Early Saturday morning in a courtroom inside the highly guarded detainee prison at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, five of the alleged top plotters in the Sept. 11 attacks will speak for the first time under a new Obama administration plan to hold them accountable under military tribunals for the worst terrorist strikes in America.
It will be a test for the prisoners, including alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, of whether to plead guilty or not guilty at the arraignment hearing — and whether to use the occasion as a platform to denounce the United States and call for more terrorist attacks around the world.
But in a larger sense the hearing, which kicks off the long-awaited military trial of the so-called Gitmo 5, will be a test of Obama himself, who in 2008 pledged to close the island prison and to try the five defendants in a civilian courtroom setting. He was unsuccessful on both counts. Now, what unfolds in Cuba over the next several months could weigh heavily on the upcoming presidential campaign.
Just over a year ago, Saiid Farhi, an Algerian, was flown home from the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after a federal court ordered his release.
No one has left since.
The string of victories that Guantanamo detainees enjoyed in U.S. District Court has been reversed by the federal appeals court in Washington. The Obama administration has insisted that restrictions imposed by Congress are so onerous, it cannot repatriate or resettle the detainees it has cleared for transfer. And as the facility approaches its 10th anniversary on Wednesday, human rights groups have bemoaned its seeming permanency and the Obama administration’s failure to close it.
To mark the anniversary, Guantanamo detainees on Tuesday began three days of protests, according to an attorney for a handful of the men. Some refused to return to their cells for the four-hour nightly lockdown and slept in the recreation areas. Others said they would refuse food for the duration of the protest. A number of human rights groups, including Amnesty International, are also planning a demonstration outside the White House on Wednesday, followed by a march to the Supreme Court.
Of the 171 detainees remaining at Guantanamo, 59 have been cleared for transfer. The Obama administration has determined that an additional 30 Yemenis could be repatriated if conditions improve in their homeland. The remainder would be prosecuted or held indefinitely, the administration has said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that President Obama remains committed to closing the facility at Guantanamo.
30 April 2011
Leaked WikiLeaks documents suggests that Islamists have been radicalised in Britain for many years, and after detention at Guantanamo, have passed through Britain again before fighting against Western forces in Afghanistan. Former Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells now blames “political correctness” for creating an atmosphere of not challenging extremist views and thereby undermining security.
Howells said: “I think that people were terrified of stirring up allegations of racism, of wanting to vilify a particular part of the community. There was a great reluctance to speak about them as a separate part of the community or a community that was undermining our way of life and threatening it.” In this perspective, the 7/7 bombings did not come as a surprise.
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has turned away appeals from foreigners seeking their release after nine years of detention at Guantanamo Bay.
The court on Monday rejected three separate claims asking the justices to review rulings against the detainees by the federal appeals court in Washington.
In 2008, the high court ruled that the Guantanamo detainees have a constitutional right to ask a federal civilian judge to review their cases and suggested that a judge could order their release.
But in a series of cases since, the D.C. Circuit has limited the authority of federal district judges and made it harder for the detainees to challenge their continued confinement.
The appeals that the court turned down Monday came from: Ghaleb Nassar Al Bihani, a Yemeni who served as a cook for Taliban forces and said he never fired a shot in battle; Fawzi al-Odah, a Kuwaiti who says he was an Islamic studies teacher, not part of terrorist forces; and Adham Mohammed Al Awad of Yemen, who lost part of his right leg in an air raid in Afghanistan but denied being an al-Qaida fighter.
The National Post – February 19, 2011
This article reflects the opinion of Dr. Michael Welner, an expert forensic psychiatrist witness in numerous high profile civil and criminal proceedings in the United States. Here he reflects on the impact of prison relating to the fundamentalism of Omar Khadr:
Against the backdrop of these competing forces, the United States Department of Defense asked me as a veteran of highly sensitive forensic psychiatric assessments to appraise the risk of one such Guantanamo detainee, Omar Khadr. Mr. Khadr, by his own statements in 2002 and most recently in October 2010, admitted to throwing a grenade that killed Sfc. Christopher Speer as he inspected the scene of a recently completed battle. Khadr was 15 at the time that he killed Speer.
When I interviewed Khadr last June in my capacity as a forensic psychiatrist, he was an English-speaking, socially agile 23-year-old with the kind of easy smile that so similarly warms those who encounter the Dalai Lama and Bin Laden alike. Anticipating his eventual release, the military commission asked me to go beyond the natural tendency of advocates and adversaries to see what they want to see in Omar the man.
