Gregory D Johnsen writes: Sunrise was still nearly an hour off when Nazih al-Ruqai climbed into his black Hyundai SUV outside a mosque in northern Tripoli and turned the key. The lanky 49-year-old had left the house barely 30 minutes earlier for a quick trip to the mosque on a Saturday. It was Oct. 5, 2013, and after more than two decades in exile, he had settled into a predictable existence of prayer and worship.
The homecoming hadn’t always been so smooth. Ruqai, who is better known in the jihadi world as Abu Anas al-Libi, was still feeling the effects of the hepatitis C he had contracted years earlier during a stint in an underground prison in Iran. Following overtures from Muammar al-Qaddafi’s government, his wife and children had returned to Libya in 2010. But Libi stayed away, wary of the man he had once plotted to kill. Only when the Libyan uprisings started in early 2011 did he follow his family back to Libya. But by then it was already too late. His oldest son, Abd al-Rahman, the only one of his five children who had been born in Libya, was dead, shot while fighting for the capital.
After that, things moved in fits and starts. Qaddafi was killed weeks later in October 2011, and Libi eventually settled in Nufalayn, a leafy middle-class neighborhood in northeast Tripoli, alongside several members of his extended family. Life after Qaddafi was chaotic and messy — nothing really worked as the new government struggled to reboot after 42 years of dictatorship, often finding itself at the mercy of the heavily armed militias and tribes that had contributed to Qaddafi’s downfall.
Libi knew he was a wanted man. He had been on the FBI’s most wanted list for more than a decade, following an indictment in 2000 for his alleged role in al-Qaeda’s attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania two years earlier. Along with Libi the indictment named 20 other individuals, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, as defendants.
“He suspected that at any moment he would be killed,” his son later told The New York Times. Still, on that Saturday morning in early October, much of the danger seemed to have passed. Libi had been living in the open for nearly a year, attending prayers and settling local disputes, where his history as a fighter and knowledge of the Qur’an made him a respected arbiter. Neighbors called him simply “the shaykh,” a sign of respect in the conservative circles in which Libi still moved.
He had also taken steps to address his past. Three weeks earlier, on Sept. 15, Libi had sat down with Libya’s attorney general to discuss his indictment, according to one report. (The Libyan Embassy in Washington did not respond to repeated requests to confirm Libi’s meeting.) But mostly he just wanted to move on with his life. He had applied for his old job at the Ministry of Oil and Gas and he couldn’t stop talking about how much he was looking forward to becoming a grandfather for the first time.
A trio of cars around 6 a.m. ended all of that.
Inside the family’s apartment, Libi’s wife heard the commotion. From a window she looked out over the beige wall that surrounded their building and into the street where several men had surrounded her husband, who was still in the driver’s seat of his black Hyundai.
“Get out,” the men shouted in Arabic. “Get out.” Then they smashed the window. Most of the men were masked, but she could see a few faces, she said later in Arabic interviews. They looked Libyan; they sounded Libyan. Some of them had guns; some didn’t, but they all moved quickly.
By the time the rest of the family made it to the street, all that was left was a single sandal and a few drops of blood.
Early that same morning, nearly 3,000 miles away in the seaside city of Baraawe on Somalia’s eastern coast, U.S. Navy SEALs crept through the darkness toward their target, which a local resident later described to me as a walled compound more than 100 yards inland. The Americans had been here before. Four years earlier, in September 2009, a contingent of Navy SEALs had ambushed a two-car convoy just outside of town. Flying low in helicopter gunships, the SEALs quickly disabled the cars and then touched down to collect the bodies.
This time the target — Abd al-Qadir Muhammad Abd al-Qadir, a young Kenyan of Somali descent better known as Ikrima — was stationary. The SEALs would have to go in and get him. Pre-raid intelligence suggested that the compound housed mostly fighters with few or no civilians present. Only 130 miles south of Mogadishu and what passed for the Somali government, Baraawe had been under the control of al-Shabaab, a fragmentary militant group, since 2009. Fighters came and went freely, as al-Shabaab implemented its own narrow version of Islamic law in the city.
