A New Secrecy Issue at GTMO

A new secrecy issue has arisen during the Military Commission hearings in Guantanamo.

Judge Pohl, presiding over the Military Commission prosecution of Al Nashiri, alleged to be the Mastermind behind the Cole bombing in 2000, had ordered that the details of his treatment while in CIA custody be shared with the defense. The order required that the information be available to the defense under the same requirements as the other classified evidence already provided to them.
The prosecution has recently argued that Judge Pohl’s order should be set aside and the details of the treatment of Al Nasir remain secret from the al-Nashiri defense team. The prosecution’s basis for setting the order aside was because the Senate Intelligence Committee summary might reveal some of those same information and perhaps obviating the need for the disclosures to the defense or at least permit a new review by Judge Pohl after the Senate Intelligence Committee response plays its way out.
Currently there is no announced determination of when the Senate Summary will be released. It is currently undergoing a classification review by the Department of Justice. At present there is no date for the report to be released or any knowledge of the extent if any that the report may contain the information that the defense has sought and has previously been granted by Judge Pohl.
Al Nashiri is scheduled to be the first Military Commission trial of any of the detainees brought to Guantanamo after the CIA Dark sites were closed. The trial is currently scheduled to begin in January.
The prosecution is seeking the death penalty and the defense intends to have the jury consider the extent to which the government treated its client before he arrived in Guantanamo. That treatment, according to the New York Times report by Charles Savage that “the C.I. A. inspector general called his the ‘most significant’ case of a detainee who was brutalized in ways that went beyond the tactics approved by the Bush administration, including being threatened with a power drill.” An expert on treatment of torture called by the defense has already stated that Al-Nashiri had been subjected to physical, psychological and sexual torture The defense considers the manner in which he was tortured during his detention in the CIA dark sites to be relevant to whether or not the death penalty should be impose.presiding over the Military Commission prosecution of Al Nashiri, alleged to be the Mastermind behind the Cole bombing in 2000, had ordered that the details of his treatment while in CIA custody be shared with the defense. The order required that the information be available to the defense under the same requirements as the other classified evidence already provided to them.
The prosecution has recently argued that Judge Pohl’s order should be set aside and the details of the treatment of Al Nasir remain secret from the al-Nashiri defense team. The prosecution’s basis for setting the order aside was because the Senate Intelligence Committee summary might reveal some of those same information and perhaps obviating the need for the disclosures to the defense or at least permit a new review by Judge Pohl after the Senate Intelligence Committee response plays its way out.
Currently there is no announced determination of when the Senate Summary will be released. It is currently undergoing a classification review by the Department of Justice. At present there is no date for the report to be released or any knowledge of the extent if any that the report may contain the information that the defense has sought and has previously been granted by Judge Pohl.

The prosecution is seeking the death penalty and the defense intends to have the jury consider the extent to which the government treated its client before he arrived in Guantanamo. That treatment, according to the New York Times report by Charles Savage that “the C.I. A. inspector general called his the ‘most significant’ case of a detainee who was brutalized in ways that went beyond the tactics approved by the Bush administration, including being threatened with a power drill.” An expert on treatment of torture called by the defense has already stated that Al-Nashiri had been subjected to physical, psychological and sexual torture The defense considers the manner in which he was tortured during his detention in the CIA dark sites to be relevant to whether or not the death penalty should be imposed.

Professor Mark Denbeaux, Director
Center for Policy & 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

Guantanamo News: 9/11 Case Delayed

Yesterday, officials at Guantanamo Bay announced that United States v. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, et al. a.k.a the 9/11 trials, will be delayed until at least April. The case has been at a standstill since December when the presiding judge, Army Col. James Pohl, decided to adjourn to determine the mental status of one of the detainees on trial. Continue reading

FISC Reopens NSA Phone Surveillance Program

Despite the public’s hopes that the NSA’s telephone surveillance program would be deemed unconstitutional, the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) recently gave the Agency the go-ahead to continue collecting and analyzing millions of Americans’ private phone records. However, the extension may only be temporary as the FISC only granted the NSA three more months of surveillance. Continue reading

Trial of Five Guantanamo Prisoners Charged in September 11th Attacks Will Move Forward

Judge Pohl, Chief Presiding Officer for the Guantanamo Military Commissions, ruled yesterday that pretrial hearings will move forward for the five Guantanamo prisoners charged in the September 11th attacks.  In doing so, he denied a request by the detainees’ lawyers to pause the case until the Pentagon resolves concerns about the security of their computer system. Continue reading

