
are now making. Instead of using the flawed commissions of the last seven years,
my administration is bringing our commissions in line with the rule of law. We
will no longer permit the use of evidence -- as evidence statements that have
been obtained using cruel, inhuman, or degrading interrogation methods. We will
no longer place the burden to prove that hearsay is unreliable on the opponent
of the hearsay. And we will give detainees greater latitude in selecting their
own counsel, and more protections if they refuse to testify. These reforms,
among others, will make our military commissions a more credible and effective
means of administering justice, and I will work with Congress and members of
both parties, as well as legal authorities across the political spectrum, on
legislation to ensure that these commissions are fair, legitimate, and
The third category of detainees includes those who have been ordered released by
the courts. Now, let me repeat what I said earlier: This has nothing to do with
my decision to close Guantanamo. It has to do with the rule of law. The courts
have spoken. They have found that there's no legitimate reason to hold 21 of the
people currently held at Guantanamo. Nineteen of these findings took place
before I was sworn into office. I cannot ignore these rulings because as
President, I too am bound by the law. The United States is a nation of laws and
so we must abide by these rulings.
The fourth category of cases involves detainees who we have determined can be
transferred safely to another country. So far, our review team has approved 50
detainees for transfer. And my administration is in ongoing discussions with a
number of other countries about the transfer of detainees to their soil for
detention and rehabilitation.
Now, finally, there remains the question of detainees at Guantanamo who cannot
be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people. And I have to
be honest here -- this is the toughest single issue that we will face. We're
going to exhaust every avenue that we have to prosecute those at Guantanamo who
pose a danger to our country. But even when this process is complete, there may
be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases
because evidence may be tainted, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the
security of the United States. Examples of that threat include people who've
received extensive explosives training at al Qaeda training camps, or commanded
Taliban troops in battle, or expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or
otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans. These are people who,
in effect, remain at war with the United States.
Let me repeat: I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American
people. Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates are at war with the United
States, and those that we capture -- like other prisoners of war -- must be
prevented from attacking us again. Having said that, we must recognize that
these detention policies cannot be unbounded. They can't be based simply on what
I or the executive branch decide alone. That's why my administration has begun
to reshape the standards that apply to ensure that they are in line with the
rule of law. We must have clear, defensible, and lawful standards for those who
fall into this category. We must have fair procedures so that we don't make
mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any
prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.
I know that creating such a system poses unique challenges. And other countries
have grappled with this question; now, so must we. But I want to be very clear
that our goal is to construct a legitimate legal framework for the remaining
Guantanamo detainees that cannot be transferred. Our goal is not to avoid a
legitimate legal framework. In our constitutional system, prolonged detention
should not be the decision of any one man. If and when we determine that the
United States must hold individuals to keep them from carrying out an act of
war, we will do so within a system that involves judicial and congressional
oversight. And so, going forward, my administration will work with Congress to
develop an appropriate legal regime so that our efforts are consistent with our
values and our Constitution.
Now, as our efforts to close Guantanamo move forward, I know that the politics
in Congress will be difficult. These are issues that are fodder for 30-second
commercials. You can almost picture the direct mail pieces that emerge from any
vote on this issue -- designed to frighten the population. I get it. But if we
continue to make decisions within a climate of fear, we will make more mistakes.
And if we refuse to deal with these issues today, then I guarantee you that they
will be an albatross around our efforts to combat terrorism in the future.
I have confidence that the American people are more interested in doing what is
right to protect this country than in political posturing. I am not the only
person in this city who swore an oath to uphold the Constitution -- so did each
and every member of Congress. And together we have a responsibility to enlist
our values in the effort to secure our people, and to leave behind the legacy
that makes it easier for future Presidents to keep this country safe.
Now, let me touch on a second set of issues that relate to security and
National security requires a delicate balance. One the one hand, our democracy
depends on transparency. On the other hand, some information must be protected
from public disclosure for the sake of our security -- for instance, the
movement of our troops, our intelligence-gathering, or the information we have
about a terrorist organization and its affiliates. In these and other cases,
lives are at stake.
Now, several weeks ago, as part of an ongoing court case, I released memos
issued by the previous administration's Office of Legal Counsel. I did not do
this because I disagreed with the enhanced interrogation techniques that those
memos authorized, and I didn't release the documents because I rejected their
legal rationales -- although I do on both counts. I released the memos because
the existence of that approach to interrogation was already widely known, the
Bush administration had acknowledged its existence, and I had already banned
those methods. The argument that somehow by releasing those memos we are
providing terrorists with information about how they will be interrogated makes
no sense. We will not be interrogating terrorists using that approach. That
approach is now prohibited.
In short, I released these memos because there was no overriding reason to
protect them. And the ensuing debate has helped the American people better
understand how these interrogation methods came to be authorized and used.
On the other hand, I recently opposed the release of certain photographs that
were taken of detainees by U.S. personnel between 2002 and 2004. Individuals who
violated standards of behavior in these photos have been investigated and they
have been held accountable. There was and is no debate as to whether what is
reflected in those photos is wrong. Nothing has been concealed to absolve
perpetrators of crimes. However, it was my judgment -- informed by my national
security team -- that releasing these photos would inflame anti-American opinion
and allow our enemies to paint U.S. troops with a broad, damning, and inaccurate
brush, thereby endangering them in theaters of war.
In short, there is a clear and compelling reason to not release these particular
photos. There are nearly 200,000 Americans who are serving in harm's way, and I
have a solemn responsibility for their safety as Commander-in-Chief. Nothing
would be gained by the release of these photos that matters more than the lives
of our young men and women serving in harm's way.
