The WaPo reports that Judge James Pohl has just severed Ramzi Bin al-Shibh from 9/11 trial, creating two 9/11 trials. He did so for two reasons: because he could not quickly resolve whether the FBI investigation into defense attorneys has compromised his representation, and because the court has not yet determined whether he is competent to stand trial.
Army Col. James L. Pohl said the court needs to resolve whether Binalshibh has the mental capacity to participate in a trial and whether he needs another lawyer because of a potential conflict of interest after theFBI questioned members of his defense team.
These issues “are not expected to be completed in the near term,” Pohl said in his order.
While both issues are emblematic of the clusterfuck that is Gitmo, I’m particularly struck by the uncertainty whether bin al-Shibh is competent.
Earlier this year, prosecutors asked the judge to evaluate Binalshibh after he repeatedly interrupted court proceedings and had to be removed because he ignored warnings to stop the disruptions. However, neither the government nor Binalshibh’s lawyer argue that he is mentally incompetent.
“The judge’s decision today seems to indicate that the issue of competency is still open,” [bin al-Shibh lawyer James] Harrington said. “We have to clarify that with him.”
After all, the entire point of the torture program was to break these men. They succeeded in doing so with bin al-Shibh (that is confirmed by other sources). But now they can’t try him — it sounds like this severance is probably a tacit admission he can never stand trial, for a variety of reasons.
I would much prefer civilian justice, and have said so numerous times. But this Kangaroo Court in Gitmo has sure succeeded in demonstrating all the problems with the US counterterrorism approach.
As expected, the Sixth Circuit wasted no time in denying Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s appeal of his conviction and sentence. The Circuit affirmed District Court Judge Nancy Edmunds on all matters.
Curiously though, in his opinion, Judge David McKeague spends relatively little time on the most contentious issue of the case: whether or not Abdulmutallab was competent to represent himself. He doesn’t really address an issue raised by Abdulmutallab’s Appelate lawyer, Travis Rossman, whether any competence determination be concurrent.
As I noted in my coverage of the hearing, Standby Counsel Anthony Chamber’s case for incompetence was not that Abdulmutallab was incompetent in 2009 when he was arrested or in 2010 when he fired his attorneys, but had been made in competent by 19 months of solitary confinement.
The question wasn’t whether Abdulmutallab was competent on August 17, 2011, Tukel suggested, when Edmunds did not call for a competency hearing, nor whether he was competent on October 12, 2011, when he plead guilty. Rather, it was whether he was competent on September 13, 2010, when he fired his defense attorneys. This was part of what seemed a broader government strategy to obscure the timing issues. He also argued all Abdulmutallab’s most bizarre behavior post-dated the August 2011 hearing. He argued that because Abdulmutallab attended college in England, he must be competent (!). He also argued that US v. Miller weighs against the standard on concurrent determination.
What Tukel didn’t provide much evidence about (beyond that Abdulmutallab always answered Edmunds’ questions about counsel as one would expect a defendant defending himself) is whether he was incompetent in August 2011.
Yemeni daggers. Allahu Akbar. Improper attire. Those are the external signs of “craziness” this hearing focused on.
And yet, in spite of the fact that Rossman repeatedly raised Chambers’ descriptions of Abdulmutallab’s “mental lapses,” no one focused on that question.
Which is crucial because, as Rossman argued (albeit weakly), part of the argument was that the conditions of Abdulmutallab’s confinement — 19 months of solitary confinement by the time of the August 2011 hearing — made him incompetent to defend himself.
And while McKeague pointed to one point where Abdulmutallab responded rationally to Edmunds’ questions, his most sustained case for Abdulmutallab’s competence rests on the Nigerian’s competence in carrying out his terrorist plot 21 months before he pled guilty (note, some of these claims are actually quite contestable, but I won’t deal with that here).
In order for Abdulmutallab to accomplish his goal of blowing up an aircraft over United States soil, Abdulmutallab had to make numerous calculated decisions. A brief overview of the steps that Abdulmutallab took in preparation for his mission is instructive:
- Abdulmutallab studied the teachings of the radical Imam Anwar Awlaki, which prompted his decision to travel to Yemen for the purpose of meeting Awlaki.