A Week at Guantanamo Bay

In August of 2013 I had the opportunity to travel to Guantanamo Bay to represent Seton Hall Law’s Center for Policy and Research as an NGO observer at the 9/11 trials.  In particular, I was able to watch one of many pretrial hearings in the case of the United States v. Mohammed, in which Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin ‘Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (AKA al-Baluchi), and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi are named as defendants.  The five detainees are accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks that lead to the deaths of nearly 3,000 people in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

Continue reading

Bradley Manning Sentencing Begins

Early yesterday, the sentencing phase of the trial of Bradley Manning, the source of the Wikileaks scandal, began at Fort Meade.  As I said yesterday, Manning was acquitted of aiding the enemy, the most serious charge against him.  Still, Bradley Manning was convicted on 20 of 22 counts, including charges of violating the Espionage Act of 1917.  The prosecution and defense both agreed with Col. Denise Lind that Manning faces a total of 136 years in a military prison for his crimes.

On top of the potential 136-year prison sentence, the parties also agreed that Bradley Manning will be demoted to the rank of enlisted private, dishonorably discharged from the Army, and stripped of all pay and benefits that he would have otherwise received.

The star witness of yesterday’s sentencing hearing was Brig. Gen. Robert A. Carr (ret.), who is now an executive at defense contractor Northrop Grumman.  General Carr’s expertise on the matter comes from a long career overseeing the Army’s intelligence gathering operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Bosnia.  His last assignment as a member of the Army was to gather information and assess the extent to which information released by Wikileaks harmed soldiers in the field and jeopardized American national security.

Now that the bulk of Bradley Manning’s sentence has already been settled, all that remains is to determine how much of the potential 136-year sentence he will actually serve and what monetary fines the court will impose on him.  I find it hard to believe at this point that Manning, who is just 25 years old, will ever be a free man.  I guess that’s just what 20 separate convictions for espionage will get you.  But now that he has been stripped of all benefits and pay and will probably spend most or all of his life behind bars, arguing about monetary fines is basically just a formality.  It’s probably not very realistic to expect him to pay up.

Anyways, General Carr’s testimony centered around whether or not Bradley Manning’s crimes actually led to any deaths in the field.  General Carr claimed that exactly one death, an Afghani national with ties to the U.S. government, occurred as a result of the Wikileaks scandal.  The Taliban reportedly killed him after obtaining the information.  However, when pressed by the defense, General Carr admitted that the man was never named in war logs released by Julian Assange and any mention of the death was stricken from the official record.  General Carr still insisted that Bradley Manning’s crimes had put U.S. soldiers and Afghani allies at risk by detailing the relationship between certain Afghani forces and the U.S. military.

It’s interesting that not even General Carr, the prosecution’s authority on the supposed damage caused by Bradley Manning, could not point to a single instance where the leaks led to even one casualty.  The only such accusation was quickly stricken from the record.  To me, this shows just how desperate the government was to make an example out of Manning with the aiding the enemy charge.  There’s really no other explanation for moving forward with that charge with only one precarious piece of evidence.

The trial still has a long way go.  The defense is still days, maybe weeks away from presenting evidence of mitigating circumstances that could soften the blow of Bradley Manning’s 20 convictions.  Like I said before, Manning isn’t going to be a free man any time soon.  But if today was any indication, he might not be looking at a 136-year sentence after all.

Chris Whitten, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research

NSA Received Help from FISA for Surveillance Authorization

Just as many predicted from the beginning, it looks like the NSA surveillance scandal has reached beyond the NSA to other branches of government.  On Saturday the New York Times reported that over the past few years, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA, has basically created an entire new category of law pertaining to surveillance for the NSA and CIA.  FISA has reportedly handed down over a dozen classified rulings on everything from espionage to nuclear proliferation to cyber attacks.  It appears that FISA has quietly taken over the Supreme Court’s role in all matters pertaining to surveillance.

Most notably, the court used a particular case to expand a little-known doctrine called the “special needs” doctrine that allows authorities to sidestep the Fourth Amendment by performing search and seizure operations without the need for a warrant.  The government claims that this expansion of the special needs doctrine is only applicable in terrorism-related cases.  The exception is typically used only for things like airport screenings and DUI checkpoints.  Professor William C. Banks of Syracuse University stated that the use of this doctrine is just “another way of tipping the scales toward the government in its access to all this data.”

