Bob Graham questions decision to send Guantanamo detainees to Saudi Arabia for rehab

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

The Mohammad bin Naif Counseling and Care Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which claims a nearly 90 percent success rate in rehabilitating terrorists

The Mohammad bin Naif Counseling and Care Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which claims a nearly 90 percent success rate in rehabilitating terrorists

Ex-Florida Sen. Bob Graham is questioning the wisdom of the Obama Administration’s decision to release nine Guantanamo detainees to Saudi Arabia for “rehabilitation.”

“Here’s a country that is under deep suspicion of being a co-collaborator in 9/11 and now we are sending it people who were considered to be among the most violent terrorists in the world,” Graham, a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said in an interview with FloridaBulldog.org.

“In fact, this is another reason why the blanket of secrecy that’s been thrown over this material should be lifted so people can make their own judgment as to whether this is the kind of country we should be sending these people to for rehabilitation.”

Saturday’s transfer of the nine Yemenis to Saudi Arabia, in the name of reeducating them to become law-abiding citizens, continued President Obama’s plan to “securely and responsibly” move detainees out of the notorious military detention facility so it can be closed.

The release preceded the President’s mid-week visit with Saudi King Salman in Riyadh.

The U.S. said 80 detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, including alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Ramzi bin al Shibh, identified in Department of Defense documents as the “coordinator” of the 9/11 attacks. The Miami Herald reported this week that 26 of the 80 have been cleared for release.

About 780 men have been detained at Guantanamo, many without charges or access to federal courts, since January 2002.

U.S. law currently restricts the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the United States, as well as the use of funds to build or modify prisons for such transfers. In February, Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s office said the administration “looks forward to working with Congress to lift those restrictions.”

During his 2008 campaign, President Obama promised repeatedly to close Guantanamo following allegations that detainees had been tortured. On Jan. 22, 2009, two days after his inauguration, he signed an executive order creating the interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force, whose job included reviewing the cases of individual detainees to determine who can be released for transfer.

Approved for transfer

The task force unanimously approved transfer for eight of the Yemenis. Another entity, the Periodic Review Board, recommended transfer by “consensus” of the ninth Yemeni, Mashur Abdullah Muqbil Ahmed al-Sabri.

The U.S. does not explain itself when a determination is made that individual Guantanamo detainees, once described by top U.S. officials as “the worst of the worst,” are no longer considered to pose a significant threat to the security of the United States.

Mashur Abdullah Muqbil Ahmed al-Sabri, who was among nine Guantanamo detainees sent to Saudi Arabia for rehabilitation on Saturday.

Mashur Abdullah Muqbil Ahmed al-Sabri, who was among nine Guantanamo detainees sent to Saudi Arabia for rehabilitation on Saturday.

For example, in 2008 the task force reported to the commander of the U.S. Southern Command in Miami that al-Sabri was a member of “a Yemeni al-Qaeda cell directly involved with the USS Cole attack.” A bomb ripped open a large hole in the Navy guided missile destroyer while it was anchored in the port of Aden in October 2000, killing 17 sailors and wounding 39 others.

The task force’s 12-page, declassified report says al-Sabri, now 38, received “advanced training at al-Qaeda facilities in Afghanistan” and engaged in combat there in support of the Taliban after 9/11.

Without rehabilitation and supervision, the report says, “it is assessed detainee would immediately seek out prior associates and reengage in hostilities and extremist support activities.”

The U.S. assessment of al-Sabri was softened, however, in an unclassified, three-paragraph profile submitted to the Periodic Review Board in December 2014. The profile downplayed al-Sabri’s alleged role to that of an al-Qaeda “associate” who “possibly received militant training” and who “probably did not play a significant role in terrorist operations.”

“There is no indication” that al-Sabri had “foreknowledge of the attack” on the Cole, the profile said, even though the 2008 Defense Department report said his al-Qaeda cell had “conducted surveillance on the USS Cole and prepared explosives for the bombing.”

Al-Sabri “has expressed non-extremist goals for his life after detention, and none of his family members in Saudi Arabia or Yemen are involved in terrorist activity,” the profile concluded. “He may, however, attempt to contact a family friend who is an AQAP (al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) operative and facilitator with a long history of association with extremists, providing (al-Sabri) a possible path to reengage.”