Now, in the press's mind and in some of the public's mind, these two cases are
contradictory. They are not to me. In each of these cases, I had to strike the
right balance between transparency and national security. And this balance
brings with it a precious responsibility. There's no doubt that the American
people have seen this balance tested over the last several years. In the images
from Abu Ghraib and the brutal interrogation techniques made public long before
I was President, the American people learned of actions taken in their name that
bear no resemblance to the ideals that generations of Americans have fought for.
And whether it was the run-up to the Iraq war or the revelation of secret
programs, Americans often felt like part of the story had been unnecessarily
withheld from them. And that caused suspicion to build up. And that leads to a
thirst for accountability.
I understand that. I ran for President promising transparency, and I meant what
I said. And that's why, whenever possible, my administration will make all
information available to the American people so that they can make informed
judgments and hold us accountable. But I have never argued -- and I never will
-- that our most sensitive national security matters should simply be an open
book. I will never abandon -- and will vigorously defend -- the necessity of
classification to defend our troops at war, to protect sources and methods, and
to safeguard confidential actions that keep the American people safe. Here's the
difference though: Whenever we cannot release certain information to the public
for valid national security reasons, I will insist that there is oversight of my
actions -- by Congress or by the courts.
We're currently launching a review of current policies by all those agencies
responsible for the classification of documents to determine where reforms are
possible, and to assure that the other branches of government will be in a
position to review executive branch decisions on these matters. Because in our
system of checks and balances, someone must always watch over the watchers --
especially when it comes to sensitive administration -- information.
Now, along these same lines, my administration is also confronting challenges to
what is known as the "state secrets" privilege. This is a doctrine that allows
the government to challenge legal cases involving secret programs. It's been
used by many past Presidents -- Republican and Democrat -- for many decades. And
while this principle is absolutely necessary in some circumstances to protect
national security, I am concerned that it has been over-used. It is also
currently the subject of a wide range of lawsuits. So let me lay out some
principles here. We must not protect information merely because it reveals the
violation of a law or embarrassment to the government. And that's why my
administration is nearing completion of a thorough review of this practice.
And we plan to embrace several principles for reform. We will apply a stricter
legal test to material that can be protected under the state secrets privilege.
We will not assert the privilege in court without first following our own formal
process, including review by a Justice Department committee and the personal
approval of the Attorney General. And each year we will voluntarily report to
Congress when we have invoked the privilege and why because, as I said before,
there must be proper oversight over our actions.
On all these matters related to the disclosure of sensitive information, I wish
I could say that there was some simple formula out there to be had. There is
not. These often involve tough calls, involve competing concerns, and they
require a surgical approach. But the common thread that runs through all of my
decisions is simple: We will safeguard what we must to protect the American
people, but we will also ensure the accountability and oversight that is the
hallmark of our constitutional system. I will never hide the truth because it's
uncomfortable. I will deal with Congress and the courts as co-equal branches of
government. I will tell the American people what I know and don't know, and when
I release something publicly or keep something secret, I will tell you why.
Now, in all the areas that I've discussed today, the policies that I've proposed
represent a new direction from the last eight years. To protect the American
people and our values, we've banned enhanced interrogation techniques. We are
closing the prison at Guantanamo. We are reforming military commissions, and we
will pursue a new legal regime to detain terrorists. We are declassifying more
information and embracing more oversight of our actions, and we're narrowing our
use of the state secrets privilege. These are dramatic changes that will put our
approach to national security on a surer, safer, and more sustainable footing.
Their implementation will take time, but they will get done.
There's a core principle that we will apply to all of our actions. Even as we
clean up the mess at Guantanamo, we will constantly reevaluate our approach,
subject our decisions to review from other branches of government, as well as
the public. We seek the strongest and most sustainable legal framework for
addressing these issues in the long term -- not to serve immediate politics, but
to do what's right over the long term. By doing that we can leave behind a
legacy that outlasts my administration, my presidency, that endures for the next
President and the President after that -- a legacy that protects the American
people and enjoys a broad legitimacy at home and abroad.
Now, this is what I mean when I say that we need to focus on the future. I
recognize that many still have a strong desire to focus on the past. When it
comes to actions of the last eight years, passions are high. Some Americans are
angry; others want to re-fight debates that have been settled, in some cases
debates that they have lost. I know that these debates lead directly, in some
cases, to a call for a fuller accounting, perhaps through an independent
I've opposed the creation of such a commission because I believe that our
existing democratic institutions are strong enough to deliver accountability.
The Congress can review abuses of our values, and there are ongoing inquiries by
the Congress into matters like enhanced interrogation techniques. The Department
of Justice and our courts can work through and punish any violations of our laws
or miscarriages of justice.
It's no secret there is a tendency in Washington to spend our time pointing
fingers at one another. And it's no secret that our media culture feeds the
impulse that lead to a good fight and good copy. But nothing will contribute
more than that than a extended relitigation of the last eight years. Already,
we've seen how that kind of effort only leads those in Washington to different
sides to laying blame. It can distract us from focusing our time, our efforts,
and our politics on the challenges of the future.
We see that, above all, in the recent debate -- how the recent debate has
obscured the truth and sends people into opposite and absolutist ends. On the
one side of the spectrum, there are those who make little allowance for the
unique challenges posed by terrorism, and would almost never put national
security over transparency. And on the other end of the spectrum, there are
those who embrace a view that can be summarized in two words: "Anything goes."
Their arguments suggest that the ends of fighting terrorism can be used to
justify any means, and that the President should have blanket authority to do
whatever he wants -- provided it is a President with whom they agree.
Both sides may be sincere in their views, but neither side is right. The
American people are not absolutist, and they don't elect us to impose a rigid
ideology on our problems. They know that we need not sacrifice our security for
our values, nor sacrifice our values for our security, so long as we approach
difficult questions with honesty and care and a dose of common sense. That,
after all, is the unique genius of America. That's the challenge laid down by
our Constitution. That has been the source of our strength through the ages.
That's what makes the United States of America different as a nation.
