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History > 2009 > USA > Terrorism (II)



Edel Rodriguez


Obama, Cheney and the Terror Fight


















C.I.A. Abuse Cases Detailed

in Report on Detainees


August 26, 2009
The New York Times



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 Qaeda’s plots.”

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 decision.

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 “exhaustively reviewed.”

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/26/us/politics/26intel.html






Report Provides New Details

on C.I.A. Prisoner Abuse


August 23, 2009
The New York Times


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 drill.

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 tapes.

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 imminent death.

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 C.I.A. custody.

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 interrogation techniques.

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 guidelines.

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 Capitol Hill.

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 attack.

“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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/23/us/politics/23cia.html






Judge Orders

Guantánamo Detainee

to Be Freed


July 31, 2009
The New York Times


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 notice.

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 the attack.

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 back home.”

    Judge Orders Guantánamo Detainee to Be Freed, NYT, 31.7.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/31/us/31gitmo.html?hpw







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 civilian authorities.

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 should investigate.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/30/opinion/30thu1.html?hpw






Op-Ed Contributor

Warrantless Criticism


July 27, 2009
The New York Times



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 sources.

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 discovered.

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.

    Warrantless Criticism, NYT, 27.7.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/27/opinion/27hayden.html






Op-Ed Contributor

Their Own Private Guantánamo


July 23, 2009
The New York Times


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 government secrecy.

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 legal.

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 enemy.

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 severed.”

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 secret.

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 records show.

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 fighters.

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 clear standards.

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 investigative-reporting group.

    Their Own Private Guantánamo, NYT, 23.7.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/23/opinion/23lee.html







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 communications.

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, NYT, 17.7.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/17/opinion/17fri1.html






E-Mail Surveillance

Renews Concerns in Congress


June 17, 2009
The New York Times


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 said.

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 in operation.

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 communications.

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 technicalities.”

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 detainees.

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 so.

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.

    E-Mail Surveillance Renews Concerns in Congress, NYT, 17.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/17/us/17nsa.html






Op-Ed Contributor

A Threat in Every Port


June 15, 2009
The New York Times


Stanford, Calif.

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 ship.

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 to start.

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, NYT, 15.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/15/opinion/15wein.html






Out of Guantánamo,

Uighurs Bask in Bermuda


June 15, 2009
The New York Times


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 confinement.

“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 properly consulted.

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 them.

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 China.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/15/world/americas/15uighur.html?hp






Judge Allows Civil Lawsuit

Over Claims of Torture


June 14, 2009
The New York Times


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 impact.

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 protect.”

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 the decision.”

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/14/us/politics/14yoo.html?hpw






6 Detainees Are Freed

as Questions Linger


June 12, 2009
The New York Times


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 remaining men.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/12/world/12gitmo.html?hp






Ex-Ga. Tech Student

Convicted of Video Terror Plot


June 10, 2009
Filed at 10:40 a.m. ET
The New York Times


ATLANTA (AP) -- A federal judge convicted a former Georgia Tech student Wednesday of plotting to aid a terrorist group by videotaping landmarks around Washington, D.C.

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 abroad.

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 propaganda online.

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 Georgia woods.

''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 arrived home.

''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, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/06/10/us/AP-US-Terrorism-Trial.html?hpw






Guantánamo Detainee Arrives in U.S.


June 9, 2009
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 case.''

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 Americans.

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 in 1998.

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 do.''

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 camps.

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.

    Guantánamo Detainee Arrives in U.S., NYT, 9.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/06/09/us/AP-US-Guantanamo-Detainee.html?hp






Cleared of Terror Charges,

Facing Deportation


June 4, 2009
The New York Times


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 authorities.

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 home.”

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 wrong.”

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 device.

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 will see.”


Lynn Waddell contributed reporting from Tampa, Fla.

    Cleared of Terror Charges, Facing Deportation, NYT, 4.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/04/us/04terror.html?hp






Message on Obama

Attributed to Bin Laden


June 4, 2009
The New York Times


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 toward Americans.”

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 used.

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 exploit.

“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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/04/world/middleeast/04binladen.html







Obama, Cheney

and the Terror Fight


May 23, 2009
The New York Times


To the Editor:

Re “Obama 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.

Fred LaMotte
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 half-century ago.

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 human behavior.

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 its citizens.

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.

Nonso Umunna
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.

Norm Rosenblatt
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 place.