Moving up the beach and into enemy territory, the SEALs needed the element of surprise. Through the trees and scrub brush ahead of them, most of the city was dark. Baraawe had only a few hours of electricity each day, usually from evening prayers until midnight. But al-Shabaab’s members lived separately and, along with some of the city’s wealthier residents, got around the shortages by running private generators. The plan that night took this into account, calling for the SEALs to jam internet signals, apparently in an attempt to cut off communication once the raid began. That would prove to be a mistake.
Inside the compound, some of the al-Shabaab fighters were up late and online. And, according to a report in the Toronto Star, when the internet suddenly went out in the middle of the night, they went to look for the source of the problem. At least one fighter stepped outside, and as he moved around in the darkness he spotted some of the SEALs.
The plan to knock the internet offline and isolate the fighters in the villa had backfired, effectively giving al-Shabaab an early warning that the SEALs were on their way. (In the days after the raid, al-Shabaab would arrest a handful of local men who were known to visit Western websites, accusing them of spying and aiding U.S. efforts.)
The firefight lasted several minutes, although residents reported hearing gunfire throughout the night as members of al-Shabaab discharged their weapons into the dark for hours after the Americans had withdrawn, empty-handed.
In the span of a few hours, the U.S. had launched a pair of raids — one successful and one not — 3,000 miles apart, in countries with which the nation was not at war. Hardly anyone noticed.
More than a dozen years after the Sept. 11 attacks, this is what America’s war looks like, silent strikes and shadowy raids. The Congressional Research Service, an analytical branch of the Library of Congress, recently said that it had located at least 30 similar occurrences, although the number of covert actions is likely many times higher with drones strikes and other secret operations. The remarkable has become regular.
The White House said that the operations in both Libya and Somalia drew their authority from the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, a 12-year-old piece of legislation that was drafted in the hours after the Sept. 11 attacks. At the heart of the AUMF is a single 60-word sentence, which has formed the legal foundation for nearly every counterterrorism operation the U.S. has conducted since Sept. 11, from Guantanamo Bay and drone strikes to secret renditions and SEAL raids. Everything rests on those 60 words. [Continue reading...]
The Associated Press reports: A few hundred yards from the administrative offices of the Guantánamo Bay prison, hidden behind a ridge covered in thick scrub and cactus, sits a closely held secret.
A dirt road winds its way to a clearing where eight small cottages sit in two rows of four. They have long been abandoned. The special detachment of Marines that once provided security is gone.
But in the early years after 9/11, these cottages were part of a covert CIA program. Its secrecy has outlasted black prisons, waterboarding and rendition.
In these buildings, CIA officers turned terrorists into double agents and sent them home.
It was a risky gamble. If it worked, their agents might help the CIA find terrorist leaders to kill with drones. But officials knew there was a chance that some prisoners might quickly spurn their deal and kill Americans.
For the CIA, that was an acceptable risk in a dangerous business. For the American public, which was never told, it was one of the many secret trade-offs the government made on its behalf. At the same time the government used the threat of terrorism to justify imprisoning people indefinitely, it was releasing dangerous people from prison to work for the CIA.
Nearly a dozen current and former U.S. officials described aspects of the program to The Associated Press. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the secret program, even though it ended in about 2006. [Continue reading...]
John Sifton writes: I have just arrived here in the Gambia, in westernmost Africa, to testify before the African Commission of Human Rights about a CIA rendition case involving Djibouti, 4,000 miles east at the mouth of the Red Sea.
The case against Djibouti was brought by Mohammed Abdullah Saleh al-Asad, a Yemeni citizen who was arrested in 2003 in Tanzania and taken on a private flight to Djibouti. There the CIA — with help from Djibouti authorities — detained him short term and then flew him to another CIA facility in Afghanistan. His petition provides evidence that he was subjected to beatings and torture in both locations. The CIA appears to have realized later that al-Asad was not involved in terrorism or al-Qaeda, and returned him to Yemen in 2005.