Four months after the profile was filed, al-Sabri was cleared for release and transfer. Saudi Arabia recently agreed to accept him and the other Yemenis. bobgraham60minutes2

Ex-Sen. Graham said he is “really sympathetic to the idea of trying to close Guantanamo” because “it’s giving us a bad name.”

Still, he believes that trusting a “perfidious ally” like Saudi Arabia with the job of rehabilitating hardened terrorist suspects imprisoned for years at Guantanamo is fanciful.

“I went to Riyadh in 2011 or 2012 when I was on the CIA’s external advisory board. We had a session on this rehabilitation program and it seemed a little frivolous to me. Part of it was they were learning to paint to help them rehabilitate their terrorist leanings,” said Graham, appeared on 60 Minutes last week to urge the government to release hidden 9/11 records.

The high-security Mohammad bin Naif Counseling and Care Center is one such rehabilitation center. Its main objectives include “pointing out the role of [the] Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in fighting terrorism, overcoming immoderate thoughts and caring for its youth,” according to its website.

The Christian Science Monitor reported in May 2015 that art therapy, water aerobics classes, Ping-Pong, Jacuzzis, gourmet chefs, psychologists and imams are available to 250 Jihadist patients at the correctional facility in Saudi Arabia’s capital city.

The three-month rehabilitation program was created by namesake Crown Prince Naif, the powerful First Deputy Prime Minister who is first in line to the throne.

The Monitor and the Associated Press reported the center claims a nearly 90 percent success rate for the approximately 3,000 men who have gone through the program, including many convicted of terrorism-related charges in Saudi Arabia.

John Horgan is a professor at the Global Studies Institute at Georgia State University and the author of “The Psychology of Terrorism.”

He could not be reached for comment, but in an interview with the AP last year he was skeptical of Saudi Arabia’s rehab program.

“Some critics would say that this isn’t true de-radicalization, this is just a diversion. It’s smoke and mirrors,” Horgan said. “What I’ve seen so far is that it’s just a token gesture. It’s very good for the optics and very good for public relations.”

Timeline: The Tortured History of the Senate’s Torture Report

By Kara Bradeisky and Sisi Wei, ProPublica 

The Senate began investigating the CIA’s detainee program nearly six years ago. It completed a draft of its report two years ago. Today, the Senate Intelligence Committee has finally released the report’s blistering executive summary. (The full report remains classified.) What took so long? It’s a tale of White House indecisiveness, Republican opposition, and CIA snooping. (more…)

Citing broad public interest, newspapers ask judge to deny U.S. bid to block 9/11 lawsuit

 

By Dan Christensen and Anthony Summers
BrowardBulldog.org 911weremember

Two Florida newspapers have asked a Fort Lauderdale federal judge to deny the Justice Department’s effort to shut down a Freedom of Information lawsuit seeking records from an FBI investigation into apparent terrorist activity in Sarasota shortly before 9/11.

BrowardBulldog.org filed the suit in September 2012 alleging the government was improperly withholding records on the matter. The government, after unexpectedly releasing 31 highly censored pages last spring, argued the court should end the case due to national security considerations and asserted that a “reasonable search” had determined “there are no agency records being improperly withheld.”

Court papers filed Tuesday by attorneys for The Miami Herald and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune say they were intervening “to stress that the outcome of this case is a matter of intense interest to the media and the public generally.” The newspapers also argued that “government officials charged with investigating terrorist connections in our state must also be held fully accountable.”

“The Broward Bulldog has provided this court with ample evidence establishing that the FBI could not have possibly conducted adequate searches in response to its federal Freedom of Information Act request,” said the joint brief filed by Tampa attorneys Carol LoCicero, Rachel Fugate and Mark Caramanica. “The stakes are simply too great to accept as a matter of law the government’s vague, often second hand conclusions as to the adequacy of its document searches.”

The newspapers’ friend-of-the-court brief asks U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch not to be “too quick” to accept an agency’s claim that it conducted “an appropriate search,” citing examples where records that should have been produced were not.