I can stand here today, as President of the United States, and say without
exception or equivocation that we do not torture, and that we will vigorously
protect our people while forging a strong and durable framework that allows us
to fight terrorism while abiding by the rule of law. Make no mistake: If we fail
to turn the page on the approach that was taken over the past several years,
then I will not be able to say that as President. And if we cannot stand for our
core values, then we are not keeping faith with the documents that are enshrined
in this hall. (Applause.)
The Framers who drafted the Constitution could not have foreseen the challenges
that have unfolded over the last 222 years. But our Constitution has endured
through secession and civil rights, through World War and Cold War, because it
provides a foundation of principles that can be applied pragmatically; it
provides a compass that can help us find our way. It hasn't always been easy. We
are an imperfect people. Every now and then, there are those who think that
America's safety and success requires us to walk away from the sacred principles
enshrined in this building. And we hear such voices today. But over the long
haul the American people have resisted that temptation. And though we've made
our share of mistakes, required some course corrections, ultimately we have held
fast to the principles that have been the source of our strength and a beacon to
Now this generation faces a great test in the specter of terrorism. And unlike
the Civil War or World War II, we can't count on a surrender ceremony to bring
this journey to an end. Right now, in distant training camps and in crowded
cities, there are people plotting to take American lives. That will be the case
a year from now, five years from now, and -- in all probability -- 10 years from
now. Neither I nor anyone can stand here today and say that there will not be
another terrorist attack that takes American lives. But I can say with certainty
that my administration -- along with our extraordinary troops and the patriotic
men and women who defend our national security -- will do everything in our
power to keep the American people safe. And I do know with certainty that we can
defeat al Qaeda. Because the terrorists can only succeed if they swell their
ranks and alienate America from our allies, and they will never be able to do
that if we stay true to who we are, if we forge tough and durable approaches to
fighting terrorism that are anchored in our timeless ideals. This must be our
I ran for President because I believe that we cannot solve the challenges of our
time unless we solve them together. We will not be safe if we see national
security as a wedge that divides America -- it can and must be a cause that
unites us as one people and as one nation. We've done so before in times that
were more perilous than ours. We will do so once again.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.
Text: Obama’s Speech
on National SecuritY, NYT, 22.5.2009,
Later Terror Link
Cited for 1 in 7 Freed Detainees
May 21, 2009
The New York Times
By ELISABETH BUMILLER
WASHINGTON — An unreleased Pentagon report concludes that about one in seven
of the 534 prisoners already transferred abroad from the detention center in
Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, are engaged in terrorism or militant activity, according
to administration officials.
The conclusion could strengthen the arguments of critics who have warned against
the transfer or release of any more detainees as part of President Obama’s plan
to shut down the prison by January. Past Pentagon reports on Guantánamo
recidivism have been met with skepticism from civil liberties groups and
criticized for their lack of detail.
The Pentagon promised in January that the latest report would be released soon,
but Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said this week that the findings were
still “under review.”
Two administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said the report
was being held up by Defense Department employees fearful of upsetting the White
House, at a time when even Congressional Democrats have begun to show misgivings
over Mr. Obama’s plan to close Guantánamo.
At the White House on Wednesday, Mr. Obama ran into a different kind of
resistance when he met with human rights advocates who told him they would
oppose any plan that would hold terrorism suspects without charges.
The White House has said Mr. Obama will provide further details about his plans
for Guantánamo detainees in a speech Thursday.
To relocate the 240 prisoners now at Guantánamo Bay, administration officials
have said the plan will ultimately rely on some combination of sending some
overseas for release, transferring others to the custody of foreign governments,
and moving the rest to facilities in the United States, either for military or
civilian trials or, in some cases, perhaps, to be held without charges.
But the prospect that detainees might be moved to American soil has run into
strong opposition in Congress. To show its misgivings, the Senate voted on
Wednesday, 90 to 6, to cut from a war-spending bill the $80 million requested by
Mr. Obama to close the prison, and overwhelmingly approved a second amendment
requiring that a threat assessment be prepared for each prisoner now at
Guantánamo to address what might happen on release.
The F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, said Wednesday that moving detainees
to American prisons would bring with it risks including “the potential for
individuals undertaking attacks in the United States.”
But Michele A. Flournoy, the under secretary of defense for policy, said of the
detainees: “I think there will be some that need to end up in the United
Pentagon officials said there had been no pressure from the Obama White House to
suppress the report about the Guantánamo detainees who had been transferred
abroad under the Bush administration. The officials said they believed that
Defense Department employees, some of them holdovers from the Bush
administration, were acting to protect their jobs.
The report is the subject of numerous Freedom of Information Act requests from
news media organizations, and Mr. Whitman said he expected it to be released
shortly. The report, a copy of which was made available to The New York Times,
says the Pentagon believes that 74 prisoners released from Guantánamo have
returned to terrorism or militant activity, making for a recidivism rate of
nearly 14 percent.
The report was made available by an official who said the delay in releasing it
was creating unnecessary “conspiracy theories” about the holdup.
A Defense Department official said there was little will at the Pentagon to
release the report because it had become politically radioactive under Mr.
“If we hold it, then everybody claims it’s political and you’re protecting the
Obama administration,” said the official, who asked for anonymity because of the
sensitivity of the situation. “And if we let it go, then everybody says you’re
Previous assertions by the Pentagon that substantial numbers of former
Guantánamo prisoners had returned to terrorism were sharply criticized by civil
liberties and human rights groups who said the information was too vague to be
credible and amounted to propaganda in favor of keeping the prison open. The
Pentagon began making the assertions in 2007 but stopped earlier this year,
shortly before Mr. Obama took office.
