Entries in Guantanamo Bay (22)


Guantanamo Court Chaos Replaced by Order

Comstock/Thinkstock(GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba) -- Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other defendants charged in the 9/11 terror attacks were back before a military judge in Guantanamo Monday, and the proceedings bore little resemblance to their last, chaotic appearance in the courtroom on May 5.

As family members of the 9/11 victims watched, all five defendants, who were dressed in white, sat quietly except when answering direct questions posed by the judge, Col. James Pohl. Admitted 9/11 mastermind Mohammed, sporting a long, henna-dyed red beard, read legal papers. Monday was the first day of hearings expected to last through the week.

Five months ago, an arraignment expected to last several hours dragged on for 13, as the defendants took off their headsets, refused to answer questions from the judge and stood up to engage in prayer. Defendant Ramzi Binalshibh began ranting, and another defendant was brought into the courtroom in a restraint chair.

On Monday, the defendants enjoyed several legal victories, including the right to skip the rest of the week's proceedings. The prosecution had filed a motion requesting that the defendants be required to attend all hearings. Judge Pohl ruled that, for this week at least, attendance is not mandatory.

"The accused can, prior to assembly, choose voluntarily not to attend a session of the commission as long as...he understands his right to be present and what his options may or may not mean," ruled Pohl. The judge will also provide a sheet disclosing their rights that must be read to the accused in their cells if they elect to skip future sessions.

Later Col. Pohl individually read each of the defendants the options on the waiver form. The defendants replied in the affirmative either in English or through English translation. Most were puzzled by the part in the waiver that indicated the proceedings could take place if they were no longer under U.S. military control at Guantanamo.

Pohl had to explain to them the "unlikely" hypothetical that if they were to escape out of U.S. military control the military commission would still continue in their absence. The defendants agreed with this after it was explained to them.

When it was Mohammed's turn, he said through a translator, "Yes, but I don't think there's any justice in this court."

Earlier, the defense had moved that an additional civilian counsel be allowed to represent defendant Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi, a Saudi who allegedly helped finance the 9/11 attacks. Col. Pohl granted the motion after Hawsawi indicated that he wanted the attorney. In May, Hawsawi had stared straight ahead and refused to answer when Col. Pohl asked the same question.

Pohl also granted a defense motion that a military lawyer who had once represented Binalshibh be allowed to join Hawsawi's defense team. Pohl ruled that the attorney could represent Hawsawi, provided she did not share what she had learned while representing Binalshibh.

Outside observers were most interested in a motion that will likely be heard Tuesday. The ACLU is attempting to block a "protective order" that would prevent the revelation of classified details gathered during the defendants' CIA interrogations. The ACLU argues that the restriction will keep the public from learning about the conditions of the defendants' captivity, including torture.

Five 9/11 victims' family members chosen via lottery and their five invited guests attended Monday's hearings in Guantanamo. Victims' families are also eligible to watch via closed-circuit television at locations in Maryland, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, but a Pentagon spokesman said that only four family members were watching Monday's proceedings. The four family members were watching the proceedings at Fort Hamilton, N.Y.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Gitmo Detainee Turned Terror Commander Killed: Reports

AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- An al Qaeda terror commander, who was released from Guantanamo Bay to join an art-based "jihadi rehab" program only to return to the fight as a high-ranking member of al Qaeda's Yemen branch, has been killed, according to Yemen's state-run media.

Said al-Shihri, a Saudi national considered by the U.S. government to be the number two man in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), was taken out in an airstrike along with six other militants, Yemen's Saba news agency reported today, citing security officials. DNA tests reportedly had not been done to confirm al-Shihri's death.

Al-Shihri, a "veteran jihadist," traveled to Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks to fight coalition troops, only to be captured weeks later, according to West Point's Combating Terrorism Center. He was sent to the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he stayed for six years before being released to Saudi Arabia. There, he entered a so-called "jihadi rehab" program that attempted to turn terrorists into art students by getting them to get "negative energy out on paper," as the program's director told ABC News in 2009.

But just months after he supposedly entered the fingerpainting camp, al-Shihri reappeared in Yemen where he was suspected to have been behind a deadly bombing at the U.S. embassy there.

At the time, critics of the "jihadi rehab" program used al-Shihri as evidence that extremists would just go through the motions in order to be freed.

"They basically schmooze or con their way out of the system and then they get out," former FBI agent and ABC News consultant Brad Garrett said in the 2009 ABC News report.

Before his release from Guantanamo, al-Shihri had told his captors that should he be freed, he would return to Saudi Arabia to work in his family's furniture store, according to detention documents posted online by The New York Times.