The al-Asad case is one of several brought to hold the US government and its co-perpetrators accountable for unlawful arrests, detentions, and interrogations carried out by the CIA during the Bush administration — serious abuses that my colleagues and I documented for Human Rights Watch in numerous reports in 2004 to present. Known CIA interrogation techniques included severe sleep deprivation, forced standing, exposure to cold, slapping and hitting, confining detainees in small boxes, and throwing detainees against the wall. Some were waterboarded. [Continue reading...]
By Cora Currier, ProPublica, March 22, 2013
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn unsealed an indictment Wednesday charging Ibrahim Suleiman Adnan Adam Harun with six terrorism-related counts.
The announcement that Harun is in U.S. custody in New York may also shed light on a small part one of the most secretive aspects of U.S. counterterrorism operations during the Bush administration: What became of terror suspects held by the CIA in its network of “black-site” prisons around the world? Or disappeared into foreign cells in extraordinary renditions?
With their indictment of Harun, prosecutors offered a basic account of how the 43-year-old Nigerian 2013 described as “a prototype Al Qaeda Operative” 2013 spent the last decade. He fought U.S. forces in Afghanistan, prosecutors said, before leaving for Africa, where he allegedly conspired to bomb U.S. diplomatic facilities. Harun, also known by his alias Spin Ghul, eventually wound up in Libyan prison for six years before he was released amid the turmoil of the uprising against Muammar Qaddafi.
Did the U.S. know that he was in Libya, and did they play a role in his detention? Did the CIA work with the Libyans to then obtain information from him?
Testimony from an alleged former CIA detainee, a leaked document from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, and evidence from cases of others rendered to Libya suggest that might be so.
The Daily Beast reports: Guantanamo Bay is still often in the public eye, especially now that a military commission is pursuing the 9/11 case there against alleged terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. But there’s a site where the United States is holding detainees overseas in even more restrictive conditions then Guantanamo: a prison in Afghanistan, at the sprawling Bagram Air Base. Recently, the U.S. government agreed to transfer Afghan prisoners into the custody of the Afghan government. But there was a wrinkle: People who aren’t Afghans—who were taken to Bagram by the United States from outside the country—aren’t included in the agreement.
Today, Justice Department lawyers head to federal court to argue that these international detainees should not get the right to see lawyers or challenge the basis for their captivity under the doctrine of habeas corpus. The case concerns three captives at Bagram captured early on in the war on terror. Two are Yemeni and one is Tunisian. One was captured in Thailand; another was captured in Pakistan. (The question of where the third was captured is somewhat unclear: The Pentagon says he was captured in Afghanistan, but lawyers who seek to represent him say he was captured outside the country.)
“The only reason our clients are there,” said Tina Foster, a lawyer in the case and executive director of the International Justice Network, “is that that they were forcibly taken there from third countries by the U.S.” She added, “We would argue that they were brought to Bagram for the purpose of keeping them out of the courts.” [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports from Warsaw: The former head of Poland’s intelligence service has been charged with aiding the Central Intelligence Agency in setting up a secret prison to detain suspected members of Al Qaeda, a leading newspaper here reported on Tuesday, the first high-profile case in which a former senior official of any government has been prosecuted in connection with the agency’s program.
The daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza reported that the former intelligence chief, Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, told the paper that he faced charges of violating international law by “unlawfully depriving prisoners of their liberty,” in connection with the secret C.I.A. prison where Qaeda suspects were subjected to brutal interrogation methods.
When President Obama took office in 2009, he said he wanted to “look forward, as opposed to looking backward” and rejected calls for a broad investigation of C.I.A. interrogations and other Bush administration counterterrorism programs. In sharp contrast, the Poles see the case as a crucial test for rule of law and the investigation by prosecutors here has reached the highest levels of Polish politics.
One of Poland’s prime ministers during the period when terrorism suspects were alleged to have been subjected to torture in Poland, Leszek Miller, could be charged before Poland’s State Tribunal, the newspaper said.