Among the 74 former prisoners that the report says are again engaged in
terrorism, 29 have been identified by name by the Pentagon, including 16 named
for the first time in the report. The Pentagon has said that the remaining 45
could not be named because of national security and intelligence-gathering
In the report, the Pentagon confirmed that two former Guantánamo prisoners whose
terrorist activities had been previously reported had indeed returned to the
fight. They are Said Ali al-Shihri, a leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch
suspected in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Sana, Yemen’s
capital, last year, and Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul, an Afghan Taliban commander, who
also goes by the name Mullah Abdullah Zakir.
The Pentagon has provided no way of authenticating its 45 unnamed recidivists,
and only a few of the 29 people identified by name can be independently verified
as having engaged in terrorism since their release. Many of the 29 are simply
described as associating with terrorists or training with terrorists, with
almost no other details provided.
“It’s part of a campaign to win the hearts and minds of history for Guantánamo,”
said Mark P. Denbeaux, a professor at Seton Hall University School of Law who
has represented Guantánamo detainees and co-written three studies highly
critical of the Pentagon’s previous recidivism reports. “They want to be able to
claim there really were bad people there.”
Mr. Denbeaux acknowledged that some of the named detainees had engaged in
verifiable terrorist acts since their release, but he said his research showed
that their numbers were small.
“We’ve never said there weren’t some people who would return to the fight,” Mr.
Denbeaux said. “It seems to be unavoidable. Nothing is perfect.”
Terrorism experts said a 14 percent recidivism rate was far lower than the rate
for prisoners in the United States, which, they said, can run as high as 68
percent three years after release. They also said that while Americans might
have a lower level of tolerance for recidivism among Guantánamo detainees, there
was no evidence that any of those released had engaged in elaborate operations
like the Sept. 11 attacks.
In addition to Mr. Shihri and Mr. Rasoul, at least three others among the 29
named have engaged in verifiable terrorist activity or have threatened terrorist
Margot Williams contributed reporting from New York, and David Herszenhorn
Later Terror Link Cited
for 1 in 7 Freed Detainees, 21.5.2009, NYT,
Funds to Close Guantánamo Denied
May 21, 2009
The New York Times
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
WASHINGTON — The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to cut from a war
spending bill the $80 million requested by President Obama to close the
detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and to bar the transfer of detainees
to the United States and its territories.
The vote, which complicates Mr. Obama’s efforts to shutter the prison by his
deadline of Jan. 22, 2010, was 90 to 6. Republicans voted unanimously in favor
of cutting the money.
“The American people don’t want these men walking the streets of America’s
neighborhoods,” said Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota. “The
American people don’t want these detainees held at a military base or federal
prison in their back yard, either.”
The six Democrats who voted against the measure include some of their party’s
most prominent voices on military affairs and criminal justice issues. Among
them were Senators Carl Levin of Michigan, the chairman of the Armed Services
Committee; Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a West Point graduate and former Army
Ranger, and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
Senators Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the majority whip; Tom Harkin of Iowa
and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island were the others voting against the
The vote was on an amendment to a $91.3 billion military spending bill that will
finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as some other national security
programs, including preparations for pandemic flu, through Sept. 30.
The abrupt decision by Senate Democratic leaders to strip out the money for
closing the Guantánamo detention center amounted to a strong rebuke of the Obama
White House, which lawmakers in both parties have criticized for not providing a
more detailed plan for what will be done with the 240 detainees currently held
in the prison.
Senate Democrats had initially hoped to preserve the financing for closing the
prison. House Democrats, however, had already stripped the money from their
version of the military spending bill, saying they could not authorize funds
without first reviewing Mr. Obama’s plans for the prisoners.
Mr. Obama is scheduled to outline some of those plans in a speech on Thursday in
Robert S. Mueller 3d, the director of the F.B.I., told a House panel on
Wednesday that he is concerned that Guantánamo detainees could foment terrorism
if they are sent to the United States. On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that
the United States could continue to hold some detainees at the base indefinitely
Even so, Mr. Obama has faced growing demands in recent days, from both parties
but particularly from Republicans, to spell out in detail how he plans to close
the Guantánamo detention center and to provide assurances that detainees would
not end up on American soil, not even in maximum security prisons.
The move by Senate Democrats to bar, for now, any transfer of detainees to the
United States, raised the possibility that Mr. Obama’s order to close the camp
by Jan. 22, 2010, may have to be changed or delayed.
“Guantánamo makes us less safe,” the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of
Nevada, said on Tuesday at a news conference where he laid out the party’s
rationale for its decision. “However, this is neither the time nor the bill to
deal with this. Democrats under no circumstances will move forward without a
comprehensive, responsible plan from the president. We will never allow
terrorists to be released into the United States.”
Senate Democrats said they still backed Mr. Obama’s decision to close the
prison. But lawmakers have not exactly been eager to accept detainees in their
home states. When the tiny town of Hardin, Mont., offered to put the terrorism
suspects in its empty jail, Montana’s senators, both Democrats, and its
representative, a Republican, quickly voiced opposition.
Administration officials have indicated that if the Guantánamo camp closes as
scheduled more than 100 prisoners may need to be moved to the United States,
including 50 to 100 who have been described as too dangerous to release.
Of the 240 detainees, 30 have been cleared for release. Some are likely to be
transferred to foreign countries, though other governments have been reluctant
to take them. Britain and France have each accepted one former detainee. And
while as many as 80 of the detainees will be prosecuted, it remains unclear what
will happen to those who are convicted and sentenced to prison.
At the White House on Tuesday, the press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said the
administration expected that Congress would eventually release the money to
close the camp, and he suggested that the concerns of lawmakers would start to
be addressed on Thursday, when Mr. Obama will present a “hefty part” of his
At the Pentagon, a spokesman, Geoff Morrell, said Tuesday that he believed that
the administration remained on track to meet the deadline for closing the
prison. “I see nothing to indicate that that date is at all in jeopardy,” Mr.