Since before Osama bin Laden's death at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALs in May 2011, U.S. security officials have warned that al Qaeda's regional arms -- especially AQAP -- represented a greater danger to the U.S. than the traditional "core" of the terror organization over which bin Laden presided.

Officials at the CIA, whose drone program U.S. officials say was responsible for the death of another high-profile AQAP member in April, declined to comment for this report.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Guantanamo Detainee Found Dead in Cell

Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- An unidentified detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba who had been on a hunger strike earlier this year died over the weekend after guards at the U.S. detention facility found him unconscious in his cell. The detainee's name and country of origin are being withheld by the U.S. military until after notifications are made to his family and home government.

U.S. Southern Command announced Monday that during routine checks on Saturday afternoon at the facility, where terror suspects have been held since 2002, Joint Task Force-Guantanamo guards "found the Detainee unconscious and unresponsive."

The guards immediately performed first aid on the detainee and Navy corpsmen were called to assist with the lifesaving efforts. The detainee was then transported to the hospital at the Navy base in Guantanamo where "after extensive lifesaving measures had been performed the detainee was pronounced dead by a physician."

While not able to identify the detainee by name, a spokesperson for JTF-Guantanamo said he was not one of the high-profile detainees currently being tried by the military commissions at Guantanamo. That list includes Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other detainees accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Since the camp was opened in early 2002, eight other detainees have died while in custody -- six from suicides and the other two from natural causes. The most recent death was in 2011. The detainee's death means there are now 167 detainees at the camp, which at its height held 779 detainees.

The unidentified detainee was one of several at the camp who have been participating in hunger strikes that have been going on at the detention facility for years.

The detainee had ended his hunger strike on June 1 and had recouped 95 percent of his body weight. Hunger strikers at the camp are routinely force fed by medical personnel. A Defense official says that the hunger strikes are more of a political act than a physical act as many take their liquid nutrient feeds willingly and assist medical personnel with the insertion of the food tubes that force-feed them.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service has initiated an investigation of the incident to determine the cause and manner surrounding the death and an autopsy will be performed.

The Southern Command release says the remains of the deceased detainee are being treated with respect for Islamic culture and traditions. Following the autopsy the remains will be repatriated to his home country.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


The Fresh Prince of Bel-Where? Gitmo Loves 90s Sitcom

Hemera/Thinkstock(GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba) -- Librarians at Guantanamo Bay’s prison detention center have had to up their stock of the popular 1990s TV show The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, starring Will Smith, thanks to the prisoners’ newfound enthusiasm for the sitcom.

The 168 captives currently residing at the U.S. prison base in Cuba have access to an extensive entertainment selection: the main library houses 18,000 books, 2,730 movies, 390 video games, and 1,235 magazines, according to Joint Task Force Guantanamo spokesperson Capt. Jennifer Palmeri. The books and movies are delivered upon requests to prisoners’ cells or recreation rooms by guards. And if the camp doesn’t have the particular book or movie that an inmate wants, camp leadership can buy it for him or her, provided it is vetted for any potential controversy, said Palmeri.

But recently many prisoners have been asking for the same thing: Will Smith as the titular Fresh Prince.

Fresh Prince became popular after a few people watched the first two seasons and decided to request the rest of the series,” Palmeri said.

A camp librarian identified only as Milton said the Fresh Prince show has now surpassed the previous favorite, the Harry Potter books, according to the Miami Herald, which first reported the Fresh Prince’s curious popularity. As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan wears on, entertainment becomes increasingly important for Muslim inmates who are fasting from dawn to sundown, Milton said. The Fresh Prince series has stepped in to fill the void.

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air originally aired in 1990 on NBC and ran for six seasons. The show’s popular theme song kicked off each episode: “Now this is a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down,” raps the show’s star Will Smith.

It was that lead role -- in which Smith plays an inner-city teenager from Philadelphia transplanted into the posh home of his relatives in ritzy Bel Air, Calif. -- that launched Smith’s career and transformed him into a household name.

And now the Guantanamo detainees apparently find him endearing as well. The inmates are separated into four security levels, based on their cooperation with guards. About 80 percent of all prisoners are housed in either the communal facility or the maximum security detention center -- but all prisoners can order books or movies from the library, said Palmeri. Those in single-cell solitary confinement can watch movies on a TV installed for their viewing pleasure. Those in less-secure environments watch at a communal television, the screen encased in Plexiglas, according to the Miami Herald.