- While in Yemen, Abdulmutallab agreed to carry out the martyrdom mission.
- In order to conceal his time in Yemen, Abdulmutallab decided to travel to Ghana before departing to Amsterdam.
- Abdulmutallab had to come up with clever reasons for traveling to the United States when an airport screener in Amsterdam questioned his reasons for travel.
These actions show the deliberate, conscious, and complicated path Abdulmutallab chose to pursue in the name of martyrdom. Unlike the defendants in Pate and Drope, Abdulmutallab not only acted rationally, but was (nearly) able to execute a complex martyrdom mission. The complexity behind Abdulmutallab’s mission indicates the exact opposite of incompetence.
In other words, McKeague’s opinion most strongly argues that if you’re competent enough to (almost) carry out a terrorist plot then you are competent enough to defend yourself, whether or not 19 months of solitary confinement make you incompetent in the meantime.
Ramzi bin al-Shibh, take note.
Perhaps as significant a part of this ruling as the competency one is how the Circuit dealt with Abdulmutallab’s challenge to his statements at University of Michigan hospital, given the assault on Miranda in other terrorism cases. Not only had he not been Mirandized, but he had also been administered drugs, when he made those comments.
Basically, McKeague punted.
Abdulmutallab argues that the district court erred in failing to suppress the statements he made during his time at the University of Michigan Hospital. Abdulmutallab states that his testimony at the hospital was compelled and therefore the Fifth Amendment prohibited the use of that testimony in trial.
We will not address the merits of Abdulmutallab’s argument, as he waived any right to challenge the suppression of his statements when he entered the guilty plea. When a criminal defendant pleads guilty, “he may not thereafter raise independent claims relating to the deprivation of constitutional rights that occurred prior to the entry of the guilty plea. He may only attack the voluntary and intelligent character of the guilty plea by showing that the advice he received from counsel was not within the standards [for effective assistance of counsel].” Tollett v. Henderson, 411 U.S. 258, 267 (1973). This court has held that a defendant who pleaded guilty may not appeal an adverse ruling on a pre-plea motion to suppress evidence “unless he has preserved the right to do so by entering a conditional plea of guilty in compliance with Rule 11(a)(2).”
I don’t question this decision, particularly given the decision on competence. But it’s important because commentators had pointed to Abdulmutallab’s case as precedent for the treatment of (among others) Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. But the Circuit declined to fully endorse his treatment, one way or another.
Congratulations to Barack Obama, whose invisible hand censor has made Gitmo even more of a kangaroo court than it was under Bush.
As Jim laid out, over the last two days of Gitmo hearings, we saw (thanks to livetweeters like Carol Rosenberg, Jason Leopold, and Daphne Eviatar) someone improperly cut the feed from the court room to the journalists for 3 minutes, just as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s lawyer, David Nevin, started to read from his unclassified motion to preserve the black sites. After it happened, Judge James Pohl was rather angry about what he saw as an improper use of the censorship system. Today, it became clear that the OCA–the original classification authority–pressed the censor button, via some AV means that Judge Pohl either didn’t fully understand or want to discuss.
In other words, CIA has ultimate control over his court room.
For the last day, I’ve been predicting that Moral Rectitude Transparency and Assassination Czar John Brennan was responsible for the improper censorship. It was almost certainly some CIA minion Brennan will manage not long after his February 7 confirmation hearing rather than Brennan himself. Though remember–the legal record indicates that the National Security Council, and not CIA, asked to have torture made into a Special Access Program in the first place, though before most of the 9/11 detainees being tried were tortured (the exception, I think, is Ramzi bin al-Shibh). So either John Brennan in his guise as Obama’s NSC counterterrorism advisor or his rising CIA Director–ultimately, it was his portfolio censorsing unclassified information in the trial.
