Al Nashiri Before a Military Commission at Gitmo

This guest post was written by Charles R. Church, and is drawn from his copyrighted e-book titled My Week at Guantanamo’s War Court, which is available on amazon.com.

 

My excitement ran high when Mark Denbeaux phoned to tell me I would be heading to the Guantanamo Naval Base for a week, for I had been studying, writing and talking about both its detention facility and its military commissions for years. Now I would be attending, as a journalist and observer, pretrial proceedings in the military tribunal capital prosecution of abd al Rahim Hussayn Muhammad Al Nashiri, the Saudi claimed to have presided over bin Laden’s “boats operation,” for which he had planned three attacks on foreign ships, including the devastatingly lethal one in 2000 on the USS Cole, the destroyer fueling in Aden Harbor in Yemen. Continue reading

Al Darbi Pleads Guilty

Alexandra Kutner is currently at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on behalf of the Center for Policy and Research 

Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed Haza al Darbi spoke in both English and Arabic as he answered judge Air Force Col. Mark L. Allred’s questioning on Thursday. Clutching his prayer beads, al Darbi, a Saudi Arabian national, pled guilty to having joined with other members of al Qaeda in planning and preparing attacks against civilian oil tankers in Southwest Asian Waters. While al Darbi entered Court Room 1 knowing he was going to plead guilty to the charges, he listened attentively to each question and the detailing of every element of his charges. Despite being captured during the actual attack of the MV Limburg, al Darbi acknowledged today that he was complicit in the plot that lead to the explosion. Al Darbi will likely spend between 9 and 15 additional years in prison, possibly in his home country of Saudi Arabia.

There has been speculation that Al Darbi will testify against Nashiri, accused of plotting the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, in his upcoming trial, but this has been neither confirmed nor denied at this time.  Al Darbi is the sixth detainee to plead guilty at the military commissions and the first Saudi convicted of terror charges.

Alexandra Kutner, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research

Al Nashiri Keeps Kammen, Speaks of Frustrations

Alexandra Kutner is currently at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to observe proceedings in the al Nashiri case on behalf of the Center for Policy and Research.

Alleged architect of the USS Cole bombing Abd al Rahim al Nashiri’s motion hearing went off without a hitch yesterday morning. Al Nashiri met with his learned counsel Rick Kammen after the court recessed on Monday, and the pair appear to have worked out whatever problems led to al Nashiri’s attempt to fire Kammen. Al Nashiri spoke unshackled to the court, apologizing for the delay. Continue reading

Al Nashiri Loses Faith in Counsel

Alexandra Kutner is currently at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to observe proceedings in the al Nashiri case on behalf of the Center for Policy and Research.

Clean shaven Saudi detainee Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, accused of being the architect of the 2000 USS Cole bombing in Yemen, merely swiveled in his chair during his seven-minute stay in court. Al Nahsiri’s learned counsel, Rick Kammen, spoke on his behalf, explaining to the court that Nashiri had lost confidence in him and wanted him removed from the case. In hopes of preserving their relationship, Kammen requested two days to attempt to reconcile the relationship. Judge Pohl agreed to grant Kammen time to speak with al Nashiri and recessed until Wednesday. If the two cannot repair their relationship, al Nashiri is ultimately allowed to fire Kammen under current military commission rules. Continue reading

Trials for Alleged 9/11 Plotters Resume at Guantanamo Bay

Lost in the shuffle during a week where the NSA scandal has dominated headlines is more news coming out of Guantanamo Bay.  On Monday, the government released the identity of Guantanamo’s “indefinite detainees,” or those who the government has deemed too dangerous for release regardless of whether they can be tried in a military court.  The government has already announced that a number of these detainees will be held indefinitely even though they cannot be tried due to lack of evidence. The names have been kept secret since 2009 when multiple agencies investigated files on detainees in order to support President Obama’s initial effort to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center.  Normally these detainees could not be constitutionally held without the possibility of trial, but in 2001 Congress authorized the practice with the “Authorization of Military Force” bill.

Human rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty international have condemned the idea of “indefinite detainees,” calling for the release of all prisoners that the government has no intention of trying in a court of law.  Some men on the “indefinite detainees” list are actively involved in the well-documented hunger strikes.  At least two, both Afghani men, are deceased, with one committing suicide and the other dying of natural causes in Camp 6.  While the practice of holding detainees without the possibility of trial may be controversial, the release of their identities is a small step towards the transparency and legitimacy that human rights groups have been calling for in recent years.

In other Guantanamo-related news, pre-trial hearings for five men accused of plotting the September 11th attacks resumed on Monday, four months after CIA listening devices were discovered in conference rooms used by the detainees’ attorneys.  Included in this group is Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the attacks.  The hearings included statements from defense attorneys claiming that CIA personnel tortured the detainees while they were being held in overseas prisons prior to their transfer to Guantanamo Bay.  They have also filed motions to dismiss the case due to meddling by senior military officials.

Also present in the courtroom were two victims and family members of three other victims that perished in the attacks.  The observers met with prosecutors and defense attorneys earlier in the week and pleaded for a quick and efficient trial.  At least one victim, a firefighter who was injured by falling rubble in the aftermath of the attacks, is expected to testify on behalf of the prosecution.  As one could imagine, the trials will probably not be very speedy.  Detainee trials at Guantanamo have been ridiculed for many reasons, one of the biggest being that they are inefficient and often take years to complete.  These particular observers have been waiting on an outcome for some twelve years.  Although the trials are resuming, we may have to wait a lot longer to see a resolution.

Chris Whitten, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research

More Government Secrecy in Detainee Trials at Guantanamo Bay

Later this week, the trial of an alleged al-Qaeda bomber and current Guantanamo Bay detainee suspected of orchestrating the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole will continue, and one of the first items on the docket is a top secret motion from the government.  Classified motions are not exactly rare in military trials against detainees, but this one is particularly interesting.  Those who know the contents of the motion are barred from discussing any of its contents, and even the defendant, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, and his defense team are not allowed to obtain declassified information regarding the motion unless the Army judge presiding over the trial compels it.  In fact, al-Nashiri’s lead attorney told reporters that his defense team had to fly to Washington, D.C. just to read it.

Army Brig. General Mark Martins, the government’s lead prosecutor on war crimes, insisted that his office was not using classification to cover up any embarrassing episodes, stating that there are “important narrow occasions” where the government may classify information “to protect national security interests.”  Still, the motion has already attracted negative attention from critics of the Pentagon court, which uses the motto “Fairness – Transparency – Justice.”  Yale law professor Eugene Fidell likened the motion to playing charades in the dark.  Even before news of the classified motion was released, a defense attorney filed a motion in May opposing any closure of future motions against al-Nashiri.

Military hearings at Guantanamo have been criticized for some time due to concerns over secrecy and the legitimacy of hearings against detainees, and this news will only add fuel to the fire.  The government is seeking the death penalty against al-Nashiri, and anything less than full disclosure of the government’s case against him leads to serious questions regarding the fairness of military trials against detainees.  In fact, Professor Fidell was quoted as saying,

“We’re supposed to be talking about the rule of law. You can have an all-star team of justices – Cardozo, Brandeis, Holmes, John Marshall, Stevens, Brennan, take your pick – and if they’re working in a closet you can forget about it in terms of public confidence in the administration of justice.”

The timing of this news was poor for the government in light of the recent leak of information regarding the NSA’s surveillance scandal.  With public concern regarding government secrecy rapidly growing, we should expect a great deal of criticism regarding the use of classified motions against detainees at Guantanamo.  And when the stakes are so high, we should be calling for more transparency and legitimacy in trials against detainees.

Chris Whitten, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research