“One aspect of our mission is to provide activities to the detainees that are mentally and physically engaging,” Palmeri said. Besides reading and watching TV, inmates are offered classes on things like Arabic calligraphy and keyboarding. The art courses, however, are the most popular.

Also popular are the novels in Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy, a young adult fantasy series about a violent post-apocalyptic world whose citizens are subjugated by an all-powerful government. The Guantanamo library has two copies of the series for the detainees’ perusal.

In 2005, an American Forces Press Service report noted that Arabic translations of Agatha Christie novels were hot commodities on the camp library’s shelves, according to a security official. Since then, the Harry Potter books enjoyed a period of success, as did the self-help book Don’t Be Sad, which discusses happiness from an Islamic perspective. The library even stocks video games like Madden NFL.

The detainees still at Guantanamo hail from around the world, with the majority claiming roots in Yemen, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.

The prison at Guantanamo Bay has been a hot-button political issue as President Barack Obama repeatedly promised to close the controversial prison while he was campaigning for office in 2008, but the facility remains open. A final report released by the Guantanamo Review Task Force in January of 2010 recommended that 48 of the current prisoners be held indefinitely under the laws of war.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Music at Gitmo Not for Torture, Pentagon Claims

John Moore/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Music is being used at the Guantanamo Bay military detention facility, but it's not considered torture as some reports have stated, according to the Pentagon.

Capt. John Kirby told reporters, "Music is used both in a positive way and as a disincentive.  We don’t torture."

There had been stories of Gitmo detainees having to listen to kids' songs from Sesame Street, but Kirby wouldn't verify it.

The Pentagon spokesman said, "I don’t know what the playlist is.  It’s done in a measured way, in keeping with our obligation and commitment to treating detainees humanely."

Still, an Al Jazeera-produced documentary called Songs of War alleges that detainees must regularly listen to songs through headphones over long periods of time.

Christopher Cerf, who writes songs for Sesame Street, was outraged that his music was on the playlist, telling Al Jazeera: "The idea that my music had a role in that is kind of outrageous. This is fascinating to me…because of the horror of music being perverted to serve evil purposes."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


9/11 Plotters: ‘Accused Refuses to Answer’ in Guantanamo Bay Arraignment

FBI/Getty Images(FORT MEADE, Md.) — The arraignment of the five men charged with plotting the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks has gotten off to a chaotic start in a Guantanamo Bay courtroom as they have chosen not to participate in today’s proceedings.  The five men face 2,976 counts of murder that could lead to the death penalty if they are convicted by the military tribunal trying their case.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Penn., has not responded to questions posed to him by Col. James Pohl, who is presiding over the case.

Neither have his fellow defendants Ramzi Binalshibh, Walid bin Attash, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa al Hawsawi who have also refused to respond to any of the questions posed by Pohl.

“Accused refuses to answer,” Pohl said repeatedly after he asked procedural questions of each of the defendants to ensure they were comfortable with their legal counsel.  Without any responses, Pohl approved their current military and civilian counsels by default.

Once the procedural questions are concluded, if they decided to not reply when asked for a plea, an additional hearing may have to take place.

Mohammed has admitted to having conceived the attacks; the others are charged with having facilitated the attacks financially and logistically.

Saturday’s court appearance marked the first time in three years that the five 9/11 co-conspirators had been seen in public.   Wearing their white prison uniforms, most of the defendants wore white skullcaps, Mohammed wore a white turban he had apparently fashioned himself.

Mohammed’s long beard appears to be brown in color, not grey as had been seen in earlier photographs.

The proceedings began with Pohl quickly noting that it appeared that some if not all of the defendants were not wearing the earphones that would provide them with simultaneous Arabic translation.

Though his client speaks English, Mohammed’s civilian attorney, David Nevin, told Pohl he was not sure if his client would choose to participate at today’s arraignment given concerns he had about the process.

Pohl eventually had to bring Arabic translators into the courtroom who would translate over a speaker system to ensure that the defendants could understand the proceedings given that they were not wearing their earphones.

Judge James Pohl noted that Walid bin Atash was sitting in restraints at his chair.  After a lengthy back and forth, his military attorney was finally able to provide Pohl with enough reassurance that he would behave in court, and finally the restraints were removed.

The proceedings also came to a halt when Ramzi Binalshibh suddenly stood up to go into his daily prayers.   The courtroom fell completely silent as he knelt and stood several times in Muslim prayer.

The defendants’ behavior was in stark contrast to their 2008 arraignment when the co- conspirators used the opportunity to talk to each other in court.  That was apparently the first time they had seen each other since the start of their detentions.