But it’s worth noting that this is the second time in a week that CIA has managed to dictate our legal process. Last Friday, John Kiriakou was sentenced for indirectly revealing to these same defense lawyers the identity of two of their client’s interrogators (one who actually engaged in the torture itself). DOJ originally decided that knowledge, by itself, did not merit charges. But CIA appealed to … John Brennan, and Patrick Fitzgerald was brought in and ultimately Kiriakou was delivered up as an example to cow others who might expose details of the torture program.
And then yesterday, you had a lawfully cleared defense motion being discussed in court, and CIA overruled the determination the trial judge had made, and ensured that journalists could not hear even that unclassified motion. Judge Pohl has deferred the discussion about preserving the black sites as evidence until next month, and it’s not clear whether the defendants or the journalists will be permitted to attend that hearing.
We shall see, next month, whether the CIA has taken over this judicial determination, as they did the judgement on the John Adams Project.
The guy who covered up CIA’s torture, Jose Rodriguez, worries that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed might give a speech during the course of his military commission.
Although he acted defiantly in court, Rodriguez said KSM would like nothing more than a forum to preach radical Islam.
“This is a process that will continue for a long time,” Rodriguez said. “I have heard he may plead not guilty, and if he does, he’ll use the [legal] process as his platform . . . to talk about his jihadist beliefs.”
“It seemed to us that he was looking for a platform from which he could spout his hatred for all things American, and a trial would certainly present that opportunity,” Rodriguez writes. “It strikes me as more than a little ironic that several years later, Attorney General Eric Holder almost granted KSM his wish.”
Ironically, Rupert’s rag decided to plug these Rodriguez fears the day after KSM and his co-defendants tied up the military commission in knots not by speaking, but by remaining silent.
Judge [James] Pohl turns to Mohammed’s attorneys and his right to counsel. Mr. Mohammed, he says, pursuant to the Manual for Military Commissions, you are today represented by two military lawyers, Derek Poteet and Jason Wright, your detailed counsel. Do you understand this?
There’s a pause – the first of many, as we’ll soon see – as the court and counsel wait for the defendant’s responds. KSM doesn’t give one, and Judge Pohl notes as much. Very well, he continues, detailed counsel will be provided to you.
One of the most intriguing details of the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed indictment is this entry:
126. On or about July 23, 2001, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, KHALID SHEIKH MOHAMMED applied for a U.S.-entry visa, using the name “Abdulrahman A.A. Al-Ghamdi,” which application was denied.
That’s interesting for a number of reasons. Such a reference doesn’t show up in the 9/11 Report, though by that time, a CIA source had already warned that someone named “Khaled” was sending people to the US to carry out terrorist activities for Osama bin Laden; on July 12, 2001, that source IDed a picture of KSM.
It also raises questions about sourcing. Why didn’t the 9/11 Commission know this by spring 2004, when they were finishing their report? Is it possible KSM told us about this attempt to fly to the US after that point? It’s worth noting that at least one piece of intelligence that appears in the indictment–a description of how the muscle hijackers were taught to use short blades by killing sheep and camel–is sourced to the February 23, 2004 interrogation of KSM. Or has the government developed a granular enough understanding of KSM’s movements that it was able to pin this attempted visa application to him via other–perhaps SIGINT–means?
But then the big question is, what was KSM planning to do if he had actually received a visa to travel to the US?
Given the timing and the context–KSM attempted to get the visa just a week after Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Mohammed Atta met in Spain for their last planning meeting before the attack, and therefore presumably right after bin al-Shibh reported back to KSM on what happened at the meeting–it seems that KSM was worried about whether Ziad Jarrah would carry through with the attack. The 9/11 Report describes:
The most significant part of the mid-July conversation [between KSM and bin al-Shibh] concerned Jarrah’s troubled relationship with Atta. KSM and Binalshibh both acknowledge that Jarrah chafed under Atta’s authority over him. Binalshibh believes the disagreement arose in part from Jarrah’s family visits. Moreover, Jarrah had been on his own for most of his time in the United States because Binalshibh’s visa difficulty had prevented the two from training together. Jarrah thus felt excluded from the decisionmaking. Binalshibh had to act as a broker between Jarrh and Atta.
