Category Archives: War on Terror

Chinese Muslim languishes in Gitmo legal limbo

Note: This is an article than ran in the Sept. 29 edition of the Chicago Tribune.

WASHINGTON — The United States held him for seven years and then, ultimately, decided that he poses no threat to national security. But he’s still sitting in prison at Guantanamo Bay because no other country will take him. Nor will the U.S. let him come here to live, even temporarily. 

In the Kafkaesque world of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, being eligible for freedom doesn’t make you free. 

He is Huzaifa Parhat, who now promises to be the next test case in detainee rights in the war on terror. Parhat is a Uighur, a Muslim from western China, picked up in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks on suspicion of having ties to the Taliban. Some Uighurs (pronounced WE-goors) are part of a movement that seeks separation from China to form their own Islamic nation.

The Chinese government considers Uighurs a threat to the country’s security and is accused of widespread human-rights abuses in their home province of Xinjiang. The U.S. State Department will not return Uighur detainees at Guantanamo to China because of fears that they will be imprisoned or tortured. 

But the U.S., too, has recently branded Uighur separatists as terrorists, even though a decade ago they were cheered by conservatives such as the late Sen. Jesse Helms for opposing the Chinese government. 

Parhat scored a major victory in June when he became the first Guantanamo detainee to have his detention ruled invalid by a U.S. federal appeals court. Since then, his lawyers have been trying to free him from the naval prison, but the Bush administration has resisted, arguing, in essence, that even though there is no longer any basis to hold him as an enemy of the state, it still has the power to decide how, where, and when to let him go. 

Now his lawyers are pressing for a court to order an extraordinary remedy. They want Parhat to come to the U.S. to testify that he poses no threat. And after that, they want him released in the U.S. to live until another home can be found for him. 

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Appeals court: Saudis can’t be sued over 9/11 attacks

The Second Circuit Thursday released a significant decision, holding that the government of Saudi Arabia and its ruling princes, could not be sued over their financial donations to Islamic charities that allegedly funded and fueled al Qaeda. The Saudi government were defendants in multiple suits. The panel found the country was protected by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. 

Here is the Reuters story:

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, four princes and other Saudi entities are immune from a lawsuit filed by victims of the September 11 attacks and their families alleging they gave material support to al Qaeda, a federal appeals court ruled on Thursday.

The ruling by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan upheld a 2006 ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Casey dismissing a claim against Saudi Arabia, a Saudi charity, four princes and a Saudi banker of providing material support to al Qaeda before the September 11 attacks.

The victims and their families argued that because the defendants gave money to Muslim charities that in turn gave money to al Qaeda, they should be held responsible for helping to finance the attacks.

The appeals court found that the defendants are protected under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

The court also noted that exceptions to the immunity rule do not apply because Saudi Arabia has not been designated a state sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. State Department.

Here is a link to the opinion.

The firm of Anderson, Kill and Olick, attorneys for former FBI agent John O’Neill, who was killed in the attack on the World Trade Center, released this statement:

New York, NY (August 14, 2008) — As counsel to the estate of John P. O’Neill, Sr., we are disappointed with today’s decision by the panel of judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in John P. O’Neill, Sr. et al. v. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, et al., to the effect that Americans harmed or killed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 do not have standing to sue the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 

While acknowledging that the plaintiffs have pled substantial information linking the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to certain purported charitable organizations, and demonstrating their role in facilitating the activities of Al Qaeda around the world, the panel utilized a unique and previously unsupported rationale for denying Americans the opportunity to use US Courts to seek redress for the harms that they suffered as a result of the 9/11 attacks. 

Under the Court’s rationale, were a New Yorker to be side-swiped by a car driven by an employee of the Saudi embassy, they could sue for the bumps and bruises that they suffered and the damage to their vehicle, yet the nearly 3,000 families of those innocents who were brutally killed in lower Manhattan, rural Pennsylvania and the Pentagon cannot pursue their claims. 

Additionally, those who plan, conspire and provide support for terrorists, from havens abroad, cannot be held accountable for their actions in our Courts, according to today’s ruling. 

We believe that the Court was wrong in its interpretation of the law. 

On behalf of the family of John O’Neill, the former FBI agent who spent his career fighting terrorism, and died on 9/11 while helping evacuate the World Trade Center, we intend to continue to take such steps as are appropriate to help vindicate the rights of the victims. 

 

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Leahy, Specter press FBI for answers on reporter phone records

The chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), sent the following letter Monday to FBI Director Robert Mueller:

Dear Director Mueller:

We were disappointed to learn that, in 2004, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) misused so-called “exigent letters” to obtain the telephone records of reporters working in the Jakarta, Indonesia, bureaus of The Washington Post and The New York Times.  While we commend you for personally apologizing to the newspapers on behalf of the FBI, and for personally bringing this matter to the Committee’s attention, we expect to receive a more complete accounting of this violation of the Justice Department’s guidelines intended to protect privacy and journalists’ First Amendment rights.

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The road ahead for military commissions

(AP/Janet Hamlin)

(AP/Janet Hamlin)

Here is my story from today’s Chicago Tribune:

WASHINGTON—The government has been trying to prosecute and convict Salim Ahmed Hamdan for war crimes for five years. On Wednesday, a Guantanamo Bay military jury found Hamdan guilty of supporting terrorism, and he now faces life in prison.

So, mission accomplished?

Hardly.

The conviction of Osama bin Laden’s former driver may have provided the Pentagon with a brief moment of certitude, something concrete it can point to as a success. But in reality, it’s just another small step forward in the Byzantine uncertainty that is the military commission process. The only thing certain is there are miles to go until the issue of the validity of Hamdan’s conviction is put to rest.