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.

Michael Califra
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 dubious confessions.

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.

Kenneth Roth
Executive Director
Human Rights Watch
New York, May 19, 2009

    Obama, Cheney and the Terror Fight, NYT, 23.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/23/opinion/l23terror.html?hpw






Gates Defends Decision

to Close Guantanamo Prison


May 22, 2009
Filed at 7:33 a.m. ET
The New York Times


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 strategy.

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.

    Gates Defends Decision to Close Guantanamo Prison, NYT, 22.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/05/22/us/politics/AP-US-US-Guantanamo.html






In Bronx Bomb Case,

Steps and Missteps, on Tape


May 22, 2009
The New York Times


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 went.

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 complaint.

“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 school.

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 his “team.”

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 the complaint.

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 the bombings.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/22/nyregion/22plot.html?hp






N.Y. Bomb Plot Suspects Acted Alone,

Police Say


May 22, 2009
The New York Times



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 Jews.”

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 eerily quiet.

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 said.

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 the cars.

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 Afghanistan.

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 complaint said.

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 terrorist group.

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 services.

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 expressing relief.

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 beginning.”


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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/22/nyregion/22terror.html?hp






Civilian Trial for Man

Charged in ’98 Bombings


May 22, 2009
The New York Times


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 detention center.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/22/us/22gitmo.html?hp






Obama Mounts Defense of Detainee Plan


May 22, 2009
The New York Times


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 cherished ideals.

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 near-isolation.

“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 overall speech.

“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 speech today.”

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 supposedly inherited.

Shortly after President Obama finished his speech, television networks cut away to Mr. Cheney’s speech, titled “Keeping America Safe,” delivered to the American Enterprise Institute.

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 reporting.

    Obama Mounts Defense of Detainee Plan, NYT, 22.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/22/us/politics/22obama.html






Obama Would Move

Some Detainees to U.S.


May 22, 2009
The New York Times


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 nation’s security.

“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 fundamental values.”

But Mr. Cheney, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, a bastion of conservative thought, put forth another worldview, in which security is paramount.

“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 one.”

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 national security.

“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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/22/us/politics/22obama.html







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 world.

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 world.

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 expedience sake.

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 upheaval.

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 government.

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 hateful ideology.

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 detained.

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 not rational.

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 effective.

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 transparency.

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. (Applause.)

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 commission.

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 the world.

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 common purpose.

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. (Applause.)

    Text: Obama’s Speech on National SecuritY, NYT, 22.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/21/us/politics/21obama.text.html






Later Terror Link

Cited for 1 in 7 Freed Detainees


May 21, 2009
The New York Times


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 States.”

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. Obama.

“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 undermining Obama.”

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 concerns.

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 acts.


Margot Williams contributed reporting from New York, and David Herszenhorn from Washington.

    Later Terror Link Cited for 1 in 7 Freed Detainees, 21.5.2009, NYT, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/21/us/politics/21gitmo.html






Funds to Close Guantánamo Denied


May 21, 2009
The New York Times


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 measure.

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 Washington.

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 without charges.

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 plan.

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. Morrell said.

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 attacks.

“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 of America.”

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 it.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/21/us/politics/21gitmo.html






Judge Issues Split Ruling

on Who Can Be Detained


May 21, 2009
The New York Times


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 sought.

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 organizations.

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 detainees.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/21/us/politics/21bates.html?ref=politics






Pelosi Says Bush Team

Misled Her on Waterboarding


May 14, 2009
Filed at 1:42 p.m. ET
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 Republicans.

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 said.

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 change course.

''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, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/05/14/us/politics/AP-US-Pelosi-Torture.html






What happened

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
Moazzam Begg
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk
at 12.44 BST on Wednesday 13 May 2009.
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 occupation.

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 2003 invasion.

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 mastermind.

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 matter.

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, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2009/may/13/ibn-al-sheikh-al-libi

















Steve Sack

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


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 violence.

“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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/07/world/asia/07prexy.html






Justice Dept. Finds Flaws

in F.B.I. Terror List


May 7, 2009
The New York Times


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 Wednesday.

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 airplanes.

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 justification.

“Many of these watch-listed records were associated with outdated terrorism case classifications or case classifications unrelated to terrorism,” the report said.

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 system.

“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 processes.”

Justice Dept. Finds Flaws in F.B.I. Terror List, NYT, 7.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/07/us/07terror.html