Concerned that Jarrah might withdraw from the operation at this late stage, KSM emphasized the importance of Atta and Jarrah’s resolving their differences. Binalshibh claims that such concern was unwarranted, and in their mid-July discussion reassured KSM that Atta and Jarrah would reconcile and be ready to move forward in about a month, after Jarrah visited his family. Noting his concern and the potential for delay, KSM at one point instructed Binalshibh to send “the skirts” to “Sally”–a coded instruction to Binalshibh to send funds to Zacarias Moussaoui.
On July 20, Jarrah’s girlfriend bought him a one-way ticket to Dusseldorf. On July 23, KSM attempted to get his visa to the US. On July 25, Jarrah flew to Dusseldorf; while bin al-Shibh talked to him right away, they did not have their more substantive conversation until later. And between July 30 and August 3, 2001, Mustafa al-Hawsawi and bin al-Shibh sent money to Moussaoui he used to enroll in flight school (and buy a Leatherman knife).
It’s also worth noting that Atta, Hani Hanjour, and Nawaf al-Hazmi met in Las Vegas on August 13. The 9/11 Report reported it had gotten no explanation as to why they chose Las Vegas. The indictment explains that “in summer 2001, KHALID SHEIKH MOHAMMED instructed some of the hijackers to meet in Las Vegas to make final preparations.”
Had KSM received his visa, would he have attended the meeting?
In any case, it appears that KSM’s concerns about the plot falling to pieces (or at least losing Jarrah as a pilot) were sufficiently serious that he tried to come to the US himself to deal with the problem.
I wanted to point out two details of timing on the Ramzi bin al-Shibh tapes:
The tapes were made after CIA already started getting worried about making interrogation tapes
When FBI agents finally had a chance to interview Binalshibh, they found him lethargic but physically unharmed. He projected an attitude suggesting he was unconcerned he had been caught.
Before the FBI made any real headway, the CIA flew Binalshibh on Sept. 17, 2002, to Morocco on a Gulfstream jet, according to flight records and interviews.
Current and former officials said this was the period when Binalshibh was taped. His revelations remain classified but the recordings, the officials said, made no mention of the 9/11 plot. It’s unclear who made the tapes or how they got to the agency’s Langley, Va., headquarters.
In March 2003, Binalshibh was moved to a Polish facility code-named Quartz soon after his mentor, Mohammed, was nabbed in Pakistan.
This would mean al-Shibh arrived in Morocco (and therefore the tapes were made) sometime after some people met at Langley and decided they should destroy the Zubaydah tapes.
On 05 September 2002, HQS elements discussed the disposition of the videotapes documenting interrogation sessions with ((Abu Zubaydah)) that are currently being stored at [redacted] with particular consideration to the matters described in Ref A Paras 2 and 3 and Ref B para 4. As reflected in Refs, the retention of these tapes, which is not/not required by law, represents a serious security risk for [redacted] officers recorded on them, and for all [redacted] officers present and participating in [redacted] operations.
Accordingly, the participants determined that the best alternative to eliminate those security and additional risks is to destroy these tapes [redacted]
The CIA appears to have already been manipulating briefing records, possibly to give the appearance of Congressional support for either the program or the destruction of the tapes.
Note, too, that there are only two video tapes (plus the “audio” tape I’ve raised questions about here). If the audio tape were, in fact, just an audio tape, that would leave two video tapes. Which is how many tapes existed of Rahim al-Nashiri’s interrogations, at least by the time they did the inventory. That’s presumably because al-Nashiri was taken into CIA custody after the point when–on October 25, 2002–HQ told the Thai black site to record over tapes every day.
It is now HQS policy that [redacted] record one day’s worth of sessions on one videotape for operational considerations, utilize the tape within that same day for purposes of review and note taking, and record the next day’s sessions on the same tape. Thus, in effect, the single tape in use [redacted] will contain only one day’s worth of interrogation sessions.