Mary Fitzgerald writes: It didn’t take long before one of the incentives offered to coax the Taliban to the negotiating table came to light: last week the Guardian carried reports of American plans to release several high-ranking Taliban leaders from Guantánamo Bay. They include Mullah Khair Khowa, a former interior minister, Noorullah Noori, a former governor in northern Afghanistan and maybe, just maybe, the former army commander Mullah Fazl Akhund – if a third country, perhaps Qatar, will accept custody of him.
It’s an inevitable step in the right direction, reminiscent of the tentative early moves in the Northern Ireland peace process. It also offers a convenient, if partial, solution to the status of the 171 legal headaches still languishing in America’s brutal Caribbean prison.
But it forces into light other shaming questions about the conduct of the so-called war on terror; and in particular about those thousands of men, women and children, many innocent of any crime even by the US authorities’ own admission, who were “rendered” and remain trapped in prisons across the world.
Hamidullah Khan was just 13 when he disappeared from South Waziristan, in Pakistan. I met his father, Wakeel Khan, on a recent trip to Islamabad. He told me with pride that Hamidullah was a “very good-looking boy” and showed me pictures. He said his son could be quite absent-minded, but worked very hard at school: his dream was to become a doctor.
During the summer holidays in 2008, Wakeel sent Hamidullah to the family home in South Waziristan to collect some of their possessions, as Wakeel could not get the time off work to go himself. Hamidullah never returned.
Wakeel, an ex-solider, tried to retrace his son’s steps. He caught the bus up to the province, and asked everyone about his son: his relatives, his old army contacts, the local Taliban. No one knew anything. He thought of going to the police, but given that they charge a 300 rupee bribe to replace an ID card, he asked himself, “how much would they charge to find a person?”
After a year, the Red Cross finally tracked down Hamidullah and passed a letter to his family saying he was being held in Bagram prison in Afghanistan. Despite American assurances that the prisoners there are treated well, fresh allegations of abuse surfaced this weekend.
No explanation has ever been offered for why a boy so young was picked up and taken hundreds of miles away, why he has never been charged, and why he has still not been released.
Jonathan Turley writes: President Barack Obama rang in the New Year by signing the NDAA law with its provision allowing him to indefinitely detain citizens. It was a symbolic moment, to say the least. With Americans distracted with drinking and celebrating, Obama signed one of the greatest rollbacks of civil liberties in the history of our country … and citizens partied in unwitting bliss into the New Year.
Ironically, in addition to breaking his promise not to sign the law, Obama broke his promise on signing statements and attached a statement that he really does not want to detain citizens indefinitely (see the text of the statement here).
Obama insisted that he signed the bill simply to keep funding for the troops. It was a continuation of the dishonest treatment of the issue by the White House since the law first came to light. As discussed earlier, the White House told citizens that the president would not sign the NDAA because of the provision. That spin ended after sponsor Senator Carl Levin (Democrat, Michigan) went to the floor and disclosed that it was the White House and insisted that there be no exception for citizens in the indefinite detention provision.
The latest claim is even more insulting. You do not “support our troops” by denying the principles for which they are fighting. They are not fighting to consolidate authoritarian powers in the president. The “American way of life” is defined by our constitution and specifically the bill of rights. Moreover, the insistence that you do not intend to use authoritarian powers does not alter the fact that you just signed an authoritarian measure. It is not the use but the right to use such powers that defines authoritarian systems.
ABC News reports: In his last official act of business in 2011, President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act from his vacation rental in Kailua, Hawaii. In a statement, the president said he did so with reservations about key provisions in the law — including a controversial component that would allow the military to indefinitely detain terror suspects, including American citizens arrested in the United States, without charge.
The legislation has drawn severe criticism from civil liberties groups, many Democrats, along with Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, who called it “a slip into tyranny.” Recently two retired four-star Marine generals called on the president to veto the bill in a New York Times op-ed, deeming it “misguided and unnecessary.”
“Due process would be a thing of the past,” wrote Gens Charles C. Krulak and Joseph P. Hoar. “Current law empowers the military to detain people caught on the battlefield, but this provision would expand the battlefield to include the United States – and hand Osama bin Laden an unearned victory long after his well-earned demise.”