One cited case involves the conservative watchdog group, Judicial Watch, which sued in 2012 seeking records about the Obama Administration’s alleged coordination with the producers of Zero Dark Thirty, the motion picture about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Allegations had been made that the White House provided the filmmakers with access to highly sensitive national security records in order to burnish President Obama’s reputation prior to the 2012 election.

A judge ordered the CIA to produce records about the matter, “but it was only months later that additional ‘overlooked’ documents were produced that included illuminating correspondence among the White House, the Department of Defense and the CIA suggesting a coordinated effort to provide a heightened level of access to the filmmakers and a desire that the administration be portrayed positively.”

Broward Bulldog.org, represented in the suit by Miami attorney Thomas Julin,  first disclosed the existence of the FBI’s Sarasota investigation in September 2011.

The story reported how, a decade earlier, the FBI had found direct ties between 9/11 hijackers and a young Saudi couple, Abdulaziz and Anoud al-Hijji, who appeared to have hurriedly departed their upscale home in a gated community in the weeks before 9/11 – leaving behind cars, furniture, clothing, a refrigerator full of food and an open safe in the master bedroom.

Anoud al-Hijji is the daughter of the home’s owner, Esam Ghazzawi, a long-time adviser to a senior Saudi prince. Ghazzawi was also a focus of FBI interest after 9/11 when agents sought to lure him back to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia to close the transaction when the home was sold, according to a lawyer for the homeowner’s association.

Agents searched gatehouse logbooks and license plate snapshots and found evidence that vehicles used by the hijackers, including ringleader Mohamed Atta, had visited the home, according to a counterterrorism agent who spoke on condition of anonymity. A sophisticated analysis of incoming and outgoing phone calls to the home also established links to Atta and other terrorists, including Adman Shukrijumah, the agent said.

FBI Director Robert Mueller  with wanted poster for Adnan Shukrijumah

FBI Director Robert Mueller with wanted poster for Adnan Shukrijumah

Shukrijumah, a former Miramar resident, is currently on the FBI’s “most wanted” list and the State Department is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture.

The FBI publicly acknowledged its investigation but said it had found nothing connecting the al-Hijjis to 9/11.

Former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who chaired Congress’ Joint inquiry into the attacks, has said the FBI never informed Congress or the subsequent 9/11 Commission about its Sarasota investigation.

The story has taken several twists since news of the investigation first broke.

In February 2012, Florida Department of Law Enforcement documents obtained using the state’s public records law showed that in April 2004 Wissam Hammoud, a now imprisoned “international terrorist associate” then under arrest in Hillsborough County, told the FBI that al-Hijji considered Osama bin Laden a “hero” and may have known some of the hijackers who trained at a flight school in Venice, about 10 miles from the al-Hijji residence. Hammoud also told the FBI then that al-Hijji had  introduced him to Shukrijumah at a soccer game at a local mosque prior to 9/11. Hammoud confirmed making those statements in an interview.

Al-Hijji was reached in London in 2012 where he worked for Aramco Overseas, the European subsidiary of Saudi Aramco, the state oil company. He told The Telegraph that he knew Hammoud, but denied any involvement with terrorists. He called 9/11 “an awful crime.”

Abdulaziz al-Hijji, right, in Sarasota prior to 9/11 and leaving his London office in 2012  Photo in London by Warren Allot for The Telegraph

Abdulaziz al-Hijji, right, in Sarasota prior to 9/11 and leaving his London office in 2012 Photo in London by Warren Allot for The Telegraph

One year ago, six months after the lawsuit was filed, the FBI suddenly made public 31 redacted pages about its Sarasota investigation. The records flatly contradicted the Bureau’s earlier public statements that it had found no evidence connecting the al-Hijjis to the hijackers. Instead, the FBI records said the family had “many connections” to “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”

The declassified documents tied three individuals, with names blanked out, to the Venice flight school where Atta and fellow hijacker Marwan al-Shehhi trained. One of those individuals was described as a relative of the al-Hijjis, whose names were also redacted.