As the administration has struggled with the issue, it has come under assault
from the right and the left.
Conservatives have sought to portray the president as weak on national security.
Liberals, including some human rights advocates, have criticized several of Mr.
Obama’s decisions, including his plan to revive the military commissions created
by the Bush administration to prosecute terrorism suspects held at Guantánamo.
Lawmakers, mindful of polls showing wide public opposition to bringing detainees
to the United States, have expressed concerns about the safety of their
constituents, and some have said that any location housing detainees, even the
most secure prisons, would become a potential target for a terrorist attack.
On Tuesday Republicans, including the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell of
Kentucky, who has been warning for weeks about the dangers of closing the
prison, applauded the Democrats’ decision.
At a news conference, Mr. McConnell said he hoped it was a prelude to keeping
the camp open and dangerous terrorism suspects offshore, where he said they
belong. He noted that no prisoner had escaped from Guantánamo since the Sept. 11
“Guantánamo is the perfect place for these terrorists,” Mr. McConnell said.
“However, if the president ends up sticking with this decision to close it next
January, obviously they need a place to be. It ought not to be the United States
Senate Democrats on Tuesday conceded that their decision to shift course in part
reflected the success of Republicans in putting them on the defensive.
But the Democrats said they had also acted to avert a partisan feud that would
delay the military-spending measure, which is needed to finance the wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan and other national security programs through Sept. 30. The House
last week overwhelmingly approved the $96.7 billion spending measure after
stripping the money for closing Guantánamo and inserting language barring Mr.
Obama from transferring any detainees to the United States without first
presenting a detailed plan to Congress, and giving lawmakers a chance to review
Later in the week, the White House announced that it would revive the military
commissions to prosecute some of the terrorism suspects held at Guantánamo.
The Obama administration said it would expand the legal rights of suspects,
including a limit on the use of hearsay evidence and a ban on evidence gained
from cruel treatment.
Still, discomfort has only grown in Congress. Senate Democrats had initially
included the $80 million for closing the prison in their version of the
war-spending measure, but with tight restrictions requiring Mr. Obama to submit
a plan before the money could be used.
Jim Manley, a spokesman for Mr. Reid, said the majority leader had not intended
to suggest that detainees could never be transferred to American prisons, but
only to say that the Senate would not provide money for closing Guantánamo until
a task force created by Mr. Obama presented a report on detainee policy in July.
Mr. Reid in his comments, however, was unequivocal in insisting that the
terrorism suspects never reach American shores.
“You can’t put them in prison unless you release them,” he said. “We will never
allow terrorists to be released in the United States.”
Mr. Reid said he and other Senate Democrats had shifted course after seeing the
version of the spending bill approved by the House last week, a rare gesture of
deference by the upper chamber of Congress to the lower one.
“In looking at the position of the House, that was more logical,” Mr. Reid said.
“We have clearly said all along that we wanted a plan. We don’t have a plan. And
based on that, this is not the bill to deal with this.”
Sheryl Gay Stolberg and David Stout contributed reporting.
Funds to Close
Guantánamo Denied, NYT, 21.5.2009,
Judge Issues Split Ruling
on Who Can Be Detained
May 21, 2009
The New York Times
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
WASHINGTON — A federal district judge on Tuesday sought to define how much
involvement with Al Qaeda or the Taliban is necessary to make someone subject to
indefinite detention without trial at Guantánamo Bay. The ruling gave neither
the Obama administration nor the attorneys representing the detainees what they
In a 22-page opinion, District Judge John D. Bates said that a detainee must
have been an actual member of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces, or
have directly participated in belligerent acts, to be detained indefinitely.
Judge Bates rejected the Obama administration’s contention that it should also
be able to indefinitely detain people who merely “supported” those
But the judge also ruled that anyone who “receives and executives orders or
directions” from those groups may be detained, even if he never directly
participated in hostilities. That part of the ruling rejected the detainee
lawyers’ claim that the laws of war do not allow the president to detain
“civilians” merely for being members of an enemy group.
Judge Bates’s ruling was the latest step in long-running litigation over the
rights of terrorism suspects. The Supreme Court has ruled that the military can
imprison Al Qaeda and Taliban members indefinitely and without trial, but it has
also ruled that detainees have a right to go to court and make the case that
they are not terrorists.
In order to make such a determination, district judges first need a standard for
how much involvement with Al Qaeda or the Taliban is required to make someone
subject to detention. Earlier this year, the Obama administration changed the
standard that the Bush administration had proposed using — for one thing,
dropping the term “enemy combatant.”
Judge Bates’s mixed ruling on the Obama administration’s proposed standard is
likely to add to the legal confusion surrounding the rights of Guantánamo
His ruling applies only to a set of Guantánamo-detainee habeas corpus cases that
are pending in his courtroom, and other judges on the federal district court for
the District of Columbia remain free to adopt different standards.
Indeed, two other district judges have already adopted two other standards that
appear to give greater power to the government.
“Even with what we perceive as its flaws, it is the best decision from the
detainees’ point of view,” said Peter Ellis, a Boston attorney who is
representing one of the detainees.
Mr. Ellis said the detainees’ legal team had not yet decided whether to appeal
the part of Judge Bates’s ruling that they disagree with now, or to go forward
with individual hearings under his definition and save the issue for later.
Similarly, Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman, said that the
administration is still reviewing the decision.
Legal specialists say that it is likely that the Court of Appeals for the
District of Columbia will eventually issue a single standard that all judges can
apply uniformly — and that they expect the dispute to reach the Supreme Court
before it is resolved.
Judge Issues Split
Ruling on Who Can Be Detained, NYT, 21.5.2009,
Pelosi Says Bush Team
Misled Her on Waterboarding
May 14, 2009
Filed at 1:42 p.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Under strong attack from Republicans, House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi accused the CIA and Bush administration of misleading her about
waterboarding detainees in the war on terror and sharply rebutted claims she was
complicit in the method's use.