“We haven’t really proved anything about whether this system is going to work,” said Shayana Kadidal, a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents several detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Continue reading

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Hamdan: CCR statement

Here is a statement from the Center for Constitutional Rights on the Hamdan conviction:

August 5, 2008, New York – In response to the hand-picked military jury’s decision in the Military Commission against Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Shayana Kadidal, Senior Managing Attorney of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative, issued the following statement:

 “Hamdan’s trial violated two of the most fundamental criminal justice principles accepted by all civilized nations:  the prohibition on the use of coerced evidence and the prohibition on retroactive criminal laws.

 The decision to keep these cases out of the ordinary criminal courts will produce years of appeals over novel legal issues raised by the untested military commissions system. Even after those appeals are finished, the process will never be seen as legitimate by the world.  This case was the first trial run of the commissions system, and the decision proves nothing except that the system itself should be scrapped. Terrorism-related crimes should be tried in the time-tested domestic criminal justice system, a system whose rules have been designed over the centuries with one goal: to seek out the truth.”

 CCR has led the legal battle over Guantanamo for the last six years – sending the first ever habeas attorney to the base and sending the first attorney to meet with a former CIA “ghost detainee” there. CCR has been responsible for organizing and coordinating more than 500 pro bono lawyers across the country in order to represent the men at Guantanamo, ensuring that nearly all have the option of legal representation. CCR represented the detainees with co-counsel in the most recent argument before the Supreme Court.  For more information or to read the amicus brief filed by CCR in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, click here.

 

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Gitmo guards probe for prison plots

This story from the Associated Press Monday makes it sound like Guantanamo Bay is becoming more like any other prison and less a secure facility that exists for the purpose of extracting intelligence. Which may be expected after you have held prisoners for a number of years and have gotten all you can from them.

By MIKE MELIA

Associated Press Writer

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba–Interrogators at Guantanamo Bay are asking detainees primarily about activity inside the U.S. military prison, the mission commander said, revealing a shift in focus from the wider fight against terrorism.

The information gleaned from detainees is most important to preventing them from hurting themselves or attacking guards, said Navy Rear Adm. David Thomas, the top officer at the detention and interrogation center.

“The primary focus is the safety of the detainees as well as the detainee guard force, and that’s why we have this intelligence activity,” Thomas said Saturday.

The shift reflects the diminishing intelligence value of al-Qaida and Taliban suspects who have been held as long as six years at this isolated U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba.

Critics say the inward focus proves Guantanamo has outlived any purpose.

“Guantanamo has become little more than a holding center for hundreds of men, most of whom will never be charged with a crime and have nothing to offer the U.S. government in the way of actionable intelligence,” said Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel for Human Rights Watch.

Read the rest here.

Meanwhile, the case against Salim Ahmed Hamdan goes to the six-member jury this week.

Here’s a helpful capsule from Tribune News Services about the trial:

THE DEFENDANT

Hamdan, a Yemeni, is accused of transporting weapons for Al Qaeda, swearing an oath of loyalty to bin Laden and helping him escape U.S. retribution following the Sept. 11 attacks by driving him through Afghanistan. Hamdan faces a maximum life sentence.

THE JURY

Six jurors and one alternate—all military officers—were chosen for the case. Among them is a helicopter pilot who was shot at by insurgents in Iraq. The alternate, an Army lieutenant colonel who was excused Friday when the trial concluded, conceded she had “a suspicion” that Hamdan must be guilty of something to have been imprisoned.

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KSM’s dim view of Hamdan

Fascinating testimony Friday in the ongoing trial of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s former chauffeur.

Statements from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the most valuable of the high-value detainees at Guantanamo, were read to the jury. Mohammed, as you know, was the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.

Mohammed was questioned by Hamdan’s lawyers about Hamdan’s role in al-Qaeda. And by KSM’s take, it appears that Hamdan, was, well, kind of a flunky.

From a story in today’s Washington Post by Jerry Markon:

“He did not play any role. He was not a soldier, he was a driver,” Mohammed said in answers to written questions from Hamdan’s lawyers that were relayed to the six military jurors. “His nature was more primitive (Bedouin) person and far from civilization. He was not fit to plan or execute.”

Hmm. It’s never good to hear what the boss really thinks of you, is it?

More interestingly, Mohammed provided details of al Qaeda’s internal structure, pulling the curtain back to reveal a mulit-faceted and structured organization, which he compared to the U.S Army. There were planners, Mohammed said, and then there were low-level employees like Hamdan, who, uh, changed the tires on the jeeps.

“As the American Army (we) have drivers, cooks, crewmen and legal personal,” Mohammed wrote, according to a translation from his original Arabic that was provided to the jurors. “We also, are human beings . . . we have interests in life. Our people have wives and children and schools. . . . You can not understand terrorism and Al-Qaeda from 9/11 operation.”

* * *

Hamdan, whom prosecution witnesses have described as personally close to bin Laden, was a mere cog in the al-Qaeda structure, the self-proclaimed terrorist leader wrote. “He was a driver and auto mechanic . . . he was not at all a military man,” Mohammed said. “He is fit to change trucks’ tires, change oil filters, wash and clean cars, and fasten cargo in pick up trucks.”

Mohammed, the story says, refused to appear in court or meet with Hamdan’s attorneys.

Why does this matter? Because Hamdan is the test case for the military commission process. And KSM’s testimony provides some glimpse into what may be a gulf between the Pentagon’s description of some of the detainees held at Guantanamo and the role they may have actually played (or not) in waging war against the United States.

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