Last June, the Justice Department moved to end the lawsuit, citing national security. A senior FBI official told the judge disclosure of certain classified information about the Sarasota Saudis “would reveal current specific targets of the FBI’s national security investigations.”

The FBI did not explain how an investigation that it previously said had found no connection between those Saudis and the 9/11 attacks involved information so secret that its disclosure “could be expected to cause serious damage to national security.”

Anthony Summers is co-author with Robbyn Swan of The Eleventh Day, an account of 9/11 that was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for History.

On 9/11 anniversary, push in Congress to win day in court for victims of terrorism on U.S. soil

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org survivor911

Twelve years after al Qaeda hijackers flew jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon – killing nearly 3,000 people – a renewed push is underway in Congress to ensure that victims of terrorism on American soil can hold its foreign sponsors to account in U.S. courts.

In the House next week, New York Congressmen Peter King, a Republican, and Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, are expected to introduce the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). New York Democrat Charles Schumer will sponsor the same bill in the Senate.

Congressional aides would not discuss the bills in advance of filing. Sen. Schumer, however, has said JASTA is needed “due to flawed court decisions that have deprived victims of terrorism on American soil, including those injured by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, of their day in court.”

JASTA’s second purpose: to choke off the money pipeline flowing to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups by making those who fund them liable for damages in American courts.

“JASTA will allow all victims of terrorism in the U.S. what was intended by Congress – the right to hold terrorist financiers accountable in civil court,” said Sharon Premoli, who was in her office on the 80th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center when the first plane struck.

“I’m all for this new bill. It’s important to deter terrorism and provide justice for victims,” said Rachel Ehrenfeld, an authority on terrorist financing and director of the New York-based noprofit American Center for Democracy.

HUNDREDS SUED, A DOZEN REMAIN

In the wake of 9/11, thousands of survivors, family members and business interests that suffered billions of dollars in losses sued several hundred defendants alleged to have provided financial and other material support to al Qaeda and others terrorist organizations. Those lawsuits were consolidated into a single sprawling federal case in 2003.

Among the defendants were the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, an official Saudi charity and several Saudi princes. In 2005, however, the Saudis were dismissed from the case, principally on grounds of sovereign immunity.

The courts for other technical reasons of jurisdiction later dismissed most of the rest of the defendants. One striking reason: Under the Alien Tort Statute defendants must be shown to have committed a wrongful act in violation of international law, but the plaintiff/victims did not do so because no definition of “terrorism” existed “under customary international law as of September 11, 2001,” according to New York’s Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Today, only about a dozen defendants remain, according to plaintiff’s attorney Jodi Flowers, of the Motley Rice law firm in Mount Pleasant, S.C.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY

On Monday, Flowers and other attorneys for the 9/11 plaintiffs took their case to the Supreme Court in an attempt to overturn a trio of adverse rulings by the Second Circuit in April.

Schumer and others contend the courts have misconstrued the law and Congressional intent that specifically authorized lawsuits and created exceptions to the doctrine of sovereign immunity in cases of terrorism.”

“SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE” 

“Substantial evidence establishes that (the Saudi defendants) had provided funding and sponsorship to al Qaeda without which it could not have carried out the attacks,” Schumer said in 2011.

If passed, JASTA would put Saudi Arabia and similar deep pockets back on the liability hook. Sen. Schumer and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa) first introduced JASTA in December 2009. It was reintroduced in 2011 with broad bipartisan support, but drew little media attention and did not become law.

9/11 Families for Justice Against Terrorism, a group that represents more than 6,600 survivors and relatives, said it expects “a strong bipartisan cast of co-sponsors” this time, too.

The group started an online petition drive where JASTA supporters can urge Congress to pass it.

Terry Strada is a member of the 9/11 group. Her husband, Tom, worked at Cantor Fitzgerald and died in the North Tower.

She said JASTA would overturn the “erroneous” court rulings that held American courts have no jurisdiction when it comes to foreign terrorist financiers who gave their money abroad – even when an attack took place in the U.S.

“The problem can best be understood by example: If we discover someone intentionally gave aid or money to the Boston Marathon bombers and that money had been given to them outside our borders – no accountability from a civil action would be possible,” she said.