''To the contrary ... we were told explicitly that waterboarding was not being
used,'' she told reporters, referring to a formal CIA briefing she received in
the fall of 2002.
Pelosi said she subsequently learned that other lawmakers were told several
months later by the CIA about the use of waterboarding.
''I wasn't briefed, I was informed that somebody else had been briefed about
it,'' she said.
The House's top Democrat made her comments at a news conference where she was
peppered with questions about her knowledge of a technique she and others have
called torture. Republicans have insisted in recent weeks that Pelosi and other
Democrats knew waterboarding was in use but made no attempt to protest.
Pelosi's comments Thursday were her most pointed yet on the topic of what she
learned about waterboarding.
In a written response issued moments after Pelosi spoke, an official at the CIA
neither disputed nor accepted the California Democrat's statements.
Instead, George Little, head of the CIA office of public affairs, said it would
be up to Congress to determine whether notes made by agency personnel at the
time they briefed lawmakers were accurate. He said the notes could be made
available at the CIA ''for staff review.''
House Republican Leader John Boehner dismissed Pelosi's account.
''When you look at the number of briefings that the Speaker was in and other
Democrat members of the House and Senate, it's pretty clear that they were well
aware of what these enhanced interrogation techniques were,'' said the Ohio
lawmaker. ''They were well aware that they had been used, and it seems to me
that they want to have it both ways. You can't have it both ways.''
Despite Boehner's comments, CIA records show Pelosi attended only one briefing
-- the one in the fall of 2002 where she says she was told that waterboarding
had not been used. A chart released by the CIA detailing its briefings for
lawmakers is vague on what transpired at that session. It says Pelosi and the
top Intelligence Committee Republican, then-Rep. Porter J. Goss of Florida, were
given a ''description of the particular (enhanced interrogation techniques) that
had been employed,'' without further details.
The chart specifically notes a discussion of waterboarding in 13 briefings
between February 2003 and March 2009, most attended by Democrats as well as
Pelosi renewed her call for a so-called truth commission to investigate the
events in the Bush administration that led to the use of waterboarding and other
harsh interrogation techniques. While President Barack Obama has banned
waterboarding, calling it torture, he has been notably cool toward an
independent inquiry that might distract attention from his domestic agenda.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also has expressed opposition, as
have congressional Republicans.
Pelosi was particularly harsh in describing the CIA.
''They mislead us all the time,'' she said. And when a reporter asked whether
the agency had lied, Pelosi said yes.
She also suggested that the current Republican criticism marked an attempt to
divert attention from the Bush administration's actions.
''They misrepresented every step of the way, and they don't want that focus on
them, so they try to turn the attention on us,'' she said.
Pelosi contended that Democrats did what they could to stop the use of
waterboarding. The senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, who received
the 2003 briefing on the practice, sent the CIA a formal letter of protest, she
But Pelosi defended her own lack of action on the issue, saying her focus at the
time was on wresting congressional control from Republicans so her party could
''No letter could change the policy. It was clear we had to change the
leadership in Congress and in the White House. That was my job -- the Congress
part,'' Pelosi said.
When Pelosi first addressed the question in late April, she said only that those
present at her 2002 briefing were not told that the practice had been employed.
''We were not -- I repeat, were not -- told that waterboarding or any of these
other enhanced interrogation methods were used,'' she said at the time.
Later, her spokesman elaborated, saying Pelosi had been told the methods were
legal but that they had not yet been used.
On Thursday, Pelosi accused the CIA of having lied during that session by
explicitly telling her that waterboarding was not used.
Associated Press Writers David Espo and Ann Sanner contributed to this report.
Pelosi Says Bush Team
Misled Her on Waterboarding, NYT, 14.5.2009,
to Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi?
The death in a Libyan prison of the al-Qaida suspect
reminds us of his shameful mistreatment at American hands
Wednesday 13 May 2009 12.44 BST
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk
at 12.44 BST on Wednesday 13
It was last updated
at 12.45 BST on Wednesday 13 May 2009.
"From Allah we come and to Him shall we return." Thus begin hundreds of
comments on leading Arabic language news sites today, in response to the death
of Ali al-Fakhiri – better known to the world as Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi. But the
report of the alleged suicide in his cell in a Libyan prison, where he had been
held since 2006, has been met widely with scepticism.
His capture in November 2001 wasn't announced officially until January 2002,
when US media hailed al-Libi's capture as that of the highest ranking member of
al-Qaida in US military custody. By the time I was kidnapped and detained by US
officials and taken to the US detention facility in Kandahar, I had already
heard rumours that al-Libi had been transported by the Americans in a coffin to
some unspecified location. And when I was moved to the Bagram detention facility
I was told by US intelligence agents that if I did not co-operate I would be
meeting the same fate as him. They said he didn't answer their questions so they
sent him to Egypt. There he told them his life story within two days.
What I didn't know at the time – but have learned and spoken about since – is
that al-Libi was severely tortured, including by water-boarding, into confessing
that al-Qaida was working with Saddam Hussain on obtaining chemical and
biological weapons in order to kill Americans. This information was submitted to
Colin Powell, the then US secretary of state, who argued the case for war
against Iraq based heavily on this information – which he described as credible
and reliable. But a year later al-Libi retracted his statement. That mattered
little to the people of Iraq, who by then were fully under the US-led
The US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) later opined that al-Libi's information
was not correct and that he had made the confession either under duress or to
get better treatment. What the world knew by then was that there were no weapons
of mass destruction in Iraq and that al-Qaida had no presence in Iraq until the
But in all of this, what became of al-Libi? In late 2006, President Bush
announced that all high-value detainees (HVD) were being transferred from secret
detention sites to Guantánamo Bay to face trial by military commission. Indeed,
several allegedly high-ranking suspects, whose location had been kept hidden
until then, were sent in 2007 to Guantánamo. They included Abu Zubaydah, said to
be a close associate of al-Libi and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged al-Qaida
Al-Libi, however, was not so fortunate. Human rights organisations reported in
2007 that al-Libi had been handed over to the latest ally in the "war on
terror", Libya. Here he was sentenced to life imprisonment – his charges or
trial have never been reported or made public – and ended up, dying of
tuberculosis, isolated in a desert prison. It's anyone's guess as to why the US
authorities chose not to send al-Libi to Guantánamo for trial, but it seems
blatantly obvious to me. Perhaps one of the brave lawyers who are not given the
chance to fight their clients' cases in a court of law would have done so in the
court of public opinion – at a time when the world's most notorious prison – and
war – was so much in the public domain.