In American as well as Canadian facilities, tens of thousands of inmates are converting to Islam every year. Yielding to the notion that they are respecting religion, corrections officials have failed to make a committed effort to staff prisons with devout, forceful but peaceful-minded Muslim imams. As a result, the more charismatic, Machiavellian, and aggressive leaders within North American corrections facilities dominate and influence vulnerable and often alienated Muslim prisoners. These influences remain after prisoners are released and have been implicated in American terror attacks by American-born ex-cons.
NEW YORK — The first Guantanamo detainee to face a civilian trial is a “mass murderer” who played a key role in the terrorist bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, a prosecutor said Monday in closing arguments.
Defense claims that Ahmed Ghailani was an unwitting dupe in the plot “flies in the face of the evidence and it flies in the face of common sense,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Harry Chertoff told jurors in federal court in Manhattan. However, prosecutors allege Ghailani helped an al-Qaida cell buy a truck and components for explosives used in a suicide bombing in his native Tanzania on Aug. 7, 1998.
After the decision to put the 36-year-old detainee on trial in New York, a judge dealt the government a setback by barring testimony from a key witness identified by the CIA. Harsh interrogations techniques used by the CIA made the evidence unconstitutional, the judge ruled.
The National Post – October 27, 2010
In conversation with his interrogators, Omar Khadr comes off as smart, charming and co-operative. But he speaks of his crimes in Afghanistan in a “cold and callous” manner, and rejoices at having killed a U.S. soldier. Within the confines of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, where eight years of detention have only deepened his devotion to the radical brand of Islam espoused by al-Qaeda, he is seen as a well-respected leader, one who has risen to “rock-star” status. If released from custody into Canada, his country of birth and chosen destination, some had said he should be considered a “highly dangerous” offender who shows no signs of renouncing his radical beliefs and still poses a threat to society. This was the unsettling picture painted of Omar Khadr by witnesses called by the prosecution at sentencing hearings before the military war-crimes tribunal at Guantanamo Bay. Khadr’s defenders have described him as a victim indoctrinated into radical Islamic beliefs as a child and abused by his U.S. captors at Guantanamo Bay.
Under a deal with the Pentagon, Khadr this week pleaded guilty to all five war-crimes charges he faced, including murder and providing material support for terrorism.
16 September 2010
After months of negotiations between Berlin and Washington, two former inmates of the Guantanamo prison arrived in Germany on Thursday. German officials hope to swiftly integrate them into society. A spokesman for the Hamburg government confirmed that Ahmed Mohammed al-Shurfa, a stateless man of Palestinian descent born in Saudi Arabia, had arrived in the northern German port city.
Later on Thursday, a second former Guantanamo prisoner — 36-year-old Mahmoud Salim al-Ali of Syria — arrived in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate in central-western Germany, an official with the state’s Interior Ministry said. “According to our knowledge, he does not pose any threat,2 a spokesman said. “We haven’t brought a sleeper into our country,” he said, referring to the phenomenon of potential terrorists like the 9/11 cell that infiltrate society and appear to be normal residents before they are activated.
Earlier this year, Germany said it was prepared to host two former inmates from the Guantanamo prison. German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said the decision had been made for “humanitarian reasons.” “I’m not only the federal interior minister, but also a human being and a Christian,” the politician, who is a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, said as he announced his decision in July.
The Globe and Mail – August 13, 2010
Omar Khadr was either an enthusiastic teen jihadist who happily planted explosive devices and comforted himself in times of loneliness with thoughts of killing U.S. soldiers. Or he was a frightened, cowed 15-year-old, dragged by a zealous father to Afghanistan against his will, caught up with a bad crowd, taken captive while gravely wounded and tortured into submission and confession by his captors.
The 23-year-old Canadian’s military jury was presented two contrasting portraits of the young man. Duelling sides of his Guantanamo Bay war-crimes trial sought to trump each other in painting what happened during a protracted 2002 Afghan firefight that left a U.S. army sergeant dead and the then-15-year-old severely wounded in U.S. custody. The opening salvos in what promises to be a long battle of competing narratives were cut short when Mr. Khadr’s military-appointed lawyer passed out during cross-examination, apparently from pain related to gallbladder surgery six weeks ago.
Christopher Paul, a convicted Ohio terrorist, has had ties to Al-Qaeda according to a federal court ruling. In a fax sent to Paul in 1997, now Guantanamo detainee Mohamedou Ould Salahi (an Al-Qaeda operative) sought Paul’s advice on where to send would-be jihadists. The two had met each other in 1992 in Afghanistan and kept contacting each other in 97, 98 and 99. Salahi was arrested in 2001