Now we know they kept two (or maybe three) tapes for al-Nashiri (presumably taking notes off one day’s tape while the other was being used to record new interrogations) because the tape inventory shows the following:
[Tape] 91 [Redacted]tape and rewind #2
[Tape] 92 3 [Redacted] use and rewind #3 [redacted] final
While obviously we have no such inventory showing the al-Shibh tapes, it is possible that they were used in the same manner as the al-Nashiri tapes were–to collect just one day’s worth of interrogation to assist in transcription or note-taking. (And remember, ultimately there were transcriptions made of the al-Shibh tapes, though we don’t know when that happened). It’s possible then–though this is just a wildarsed guess–that the existence of just three tapes suggests they were started after HQ decided to tape over tapes (so after October 25), or that they first implemented the policy for al-Shibh sometime before October 25.
Also note the content of the last three–presumably chronologically–tapes of Abu Zubaydah. Tapes 89 and 90 are “use and rewind” #1 and #2. But the tape just before that–tape 88–has “no video but there is sound.” Thus, the last three tapes from Abu Zubaydah consist of two video tapes and one “audio” tape, just like the three tapes from al-Shibh.
If in fact the 2-3 al-Shibh tapes only include the last days of his interrogation on which taping was used, then the AP source’s claim that they simply show him sitting in a room being interrogated doesn’t mean that the tapes contained no forensic evidence of something else–more abusive interrogations that happened on earlier days. After all, the tapes would no longer “show” what had happened during earlier interrogation sessions.
One more note about this early period. One question the AP raises is when and how the tapes were moved from Morocco to Langley.
It’s worth remembering that the Zubaydah and al-Nashiri tapes were also moved at one point. In a cable from HQ to the field (we know this from Vaughn Indices that described this cable before it was released) written on December 3, 2002, just days after John McPherson reviewed the torture tapes and presumably discovered they had been tampered with, someone says:
It was a mistake to move [redacted] tapes [redacted] in light of Ref C guidance.
Notably, given that this refers to tapes being moved in the past tense on December 3, this may suggest the tapes were moved from the black site before it was finally closed. Mind you, the detail may be completely irrelevant to al-Shibh’s tapes, but they do suggest people in the field were moving tapes without clear approval from HQ.
The tapes were disclosed after the CIA started trying to figure out what happened to the Abu Zubaydah tapes
As I noted here, the story the AP’s sources told (that a person stumbled across a box under a desk with all three al-Shibh tapes in it) and the story DOJ told Leonie Brinkema (that they learned first of one tape, and then, after asking CIA to make sure there were no more) differ in key ways.
But that difference gets all the more interesting given indications that CIA was trying to figure out what had happened to the Zubaydah tapes in precisely the same time period. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Given that the AP has filled in some details about the Ramzi bin al-Shibh tapes someone had hidden under a desk at CIA, I wanted to look back at the letter DOJ wrote to Leonie Brinkema in 2007, when the government first admitted it had been sitting on those tapes.
AP says the tapes were found all at once while DOJ only learned about them over a month’s time
As you recall, DOJ sent this letter on October 25, 2007, to tell Judge Leonie Brinkema (who had presided over the Zacarias Moussaoui trial) and a judge who had presided over appeals in that case that two CIA declarations DOJ had submitted–on May 9, 2003 and on November 14, 2005–”had factual errors.”
Here’s how the AP describes the tapes and their discovery:
The CIA has tapes of 9/11 plotter Ramzi Binalshibh being interrogated in a secret overseas prison. Discovered under a desk, the recordings could provide an unparalleled look at how foreign governments aided the U.S. in holding and questioning suspected terrorists.The two videotapes and one audiotape are believed to be the only remaining recordings made within the clandestine prison system.
When the CIA destroyed its cache of 92 videos of two other al-Qaida operatives, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Nashiri, being waterboarded in 2005, officials believed they had wiped away all of the agency’s interrogation footage. But in 2007, a staffer discovered a box tucked under a desk in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and pulled out the Binalshibh tapes.