During that arraignment Mohammed had boasted of planning the attacks “and said he hoped the legal proceedings would lead to his becoming a martyr.

That case was dismissed in 2009 after President Obama suspended the military commission process in preparation for closing the detention center at Guantanamo.

Saturday’s arraignment is the start of what is expected to be a lengthy legal proceeding as the trial is expected to begin a year from now.

Observing today’s legal proceedings behind a glass window in the rear of the courtroom were six family members of victims killed in the 9/11 attacks as well as a small number of journalists.

They had been chosen by lottery among the 250 family members who had applied to watch the proceedings in person.

The Pentagon set up closed circuit viewing locations at various military bases along the east coast for family members who could not attend in person.

The viewing locations were at Fort Hamilton, N.Y.; Fort Devens, Mass.; Fort Meade, Md.; and Joint Base Mcguire-Dix-Lakehurst in N.J.

A separate viewing location for journalists was set up at Fort Meade.

The five 9/11 plotters were all originally held in CIA’s secret prisons and were transferred to Guantanamo in Sept. 2006.

During their CIA detentions they were subject to controversial “enhanced interrogation techniques”.  The revised military commission process restricts the use of testimony gathered from coerced confessions.

On Friday, Brigadier General Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor in the case, had told reporters “This is a system worthy of the nation’s confidence.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Gitmo Detainees Transferred to El Salvador

John Moore/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Two Uighur detainees were released from the detainee center at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Facility to El Salvador Thursday, the first detainees transferred from the facility in more than a year and the first such transfer to Latin America.

As a presidential candidate, President Obama famously promised to close down the detainee center at Guantanamo -- as did his then-opponent, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. -- but Democrats and Republicans in Congress have prevented him from doing so.

As of Friday, 169 detainees remain at Guantanamo. The Obama administration has judged 46 of them candidates for indefinite detention -- too dangerous to transfer to another country, according to the administration, and their cases not feasible for prosecution because evidence against them may be tainted. The other 123 are candidates for transfer to other countries or prosecution here or abroad.

The two detainees now in El Salvador -- Abdul Razak and Ahmed Mohamed -- are Uighurs, members of a Turkic Muslim minority from the Xinjiang province of far western China.  

There were 242 detainees at Gitmo when President Obama took office.  Sixty-nine have since been transferred to other countries, including other Uighurs to Palao.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Terrorist Pleads Guilty at Gitmo, Sentenced to 19 Years

John Moore/Getty Images(GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba) -- Majid Khan went from working for a Virginia electronics firm to becoming a terrorist assigned to conduct a wave of 9/11-style attacks on the U.S.

But before he could carry out his mission, Khan was caught and now he will spend at least 19 years in prison after copping a plea deal on Wednesday before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay.

In exchange for a lesser sentence, Khan must provide "complete and accurate information in interviews, depositions and testimony wherever and whenever requested by the prosecutors" about other terrorist suspects.

Khan, a Pakistani citizen, was in Virginia when the Pentagon came under attack on Sept. 11, 2001.  He then decided to join al Qaeda by traveling to Pakistan where he met with 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, now a detainee at Gitmo.

In addition to being a courier for al Qaeda, Khan was prepared to conduct terrorist activities in the U.S., including poisoning water reservoirs and blowing up fuel tanks under filling stations.

Apprehended in 2003, Khan pleaded guilty Wednesday to five war crimes, including murder, attempted murder and spying.  If he decides not to cooperate with prosecutors, his sentence will be extended to 25 years.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Protests Mark Guantanamo Bay Detainee Center’s 10th Anniversary

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A group of 20 suspected terrorists arrived in Guantanamo Bay 10 years ago Wednesday, inaugurating what would become the United States’ most controversial prison system and a lasting legacy of President George W. Bush’s administration.

Since then, what began as open-air cages has turned into a full-fledged detainee center, housing nearly 800 prisoners at its peak. Today, 171 detainees remain in the detention center, some of them deemed too dangerous to release and others with nowhere to go.

Opponents of the detention center Wednesday marked its 10-year anniversary with protests from Belgium to Washington, D.C. Protesters led by Amnesty International planned to march from the White House to the Supreme Court to rally against what they say is a facility that “has come to symbolize 10 years of a systematic failure by the USA to respect human rights.”

“Until the USA addresses these detentions as a human rights issue, the legacy of Guantanamo will live on whether or not the detention facility there is closed down,” said Amnesty International researcher Rob Freer.

Another group, Witness to Torture, attempted to form a “human chain” from the White House to the Capitol and multiple other groups planned similar events.