There had been much talk by lawyers, activists, journalists and human rights
groups about speaking to al-Libi somehow – before it was too late – and
reportedly a delegation from Human Rights Watch were recently able to gain
access to him. If the report of his death is true, exactly what happened to
al-Libi, like many other cases of enforced disappearances, will probably remain
unknown. The reports say that he was last visited by family members on 29 April
this year. Perhaps they have an idea about how he really died and why he wasn't
sent to Guantánamo. They probably are too scared to tell anyone, even if they do
know. As is often the case, the wife and child he leaves behind don't even
But the case of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi – the man whose tortured testimony was
used to justify a war that cost the lives of tens of thousands of people and,
ironically, indirectly led to the pre-trial detention of thousands more – should
serve as a stark reminder of what happens when torture is applied to gain
information. President Obama has recently granted immunity to CIA agents who may
well have been involved in al-Libi's interrogation and torture. If the desire to
get at what went wrong is so blatantly covered up under cover of "national
security concerns", there will be no end to this. And once again, the warmongers
will get away with another odious and criminal cover-up.
What happened to Ibn
al-Sheikh al-Libi?, G, 13.6.2009,
Minnesota, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Former Vice-President Dick Cheney.
13 May 2009
Emphasis on Al Qaeda
at Three-Way Talks
May 7, 2009
The New York Times
By HELENE COOPER
WASHINGTON — Confronting a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and
Pakistan, President Obama said Wednesday that the United States was deeply
committed to helping the two countries defeat Al Qaeda and its extremist
partners, and in helping democracy endure and flourish.
“No matter what happens, we will not be deterred,” Mr. Obama said during an
appearance in the White House grand foyer after meeting with President Asif Ali
Zardari of Pakistan and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan. “Every day we see
evidence of the future that Al Qaeda and its allies offer. It’s a future filled
with violence and despair.”
Mr. Obama’s remarks came as the deaths of dozens of Afghan civilians in western
Afghanistan, from what Afghan officials and villagers said were American
airstrikes, served as a reminder that deep problems in the region extended
beyond Pakistan, the most recent American focus.
The three-way meeting with Mr. Zardari and Mr. Karzai was intended by the White
House, in part, to press both men to do more to crack down on the rising threat
from the Taliban and Al Qaeda in both countries. “We meet today as three
sovereign nations joined by a common goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al
Qaeda and its extremist allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan and to prevent their
ability to operate in either country in the future,” Mr. Obama said.
The two visiting leaders were in talks all day with administration officials,
including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; Gen. James L. Jones, the
national security adviser; and Richard C. Holbrooke, Mr. Obama’s special
representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. American officials want Mr. Zardari
and the Pakistani Army to move troops, including the country’s 11th Infantry
Division, from Lahore and the eastern part of the country, where the army has
been preoccupied with India, toward the western border, where the government is
battling Taliban insurgents.
Pakistani officials told their American counterparts this week that they were
moving large numbers of troops toward the border with Afghanistan, which
American officials described as encouraging.
But it remains a question whether these troop movements are real or token, and
some of Mr. Obama’s senior aides caution that Pakistan’s military is ill suited
to carry out the kind of counterinsurgency operations needed to end the Taliban
fighters’ control of Swat, in the North-West Frontier Province, and to keep them
from infiltrating again or shifting to another region.
“They’re fundamentally not organized, trained or equipped for what they’ve been
asked to do,” said a senior administration official who is closely following the
Pakistani military operations in Swat, and who spoke on condition of anonymity
to avoid offending the visiting Pakistani leaders. “They will displace the
Taliban for a while. But there will also be a lot of displaced persons and a lot
of collateral damage. And they won’t be able to sustain those effects or extend
the gains geographically.”
None of this was said publicly on Wednesday, as American officials, from Mr.
Obama on down, sought to strike an optimistic tone in the presence of Mr.
Zardari and Mr. Karzai.
The focus, the American officials told reporters, was on ways that Afghanistan
and Pakistan, both unstable and strategically vital, could work with each other
and with the United States to fight the militants who plague both countries.
“Our strategy reflects a fundamental truth,” Mr. Obama said. “The security of
Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States are linked.”
Mrs. Clinton made much the same point at an earlier briefing, suggesting that it
would not be incorrect to think of Pakistan and Afghanistan as “conjoined twins”
as the United States tries to help each tame the forces that spawn terrorism and
“The confidence-building that is necessary for this relationship to turn into
tangible cooperation is moving forward,” Mrs. Clinton said. “And I think today’s
series of meetings is another step along that road.”
Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton described the three-way talks as focusing not just on
military and diplomatic moves, but also on attempts to shore up the pillars of
society in Afghanistan and Pakistan — by “developing alternatives to the drug
trade” in Afghanistan, as Mr. Obama put it in alluding to the traditional
poppy-and-opium trade, and by fostering grass-roots democracy in both countries.
They also announced that Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed Wednesday to conclude
by the end of the year a trade pact that has been under discussion for more than
four decades, one meant to increase commerce between the countries, which have
long regarded each other with mutual suspicion.
Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Holbrooke held an unscheduled meeting early Wednesday with
Mr. Zardari, huddling for an hour with him at his hotel, the Willard. Pakistani
officials said they discussed steps that the administration wanted the
government to take in dealing with the Taliban insurgency.
Appearing late in the White House briefing room, Mrs. Clinton told reporters
that the Willard visit had also been “personal,” saying that she got to meet Mr.
Zardari’s son, Bilal Bhutto Zardari, who is 20, for the first time in 10 years.
The elder Mr. Zardari, for his part, alluded several times during his visit to
the assassination of his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was
shot and killed after a rally in Rawalpindi in 2007. “Democracy will avenge the
death of my wife and the thousands of Pakistani citizens around the world,” he
said during an appearance at the State Department.
Mr. Zardari still has work to do to convince Congress of his government’s
ability to beat back the Taliban insurgency. A 90-minute meeting with the House
Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday did not help his cause: members said they
were confused and disappointed by Mr. Zardari’s presentation.
“He did not present a coherent strategy for the defeat of the insurgency,” said
Representative Howard L. Berman, a California Democrat who is the committee’s
chairman. “I had a sense of what they are doing today. I did not have a sense of
what they plan to do tomorrow.”
The lack of detail, Mr. Berman said, underscores why Congress needs to attach
tough conditions in authorizing any further military aid to Pakistan. Mr.
Zardari made a forceful plea for assistance, Mr. Berman said, at one point
referring to the government bailout of American International Group.
“I pointed out that the conditions on A.I.G. are a lot stronger than the
conditionality in our bill,” he said.
Eric Schmitt and Mark Landler contributed reporting.
Emphasis on Al Qaeda at
Three-Way Talks, NYT, 7.5.2009,
Justice Dept. Finds Flaws
in F.B.I. Terror List
May 7, 2009
The New York Times
By ERIC LICHTBLAU
WASHINGTON — The Federal Bureau of Investigation has incorrectly kept nearly
24,000 people on a terrorist watch list on the basis of outdated or sometimes
irrelevant information, while missing people with genuine ties to terrorism who
should have been on the list, according to a Justice Department report released
The report said the mistakes posed a risk to national security, because of the
failure to flag actual terrorism suspects, and an unnecessary nuisance for
nonsuspects who may be questioned at traffic stops or kept from boarding
By the beginning of 2009, the report said, this consolidated government watch
list comprised about 400,000 people, recorded as 1.1 million names and aliases,
an exponential growth from the days before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Among the list’s uses is the screening of people entering the country, and
intelligence officials say it has allowed agencies to work together to prevent
the type of breakdown that allowed two of the Sept. 11 hijackers to get into the
United States even though they were known to the Central Intelligence Agency for
their terrorist ties.
But the new report, by the office of the Justice Department’s inspector general,
provides the most authoritative statistical account to date of the problems
connected with the list. An earlier report by the inspector general, released in
March 2008, looked mainly at flaws in the system, without an emphasis on the
number of people caught up in it.
The list has long been a target of public criticism, particularly after
well-publicized errors in which politicians including Senator Edward M. Kennedy
and Representative John Lewis showed up on it. People with names similar to
actual terrorists have complained that it can take months to be removed from the
list, and civil liberties advocates charge that antiwar protesters, Muslim
activists and others have been listed for political reasons.
The new report from the inspector general, Glenn A. Fine, looked mainly at the
F.B.I., which took the lead in 2004 for maintaining the newly consolidated list
for all agencies throughout the government.
One of the biggest problems identified in the report was the use of outdated
information, or material unconnected to terrorism, to keep people on the
bureau’s own terror watch list, which is incorporated in the consolidated list.
The report, examining nearly 69,000 referrals to the F.B.I. list that were
either brought or processed by the bureau, found that 35 percent of those
people, both Americans and foreigners, remained on the list despite inadequate
“Many of these watch-listed records were associated with outdated terrorism case
classifications or case classifications unrelated to terrorism,” the report
In some cases, it said, subjects of F.B.I. investigations that had been closed
years earlier without action either were never removed from watch lists or were
not removed in a timely fashion.
Potentially even more problematic were the cases of people who were not listed
despite evidence of terrorist ties.
The inspector general looked at a sampling of 216 F.B.I. terrorism
investigations and found that in 15 percent of them, a total of 35 subjects were
not referred to the list even though they should have been.
In one case, for instance, a Special Forces soldier was investigated and
ultimately convicted of stealing some 16,500 rounds of ammunition, C-4
explosives and other matériel from Afghanistan and shipping them to the United
States in what investigators suspected might be the makings of a domestic
terrorist plot. Yet the suspect was not placed on the watch list until nearly
five months after the investigation opened.
“We believe that the F.B.I.’s failure to consistently nominate subjects of
international and domestic terrorism investigations to the terrorist watch list
could pose a risk to national security,” the inspector general said.
Caroline Fredrickson, director of the Washington legislative office of the
American Civil Liberties Union, said her group’s monitoring of watch lists
indicated that the problems identified at the F.B.I. were endemic to the entire
“What this report really shows is that on both ends, the lists are really
overinclusive and underinclusive,” Ms. Fredrickson said in an interview. “With
1.1 million names, there’s all sorts of problems that have larded it up, and the
whole thing just really needs to be torn down and start a new system.”
The F.B.I. said Wednesday that it had already adopted all 16 of the inspector
general’s recommendations for improving watch list operations, including better
training and faster processing of referrals.
The bureau said in a statement that “we remain committed to improving our watch
list policy and practices to ensure the proper balance between national security
protection and the need for accurate, efficient and streamlined watch-listing
Justice Dept. Finds
Flaws in F.B.I. Terror List, NYT, 7.5.2009,