The CIA first publicly hinted at the existence of the Binalshibh tapes in 2007 in a letter to U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema in Virginia. The government twice denied having such tapes, and recanted once they were discovered. But the government blacked out Binalshibh’s name from a public copy of the letter. [my emphasis]
The DOJ letter describes a slightly different (though not necessarily inconsistent) chronology. It claims the CIA informed DOJ first of one videotape, and then roughly a month later, of the second videotape and audiotape.
On September 13, 2007, an attorney for the CIA notified us of the discovery of a video tape of the interrogation of [1.5 lines redacted] On September 19, 2007, we viewed the video tape and a transcript [redacted] of the interview. The transcript contains no mention of Moussaoui or any details of the September 11 plot. In other words, the contents of the interrogation have no bearing on the Moussaoui prosecution. The evidence of the video tape, however, is at odds with the statements in two CIA declarations submitted in this case, as discussed in detail below.
After learning of the existence of the first video tape, we requested the CIA to perform an exhaustive review to determine whether it was in possession of any other such recordings for any of the enemy combatant witnesses at issue in this case. CIA’s review, which now appears to be complete, uncovered the existence of a second video tape, as well as a short audio tape, both of which pertained to interrogations [redacted]. On October 18, 2007, we viewed the second video tape and listened to the audio tape, while reviewing transcripts [redacted] Like the first video tape, the contents of the second video tape and the audio tape have no bearing on the Moussaoui prosecution–they neither mention Moussaoui nor discuss the September 11 plot. We attach for the Courts’ review ex parte a copy of the transcripts for the three recordings.
At our request, CIA also provided us with intelligence cables pertaining to the interviews recorded on the two video tapes. Because we reviewed these cables during our discovery review, we wanted to ensure that the cables accurately captured the substance of the interrogations. Based on our comparison of the cables to the [redacted] videotapes, and keeping in mind that the cables were prepared for the purposes of disseminating intelligence, we found that the intelligence cables accurately summarized the substance of the interrogations in question. [my emphasis]
So the AP’s sources suggested that a staffer simply pulled out a box [Christmas in September!] and found all three tapes–presumably at the same time–whereas DOJ only found out about one tape at first, then sent CIA back to see if there were more. If, as the AP suggests, the CIA found the tapes all at once, then it suggests that the CIA withheld two of the tapes from DOJ until DOJ asked for them specifically. Given that DOJ reviewed the first tape on September 19 and the second and third on October 18, there seems to have been a delay in getting those second two tapes, which might either suggest the tapes weren’t found at the same time, or CIA was very slow in turning over tapes they already knew existed.
Remember how Judy Miller stored the notes showing that the Vice President’s lackey had leaked Valerie Plame’s identity to her under her desk in a shopping bag? Remember how we mocked that kind of record keeping? Well, the AP reports that the CIA uses the same archival system as Judy:
The two videotapes and one audiotape are believed to be the only remaining recordings made within the clandestine prison system.
The tapes depict Binalshibh’s interrogation sessions at a Moroccan-run facility the CIA used near Rabat in 2002, several current and former U.S. officials told The Associated Press. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the recordings remain a closely guarded secret.
When the CIA destroyed its cache of 92 videos of two other al-Qaida operatives, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Nashiri, being waterboarded in 2005, officials believed they had wiped away all of the agency’s interrogation footage. But in 2007, a staffer discovered a box tucked under a desk in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and pulled out the Binalshibh tapes.
I look forward to learning whether this particular box of torture tapes once belonged to Jose Rodriguez, who when the tapes were discovered had just retired as head of Clandestine Services but who was head of CTC when the tapes were made, or whether someone else is a Judy Miller-style packrat.