The detainees themselves are reportedly protesting in quiet. Ramzi Kassem, a professor of law at City University of New York who counsels some detainees, told the Washington Post that they are planning various “peaceful protests.” Some will go on a hunger strike for three days, while others will sleep in the recreation areas instead of returning to their cells for the four-hour nightly lockdown, he said.

President Obama signed an executive order Jan. 22, 2010 – one of his first as commander-in-chief – to shut down the detainee center that has become in some ways synonymous with water-boarding, a torture technique. But his plan to move the detainees to federal prisons on U.S. soil was met with fierce backlash on both sides of the political aisle. Even Democrats aligned with their Republican counterparts in refusing to allow the president and Attorney General Eric Holder to bring detainees into the United States for prosecution.

The administration had wanted to try five detainees alleged to be behind the Sept. 11 attacks in federal court in New York, but the plan was shelved in April because of the heavy resistance.

Unable to convince even his own party members of the merits of transferring detainees, or find host countries for some of the detainees who are cleared for transfer, the president eventually gave in and allowed military tribunals to resume at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The National Defense Authorization Act, which Obama signed on New Year’s Eve, effectively ends any chances of closing the controversial prison. For the second year in a row, it bars the Department of Defense from transferring detainees to the continental United States, or using funds to construct or expand facilities for housing them. It also tightens the conditions under which detainees can be transferred to other countries.

Of the remaining detainees, 46 are considered too dangerous to release. But 89 of the total number of men being held have been cleared for transfer or release. About half of that group has nowhere to go because they are Yemeni. Obama stopped the transfer of Yemeni detainees from Guantanamo in January, 2010, after “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound flight. He was found to have been trained by al Qaeda groups in Yemen.

Since 2002, more than 600 detainees have either been transferred out of Guantanamo Bay or have died in custody. Only six detainees have been convicted.

Some experts say the detainee center continues to hurt U.S. interests around the world, a sentiment Obama repeatedly espoused on the campaign trail. Others still believe the detainee center serves an important purpose.

The Obama administration continues to insist that closing the detainee center remains a top priority. After all, it was the president’s top promise as a candidate in 2008. But the administration in many ways has come to terms with the reality, acknowledging that breaking down the wall of resistance from Congress will be difficult.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Alleged USS Cole Attack Mastermind Faces Military Commission

John Moore/Getty Images(GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba) -- Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000, was arraigned at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Wednesday, marking the first time he has ever been seen in public since his capture in 2002.

Al Nashiri did not enter a plea on the charges presented against him at Wednesday’s hearing.

His case is the first to proceed since the Obama administration decided to resume the military commissions process following changes made under the 2009 Military Commissions Act.  If convicted for planning of the attack on the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen, al Nashiri could face the death penalty.

Al Nashiri chose to wear the white prison uniform issued to Guantanamo detainees at Wednesday’s hearing and sported a short haircut and a stubbly five o’clock shadow. The 46-year-old appeared bulkier than the only known picture of him that shows a younger al Nashiri wearing an Arabic headdress. 

Al Nashiri was engaged throughout the hearing and often responded with smiles to frequent questions about whether he understood how the case would proceed. 

As the hearing began, Col. James C. Pohl,  the presiding judge in the case, asked al Nashiri if he spoke English. Al Nashiri replied in English, “I do not speak English.”  

When asked if he would need an interpreter for the proceedings, he again replied in English with a confused smile, “Of course, yes.”

Asked if he was comfortable with the attorneys working with him, he said through an interpreter, “At this moment, these lawyers are doing the right job.”

Reporters sitting inside the courtroom at Guantanamo reported that al Nashiri waved his hand as he entered the courtroom, though that was not visible to reporters watching a closed-circuit feed of the proceedings at Fort Meade, Md.

Al Nashiri’s lead defense attorney, Richard  Kammen, said later that he could not speak directly about a hand wave, but said al Nashiri was “glad to be in the process,” noting he has been kept in tight quarters since his 2002 detention.

Seven family members of the 17 sailors killed in the waterborne attack on the USS Cole traveled to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo to be on hand for Wednesday’s arraignment.  They sat in a special glassed-in section in the back of the courtroom.

Al Nashiri has been detained at Guantanamo since September 2006, when he was transferred from CIA custody. Captured in 2002, al Nashiri had been held in one of the CIA’s secret prisons and was one of three al Qaeda detainees to have ever been waterboarded.

Al Nashiri’s next court appearance will be in mid-January for a procedural hearing.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio