Category Archives: Terrorism prosecutions

Reaction to the Reaction to the Ghailani Verdict

by Joshua L. Dratel

The polar reactions to the verdict in the trial of Ahmed Ghailani could not be less contrived, as they represent the ultimate in confirmation bias.  I don’t believe a single opinion was changed by the result: the Peter Kings and his ilk have always been against using the federal courts for terrorism trials.  After all, they howled for military commissions or military detention, or indefinite detention without trial at all, even when the defendant pleaded guilty and provided a full confession, as was the case with the would-be Times Square bomber (Faisal Shahzad).  So why would they like a trial, even one that ended with a genuine prospect of life imprisonment, any better?

Nor did any of them pledge to support federal court prosecutions as the proper forum for trying terrorists in the event the Ghailani trial ended in conviction on all counts and without any other problems. Thus, their criticism of the outcome, and their efforts to leverage it to oppose further federal prosecutions of terrorists, is as unsurprising as it is reflexive.

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Voting six to five, a federal appeals court dismissed a lawsuit Wednesday against a Boeing subsidiary that alleged the company flew terrorism suspects to foreign countries for interrogation by the CIA. The court concluded that state secrets might be exposed if the lawsuit went forward.

Court Dismisses a Case Asserting Torture by the CIA (New York Times)

Ninth Circuit Rules 6-5 to Toss Rendition Case Against Boeing (Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog)

Court Tosses Lawsuit Against Boeing in Transport of CIA Terrorism Suspects (Politics Daily)

The New York Times editorial page sharply criticizes the court’s decision Thursday :”The state secrets doctrine is so blinding and powerful that it should be invoked only when the most grave national security matters are at stake — nuclear weapons details, for example, or the identity of covert agents. It should not be used to defend against allegations that if true, as the dissenting judges wrote, would be “gross violations of the norms of international law.”

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JFK Bomb Plot Suspects Convicted

Russell Defreitas and Abdul Kadir have been found guilty of conspiracy to attack the United States by blowing up fuel tanks at JFK Airport.  The jury deliberated for several days, surprising some, and asked to re-hear taped recordings of Abdul Kadir’s conversations with informant Steven Francis. Kadir was convicted of the larger conspiracy but acquitted of conducting surveillance on mass transportation.


Nothing New about Homegrown Terrorism

by Joshua L. Dratel

Hey, media! Basta on the incessant claims that “homegrown terrorism” is some “new” “phenomenon” in the U.S.   For those who are Spanish-challenged, “basta” means “enough!”   I recognize that in this nano-news cycle culture there is a tendency to sensationalize every event or development in order to attract the attention of an otherwise easily distracted audience that tires of the same old story within 20 minutes.   A recent installment of this hype comes from ABC News and its direful headline last Thursday, “American-Bred Terrorists Causing Alarm for Law Enforcement.”   Next I expect the startling story headlined, “Watch Out for Cigarettes: They May Be Unhealthy!”

Using “new” as a distinguishing adjective simply to garner attention is an advertising gimmick, not a journalistic technique.   Regarding “phenomenon,” I of course cannot vouch for how it is used in the media, but I’ll assume for current purposes that the chosen meaning is “something that is impressive or extraordinary,” rather than the more mundane “fact, occurrence, or circumstance observed or observable.”

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Conviction at Guantanamo; New Defendants in NYC Subway Plot Case

The Obama administration has its first conviction at Guantanamo Bay. Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi pleaded guilty to material support and conspiracy charges today.  He is expected to be sentenced next month.

Al Qosi, of Sudan, was charged with serving as “an accountant, paymaster, and supply chief for al-Qaida during the 1990s,” according to CNN. He acted as Osama bin Laden’s cook, driver, and bodyguard.

Al Qosi’s is the fourth conviction at Guantanamo, and the second by plea bargain. Australian David Hicks pleaded guilty to material support in 2007 and has since been released in Australia. Salim Hamdan, whose petition for habeas corpus resulted in the military commission system at the time being invalidated by the Supreme Court, was convicted of material support in 2008 and has since been released in Yemen. Ali Hamza al Bahlul, a citizen of Yemen who put up no defense to the case against him, was sentenced to life last year.

One hundred and eighty-one detainees remain at Guantanamo.

BBC, AP via Chicago Tribune, CNN’s This Just In blog, Miami Herald, St. Petersburg Times‘s PolitiFact, New York Times‘s Guantanamo Docket.

The case originally against Najibullah Zazi has expanded again, this time to defendants overseas.  In a superseding indictment, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York has charged Adnan El Shukrijumah, Adis Medunjanin, Abid Naseer, Tariq Ur Rehman, and a defendant listed only as “Ahmad,” “Sohaib” or “Zahid” in connection with the plot to bomb the New York City subway system.  All but Medunjanin are new additions to the list of defendants associated with the plot.  Naseer and Rehman were arrested in April 2009 in the UK in connection with other terrorism allegations, but they were both eventually released. A British immigration court found Naseer was a member of al Qaeda, but that the risk of torture prevented his deportation to Pakistan.  Naseer was re-arrested Wednesday in the UK.  Rehman, who returned to Pakistan after his release, is not in custody.  El Shukrijumah is also at large.

The indictment further connects the plot to another operation with targets in England, and alleges that Zazi’s plans were directed by high-level al Qaeda operatives, including El Shukrijumah, Saleh al-Somali, and Rashid Rauf.  El Shukrijumah, who grew up in the U.S., is believed to be the current head of external operations for al Qaeda, having taken over from al-Somali, who is thought to have been killed by a CIA drone strike.  Rauf, also believed killed in a drone strike, was previously linked to the 2006 airlines plot in the UK that resulted in restrictions on carrying liquids on planes worldwide.  He has also been linked to Bryant Neal Vinas, indicted for aiding al Qaeda in part by giving detailed information about the Long Island Railroad and its security to high-level al Qaeda members.

The plot is now believed to have spanned three countries – the U.S., the UK, and Pakistan.  Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay have both already pleaded guilty in relation to it.  Charges have been added against Medunjanin, alleging that the crash he was involved in when police attempted to arrest him was in fact a last-ditch effort at a suicide attack.

CNN, CBS News, MSNBCNewsweek‘s Declassified blog, Bloomberg Businessweek, New York Times, Wall Street JournalAPDaily News, ReutersTelegraph


Top Twenty Plots to Know (PDF)

After six years of research on terrorism prosecutions in the U.S. criminal courts, The Center on Law and Security has compiled its list of the top 20 plots.  These are the most high profile, and the most serious, Islamist terrorist plots encountered in the criminal justice system since September 2001.  The Center has limited its selection to those plots alleged to have involved violence, whether planned or actually carried out, rather than financial support to terrorists or terror organizations. Also excluded from consideration for this list were prosecutions of defendants formerly detained by the military as alleged combatants, such as Jose Padilla, Ali Saleh Kahlah al Marri, and Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (whose indictment precedes the September 11th attacks), as well as cases currently being prosecuted outside of the federal criminal courts, such as those against Abdulhakim Mujahid Mohammad and Nidal Malik Hasan.  The underlying facts have been drawn from court documents and press reports.

Contained in this PDF, arranged chronologically, is the bare minimum that the public should know about terrorist plots prosecuted in the U.S. criminal courts. For comprehensive statistics regarding terrorism trials in the federal courts since 9/11, the Center offers the Terrorist Trial Report Card: September 11, 2001 – September 11, 2009, available here.

Today’s Terrorism News

Attorney General Holder in Kabul

Attorney General Eric Holder is visiting Kabul today to meet with Afghan officials about the elimination of corruption and the establishment of an “effective criminal justice system”. CNN, AP. The Department of Justice has the text of Holder’s official statement made in Kabul.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has unanimously confirmed General David Petraeus as the new top general in Afghanistan, although both Democrats and Republicans made it clear that they had reservations about the Afghan strategy. In the hearing, General Petraeus hinted at a number of possible strategic changes, including a reevaluation of the use of artillery and air support, which has been discouraged in previous years in order to prevent civilian casualties. The full Senate is expected to vote on his confirmation today. New York Times, New York Times’s At War blog, LA Times, Washington Post, NPR’s The Two-Way blog.

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Today’s Terrorism News

JFK Bomb Plot Trial Starts Tomorrow

Russel Defreitas, an American citizen, and Abdul Kadir, of Guyana, are about to stand trial for an alleged plot to bomb JFK airport.  This will be the first New York City jury trial of a terror suspect accused of trying to attack the city since that of Shahawar Matin Siraj, convicted in 2006 of plotting to bomb Herald Square. Opening statements are set to begin tomorrow.

Suspected Russian Spies Arrested

Eleven people alleged to be deep-cover Russian spies have been arrested, closing a seven-year FBI investigation into an espionage ring known as the “Illegals Program.”  Their directives allegedly included infiltrating “policy-making circles” and researching “programs on small yield high penetration nuclear devices.” Though officials claim that the operation did not compromise any secret information, the Russian Foreign Ministry declared Tuesday that publicly announcing the details of investigation may have compromised Russo-U.S. relations, which diplomats from both countries have been attempting to restore. New York Times, Telegraph, Wall Street Journal, AP, MSNBC.

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Today’s Terrorism News

Jan Fedarcyk to Lead the FBI in New York

Jan Fedarcyk has been tapped to head the FBI’s New York office, which includes 2,000 agents. She is “one of the first women ever to hold such a high-ranking operational post in the FBI,” according to the AP.  Her counterterrorism experience includes service as the FBI representative to the National Counterterrorism Center’s directorate of strategic planning and as special agent in charge of the FBI’s counterterrorism division in Los Angeles.


On Friday, a defense attorney for one defendant charged in connection with the Bronx Synagogue plot accused prosecutors of bad faith after prosecutors delivered a shipment of documents that the defense believed should have been disclosed months before. The defendants were not granted bail.

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Today’s Terrorism News

McChrystal Replaced by Petraeus

As generals change, Afghan debate narrows to 2 powerful voices: The New York Times.

From Pentagon, messages of dismay and support: The New York Times.

Will Holbrooke be next to exit?: The Los Angeles Times.

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