So how can FISA justify the expansion of this doctrine, essentially abandoning the use of the Fourth Amendment’s protection from arbitrary searches and seizures?  It looks like it came down to the interpretation of one word:  Relevant.  Instead of interpreting the word in the narrow sense used in most criminal cases, the court elected to broaden its scope, allowing the NSA to collect any records that could possibly be relevant to national security concerns.  This interpretation has drawn sharp criticism in the past few days.  A senior partner at Perkins Cole LLP, the Justice Department’s go-to firm on federal surveillance law, claims that FISA has destroyed the meaning of “relevant” altogether, essentially changing it to mean “everything.”  He also mentioned that a typical federal or state court would laugh the prosecution out of the courtroom if it tried to argue for this new interpretation.

But what does this mean for the average American?  Probably not much.  As I’ve said before, I don’t think the NSA has the time or resources to rifle though billions of pages of records that they know are not “relevant” to national security.  I have a hard time believing that our government is reading all our “LOL’s” and “IDK’s” when there is so much at stake.  In fact, it’s come out that even though the NSA has the power to collect the records, they still needed a warrant to actually access them.  Sure, the government still has plenty of egg on its face and has sufficiently embarrassed itself on a global scale.  But now, roughly a month after Edward Snowden first released information on this scandal, we still have yet to hear of any connection between the NSA’s programs and any non-terrorism-related arrests.

With that said, it’s hard not to be concerned when courts hand down secret rulings that essentially throw away our Constitutional protections.  At least for now the traditional law requiring warrants for searches and seizures still applies to normal cases, but that won’t make to many people feel better about the fact that we have a highly secretive court handing down classified decisions that have the potential wipe out our most basic freedoms.  I’m usually willing to give the government a pass when it comes to protecting our national security, but this has to stop somewhere.  I think it’s safe to say that the American government has officially pole-vaulted over that fine line between protecting our freedom and trampling on it.

Chris Whitten, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research

Senate Armed Services Committee Approves Guantanamo Transfer Bill

It now appears that the government is taking steps toward lightening the burden on Guantanamo Bay, and perhaps even closing it.  Yesterday, The New York Times reported that the Senate Armed Services Committee approved the National Defense Authorization Act for 2014.  The bill will lift a ban on the transfer of detainees to the United States for the purpose of prosecution.  The bill also pertains to transferring detainees for medical reasons, or even for continued detention in American prisons.

Since 2011, the U.S. Secretary of Defense has been required to certify that a list of conditions have been met before a detainee could be transferred.  Most of the conditions were extra security measures that essentially stopped the government from even attempting transfers, even for low-security risk detainees.  Under the new bill, the checklist would be done away with and the Secretary of Defense would only need to certify that the transfer would be in the best interest of national security.  This would be a much more flexible process that would probably lead to more transfers and possibly more trials for detainees.

Although the bill has been approved, it still has a long way to go before it becomes a law.  No actual vote has been held; members of the Committee have only agreed to debate the bill’s provisions on the Senate floor.  A rival bill has also been drafted by Republicans in the House of Representatives that would maintain the blanketed ban on transfers for any reason whatsoever.

So what are the benefits of the bill?  First of all, it might speed up the process for detainees who are actually being charged with crimes.  Military tribunals are notoriously slow, and we often have to wait years before we see a verdict in these trials.  If we opened up our traditional court system, we might see quicker results.  That’s not to say that our traditional system is lightning quick, but if we remove some of the barriers that prosecutors and defense attorneys face in military tribunals we would probably see a lot more efficiency.

Aside from that, the cost of providing medical treatment to detainees at Guantanamo can be astronomical.  Medical expenses are high as it is, but when you factor in transportation costs for medical personnel and equipment, they become ridiculous.  We would not only be able to cut our bottom line if we were able to provide quicker, better, and cheaper medical attention for detainees, but we would probably be able to quiet some of the human rights concerns that have stemmed from force-feeding detainees that have been on hunger strikes for months now.

Overall, there are a lot of positives to be found in the bill.  President Obama’s initial promise to close Guantanamo a year into his presidency has turned into a lengthy debacle and it doesn’t look like the government will be able to close it in one fell swoop.  If we make the decision to close it, it’s going to be a long process.  And even if this bill were voted into law it’s probably unlikely that high-value detainees would be transferred due to security issues.    So is this bill just a small step towards the slow phasing-out of Guantanamo Bay?  Yes.  But it’s a step nonetheless, and a step we can build on.

Chris Whitten, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research