TWO PROBES, QUESTIONS REMAIN

Two official accounts of 9/11 – Congress’s Joint Inquiry and the 9/11 Commission – have not told the public the complete story about what happened and why, particularly regarding who funded the hijackers.

For example, 28 pages were redacted from the Joint Inquiry’s report regarding “specific sources of foreign support for some of the September 11 hijackers while they were in the United States.”

Further, former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who co-chaired the inquiry, has said that neither Congress nor the Commission were told about an FBI investigation into apparent connections between the hijackers and a Saudi family with ties to the Royal family who abruptly fled their Sarasota area home two weeks before the attacks.

BrowardBulldog.org first disclosed the existence of the post-9/11 inquiry in Sarasota two years ago. “The public still does not know the whole story about who bankrolled the attacks. It is still a secret,” Strada said. “Graham, after learning about the hijackers’ Sarasota cell, has been calling for a reopening of the 9/11 investigation and the transparency that has been totally absent over the past 12 years.”

Terrorism expert Ehrenfeld, while supportive of JASTA, is skeptical of the U.S.’s intentions about getting at the root of problem because “politics are dictating who is considered a terrorist and who is not.” “I have many doubts because if the government wanted to do something serious, the government would have done it already,” Ehrenfeld said.

The Surveillance Reforms Obama Supported Before He Was President

By Kara Brandeisky, ProPublicaobama081

When the House of Representatives recently considered an amendment that would have dismantled the NSA’s bulk phone records collection program, the White House swiftly condemned the measure. But only five years ago, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. was part of a group of legislators that supported substantial changes to NSA surveillance programs. (more…)

Syria’s Jihadi migration emerges as top terror threat in Europe, beyond

By Sebastian Rotella, ProPublica 

The suicide bombing at al-Nairab military base in northern Syria on June 1, 2012, as seen in a propaganda video by al-Nusrah, al-Qaida's Syrian branch.

The suicide bombing at al-Nairab military base in northern Syria on June 1, 2012, as seen in a propaganda video by al-Nusrah, al-Qaida’s Syrian branch.

MADRID — Rachid Wahbi came to Syria from a Spanish slum, rushing toward death.

And he didn’t plan to die alone.

Facing a camera hours before the end, the bearded, 33-year-old cabdriver wore a black headdress and a black flak vest and held an AK-47 rifle. He spoke in hesitant classical Arabic with a north Moroccan accent. He said he had studied his target and, God willing, his action would end in triumph. He wished the glory of martyrdom for his fellow fighters in the al-Nusrah Front, al-Qaida’s Syrian branch. (more…)

Hunger Strikes and Indefinite Detention: A Rundown on What’s Going on at Gitmo

By Cora Currier, ProPublica 

A detainment camp at Guantanamo Bay

A detainment camp at Guantanamo Bay

It’s been 11 years since the first detainees were brought to Guantanamo Bay. But the future of the prison, and the fate of the men inside it, is far from certain.  With 59 detainees at Gitmo currently on hunger strike, by the military’s count, here’s a primer on what’s going at the island prison.

What started the hunger strike?

It began after guards allegedly mishandled detainees’ Korans in a cell search in early February — but it’s certainly become about more than the holy books. (more…)

Fact-Check: How the NYPD overstated Its counterterrorism record

By Justin Elliott, ProPublica

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, left, and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly

The NYPD is regularly held up as one of the most sophisticated and significant counterterrorism operations in the country. As evidence of the NYPD’s excellence, the department, its allies and the media have repeatedly said the department has thwarted or helped thwart 14 terrorist plots against New York since Sept 11.

In a glowing profile of Commissioner Ray Kelly published in Newsweek last month, for example, journalist Christopher Dickey wrote of the commissioner’s tenure since taking office in 2002: The record “is hard to argue with: at least 14 full-blown terrorist attacks have been prevented or failed on Kelly’s watch.”

 The figure has been cited repeatedly in the media, by New York congressmen, and byKelly himself. The NYPD itself has published the full listsaying terrorists have “attempted to kill New Yorkers in 14 different plots.” (more…)

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