Now, elsewhere in the AP story they make it clear that–as I have suspected–the tapes first revealed to Leonie Brinkema in 2007 were of Ramzi bin al-Shibh. That’s particularly significant because Brinkema had specifically given Zacarias Moussaoui permission to question al-Shibh in January 2003. So when the government told Brinkema they had no tapes (the AP says that since Morocco maintained control of the prison at which al-Shibh was held, CIA claimed it wasn’t “part” of the CIA program), they were denying evidence she had permitted to Moussaoui by name.
And this discovery has implications not just for Moussaoui, and for al-Shibh himself (the AP suggests the tapes may show that al-Shibh’s mental state declined very quickly after he was taken into custody; he had a pending competence assessment order in military commissions that–when al-Shibh was slotted for civilian trial–was thus negated), but also for Binyam Mohamed.
Mohamed, after all, has long claimed that the worst torture he suffered–the scalpels to his genitals–occurred while in that same Morocco prison in roughly the same time frame (though Mohamed was in Morocco longer). Mohamed made it clear the British were feeding questions to the US to ask while in Morocco (in interrogations, remember, they claim they weren’t running). Subsequently, documents showed that a member of MI5 visited Morocco while Mohamed was there. So Mohamed’s evidence refutes US claims that they–and their ally the UK–weren’t in charge of the interrogations. But at the same time, the videos may provide video evidence of the kind of treatment used in Morocco.
Now, the AP’s sources these tapes show “no harsh methods … like waterboarding.”
But current and former U.S. officials say no harsh interrogation methods, like the simulated drowning tactic called waterboarding, were used in Morocco. In the CIA’s secret network of undisclosed “black prisons,” Morocco was just way station of sorts, a place to hold detainees for a few months at a time.
“The tapes record a guy sitting in a room just answering questions,” according to a U.S. official familiar with the program.
But as I noted, al-Shibh would have been in Morocco at the same time that Mohamed was, during which time he was cut and beaten. What are the chances that the Moroccans acting as our proxy treated al-Shibh much differently than they treated Mohamed?
These tapes may well undo at least three of the lies the government told to cover up its torture and its counterterrorism mistakes. If John Durham–who the AP notes has expanded his investigation to include possible obstruction tied to these tapes–does anything with the tapes.
Update: All you timeline aficianados should check out this cool timeline/map of where Ramzi bin al-Shibh was when.
You should read two pieces in conjunction this morning. First, this Andy Worthington piece from last week, that lays out new details on the black site CIA used in Poland in 2002-2003.
On Friday, the Polish Border Guard Office released a number of documents to the Warsaw-based Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, which, for the first time, provide details of the number of prisoners transferred by the CIA to a secret prison in Poland between December 5, 2002, and September 22, 2003, and, in one case, the number of prisoners who were subsequently transferred to a secret CIA prison in Romania. The documents (available here and here) provide important information about the secret prison at Szymany, in northeastern Poland, and also add to what is known about the program in Romania, which has received far less scrutiny.
Friday’s revelations by the Polish Border Guard Office are, however, even more significant, firstly because they include, for the first time, confirmation that N63MU flew into Poland on December 5, 2002, and secondly, because they provide details of the number of passengers on seven of the flights, as follows:
December 5, 2002: 8 passengers delivered
February 8, 2003: 7 passengers delivered; 4 others flown to an unknown destination
March 7, 2003: 2 passengers delivered
March 25, 2003: 1 passenger delivered
May 6, 2003: 1 passenger delivered
July 30, 2003: 1 passenger delivered
September 22, 2003: 0 passengers delivered; 5 flown to Romania
Then, read this AP piece, which fleshes out details about the first time that Abu Zubaydah and three other detainees went to Gitmo.
Four of the nation’s most highly valued terrorist prisoners were secretly moved to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2003, years earlier than has been disclosed, then whisked back into overseas prisons before the Supreme Court could give them access to lawyers, The Associated Press has learned.
Before dawn on Sept. 24, 2003, a white, unmarked Boeing 737 landed at Guantanamo Bay. At least four al-Qaida operatives, some of the CIA’s biggest captures to date, were aboard: Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Nashiri, Ramzi Binalshibh and Mustafa al-Hawsawi.
Together, the articles provide key new details of the global voyages that Abu Zubaydah and other key detainees took between CIA black sites. And the AP piece confirms something earlier revealed in the ICRC report completed in 2007 and released last year: that at least four of the High Value Detainees were in Gitmo in 2003-2004, until they were moved again precisely to hide them from the ICRC.
ICRC notes that four detainees believed that they had previously been held in Guantanamo, for periods ranging from one week to one year during 2003/4. They reported recognising this location upon return there in September 2006, as each had been allowed outdoors on a daily basis during their earlier time there. The ICRC has been assured by DoD that it was given full notification of and access to all persons held in Guantanamo during its regular detention visits. The ICRC is concerned, if the allegations are confirmed, it had in fact been denied access to these persons during the period in which they were detained there.
Now, the two pieces in conjunction answer key questions. As Worthington points out, we know from this that Abu Zubaydah and Rahim al-Nashiri (and, he adds, Ramzi bin al-Shibh) got moved from Thailand to Poland in December 5, 2002, as CIA was making their first efforts to close the Thai black site and destroy the torture tapes. And then the three of them, plus Mustafa al-Hawsawi, got moved to Gitmo the following September 24, 2003. Then, on March 27, 2004, they were taken away from Gitmo.
One implication of this, of course, is that the death threats used against al-Nashiri–reportedly investigated by John Durham (and, I have speculated, possibly one reason Philip Mudd retired in March) happened on Polish soil.
It also times interestingly with Jack Goldsmith’s tenure at OLC (October to July) and even more interestingly with the CIA IG Report (they got Zubaydah and Nashiri–against both of whom the IG Report described torture–out of Gitmo before Congress got a hold of the report).
But the two reports also lay out further area for inquiry. At least according to what detainees told the ICRC, at least one of the detainees who were in Gitmo in this early period were only there for a week. But that also suggests some of the four might not have known they were at Gitmo when they returned in 2006, perhaps because they didn’t have the same exercise privilege (and remember that detainees, at least as of a few months ago, still exercised only with those who they had been in black sites before, so they couldn’t compare notes). Does this mean others were moved to Gitmo’s “Strawberry Fields” after this first bunch?
Finally, note how CIA’s spokesperson, in his comment to the AP, wants this story to be about events that happened six years ago.
CIA spokesman George Little said: “The so-called black sites and enhanced interrogation methods, which were administered on the basis of guidance from the Department of Justice, are a thing of the past.”
Aside from the fact that Little said this while John Durham’s inquiry into the torture that exceeded the guidance of DOJ is ongoing, it also distracts attention from other inconvenient little facts: like the presumably ongoing existence of Camp No, and the weird qualification in Obama’s Gitmo closure orders limiting them only to those at Gitmo considered to be enemy combatants.
Still, kudos to Worthington and the AP for their work to tease out the global trajectories of these detainees.
ACLU just had a conference call on today’s Gitmo announcement with, among others, Razmi bin al-Shibh’s civilian defense attorney, Tom Durkin, and Rahim al-Nashiri’s defense attorney, Nancy Hollander. Both had important details about their clients’ defense.
I asked Durkin about the status of al-Shibh’s competency hearings. Since the government has been trying to refuse defense attorneys access to al-Shibh’s medical records in the context of his competency to stand trial, I wondered if the defense team would continue to push for competency hearing as the trial moves to SDNY. Durkin refused to say what the team would do, but noted that since the military judge had raised the issue of a competency hearing, it is public record that it is an issue.
So expect al-Shibh’s defense team, at least, to continue to push for medical records in the scope of a competency question.
Hollander, who is defending al-Nashiri, noted they, too, have been pushing for their client’s medical records.
She also stated that they are going to contest the venue of the trial. Eric Holder had said a military commission for al-Nashiri is appropriate, given that the Cole bombing occurred in another country and its victims were all military. But Hollander pointed out that the Cole bombing was first investigated as a criminal case, so the only reason (she speculated) why the government would be trying him in a military commission is because they don’t have the evidence to convict him in a civilian court.