The president defended his action, writing that he signed the act, “chiefly because it authorizes funding for the defense of the United States and its interests abroad, crucial services for service members and their families, and vital national security programs that must be renewed.”
Senior administration officials, who asked not to be named, told ABC News, “The president strongly believes that to detain American citizens in military custody infinitely without trial, would be a break with our traditions and values as a nation, and wants to make sure that any type of authorization coming from congress, complies with our Constitution, our rules of war and any applicable laws.”
The Associated Press adds: The administration also raised concerns about an amendment in the bill that goes after foreign financial institutions that do business with Iran’s central bank, barring them from opening or maintaining correspondent operations in the United States. It would apply to foreign central banks only for transactions that involve the sale or purchase of petroleum or petroleum products.
Officials worry that the penalties could lead to higher oil prices, damaging the U.S. economic recovery and hurting allies in Europe and Asia that purchase petroleum from Iran.
The penalties do not go into effect for six months. The president can waive them for national security reasons or if the country with jurisdiction over the foreign financial institution has significantly reduced its purchases of Iran oil.
The State Department has said the U.S. was looking at how to put them in place in a way that maximized the pressure on Iran, but meant minimal disruption to the U.S. and its allies.
In response to the threatened penalties, Iran warned this past week that it may disrupt traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, a vital Persian Gulf waterway. U.S. officials say that while they take all threats from Iran seriously, they view this latest warning as little more than saber rattling because disrupting the waterway would harm Iran’s economy.
The $662 billion bill authorizes money for military personnel, weapons systems, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and national security programs in the Energy Department for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
The measure also freezes some $700 million in assistance until Pakistan comes up with a strategy to deal with improvised explosive devices.
Glenn Greenwald writes: Condemnation of President Obama is intense, and growing, as a result of his announced intent to sign into law the indefinite detention bill embedded in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). These denunciations come not only from the nation’s leading civil liberties and human rights groups, but also from the pro-Obama New York Times Editorial Page, which today has a scathing Editorial describing Obama’s stance as “a complete political cave-in, one that reinforces the impression of a fumbling presidency” and lamenting that “the bill has so many other objectionable aspects that we can’t go into them all,” as well as from vocal Obama supporters such as Andrew Sullivan, who wrote yesterday that this episode is “another sign that his campaign pledge to be vigilant about civil liberties in the war on terror was a lie.” In damage control mode, White-House-allied groups are now trying to ride to the rescue with attacks on the ACLU and dismissive belittling of the bill’s dangers.
For that reason, it is very worthwhile to briefly examine — and debunk — the three principal myths being spread by supporters of this bill, and to do so very simply: by citing the relevant provisions of the bill, as well as the relevant passages of the original 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), so that everyone can judge for themselves what this bill actually includes (this is all above and beyond the evidence I assembled in writing about this bill yesterday): [Continue reading...]
The Associated Press reports: In northern Bucharest, in a busy residential neighborhood minutes from the center of Romania’s capital city, is a secret that the Romanian government has tried for years to protect.
For years, the CIA used a government building — codenamed Bright Light — as a makeshift prison for its most valuable detainees. There, it held al-Qaida operatives Khalid Sheik Mohammad, the mastermind of 9/11, and others in a basement prison before they were ultimately transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 2006, according to former U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the location and inner workings of the prison.
The existence of a CIA prison in Romania has been widely reported but its location has never been made public until a joint investigation by The Associated Press and German public television, ARD Panorama. The news organizations located the former prison and learned details of the facility where harsh interrogation tactics were used. ARD’s program on the CIA prison will air Dec 8.
The Romanian prison was part of a network of so-called black sites that the CIA operated and controlled overseas in Thailand, Lithuania and Poland. All the prisons were closed by May 2006, and the CIA’s detention and interrogation program ended in 2009.
Unlike the CIA’s facility in Lithuania’s countryside or the one hidden in a Polish military installation, the CIA’s prison in Romania was not in a remote location. It was hidden in plain sight, a couple blocks off a major boulevard on a street lined with trees and homes, along busy train tracks.