Swift U.S. jury verdict gives lie to Gitmo

March 26, 2014

The government’s charges against Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law looked pretty thin. Washington was basically claiming that the Kuwaiti imam had made a few inflammatory speeches — one praising the September 11 attacks and another warning that more attacks on tall buildings were soon to come. It didn’t sound like much, given that the charges were providing “material support” for terrorism and conspiring to kill Americans.

But less than a year later, 48 year-old Suleiman Abu Ghaith stands convicted on all counts, following a jury trial in a U.S. federal court. Over the three-week trial the government managed to convince a jury that the cleric’s actions — giving a handful of speeches for al Qaeda, some on camera seated next to bin Laden — made him responsible for the September 11 attacks, the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa, and the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, a Navy ship docked in Yemen. Abu Ghaith didn’t even make his first videotaped speech until September 12, 2001.

It’s an odd quirk of U.S. conspiracy law. If someone joins a conspiracy, though it may be years after it started, he’s still liable for all the murder and mayhem his co-conspirators caused, even if it was long before he came along.

That’s what happened to Abu Ghaith. The jury may have believed he only gave a few speeches helping al Qaeda after the September 11 attacks, which is when he says he first met bin Laden, but Abu Ghaith is legally responsible for every American who bin Laden and his compatriots killed before that.

Some people assert that the U.S. conspiracy law is too broad. More surprising is that some people think the U.S. federal courts are too lenient.  Suspected terrorists should not be granted “the same rights as U.S. citizens,” insisted lawmakers such as Representative Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, when Abu Ghaith was arrested.

“He is an enemy combatant,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, “and should be held in military custody.”  Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a former military lawyer, insisted, “We’re now setting a new precedent that will come back to bite us.”

The funny thing is that at Guantanamo Bay, 12 years later, the five alleged (and self-described) masterminds of the September 11 terrorist attacks still haven’t been convicted of any crimes. Though seized by U.S. forces within a few years of the attacks, they’re still nowhere near being brought to justice.

I can’t even imagine how the survivors of the victims of those attacks must feel. Many of them regularly make the exhausting trip to Guantanamo to watch court proceedings, only to end up seeing drawn-out procedural arguments over faulty computer systems and what the defendants can or can’t say in court.

Of the 779 people detained at Guantanamo Bay prison since it opened in 2002, only nine have been charged and brought to justice. One, Ahmed Ghailani, was transferred to the United States to stand trial in 2010 for his role in the 1998 embassy bombings and is now serving a life sentence. The rest have faced military commission convictions; only three of them are still imprisoned at Guantanamo.

There are still 154 detainees at the prison camp in Cuba. What’s now clear from the Abu Ghaith case is that none of them belong there.

If they’ve participated in a crime by helping al Qaeda in any conceivable way, the U.S. federal justice system won’t hesitate to throw the book at them. As we’ve seen from the nearly 500 other people who were convicted on terrorism-related grounds since September 11, 2001, they’re not likely to walk free.

But keeping them at Guantanamo Bay does no one a service. Not the U.S. government, which badly needs to restore its credibility after years of torture and other missteps in counterterrorism policy; not the families who have had to wait interminably to see justice done after the horrific murder of their loved ones, and certainly not U.S. national security, which continues to be undermined by the very existence of the notorious detention center, not to mention its growing monetary costs.

President Barack Obama promised again this year to close Guantanamo Bay. He should use the Abu Ghaith case as a prime example for why we really don’t need it.


PHOTO (TOP): A man identified as Suleiman Abu Ghaith appears in this still image taken from an undated video address. REUTERS/Handout

PHOTO (INSERT 1): The exterior of Camp Delta is seen at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, March 6, 2013. REUTERS/Bob Strong

PHOTO (INSERT 2): In this photo, reviewed by the U.S. Military, leg shackles are seen on the floor at Camp 6 detention center, at the U.S. Naval Base, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, January 21, 2009. REUTERS/Brennan Linsley/Pool


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“Not the U.S. government, which badly needs to restore its credibility after years of torture and other missteps in counterterrorism policy”

Torture is an abominable crime, not a “misstep”. Was 9/11 a “misstep” too?

Posted by katastrofa | Report as abusive

Hmm. I can appreciate your point of view, but you lack a logical chain in your argument. It’s not at all clear after reading this how a conviction of Abu Ghaith means that the continued incarceration of suspected terrorists at the Guantanamo Bay naval base (please stop saying Gitmo) is wrong. The US justice system takes many twists and turns, and due process can take a long time. You’ve not made any coherent argument that I can see around the fact that due process is not being served, or that it has anything to do with whether or not the prison at Guantanamo Bay is open or closed.

Posted by Curmudgeon | Report as abusive

A simplistic world, with your point of view as stated above, would logically lead to simply killing each and every enemy combatant. A ‘no mercy’ approach to war. If a leader, religious or otherwise, incites war (insurgency or declared) should they be held accountable in a national, military, or international court? Enemy combatants (true enemy combatants taking an active role in waging war) are reasonably accountable in the military or national courts of the troops or citizens they took action against. Tradition has been to turn combatants not in uniform over to the military for summary execution. An extension of that could be a military trial. The Obama administration has transmuted that to civil criminal trial. And now we have the mess we have.

Posted by wildbiker | Report as abusive

If anyone has read the Book “Fiasco” by Thomas Ricks – it was clear that those who most aided the insurgency in Iraq were the military personal themselves and those who were setting their priorities. Many of them looked at it as a glorious adventure. But the heavy handed mass arrests of all men that looked of military age,sometimes whole households on no charges and in the most insulting way possible, designed to show the contempt by the troops for those they said they were “saving”, the summary firing of their own military and the vacuum of authority and control it created, and on top of that, the influx of what can only be called carpet baggers to milk development funds for the country that basically were recycled by our own corporate elites, made an army of enemies who smelled, at the start, the gross deceit and greed of the occupiers. The wholesale lies about torture and abuse – sometimes of people who had no intelligence value at all – and the attempts to cover over the embarrassment that home grown sadists were perpetrating, and the total lack of accountability to anyone but those who managed the misery for their own gain or advancement of their agenda, were the most obvious signs the countries were being raped and exploited by the new Nazis. And what I heard about he war years – The Nazi high command and the troops had better manners and were better disciplined.

The Afghans are all on the take and the Iraqi’s weren’t that stupid. They now live with nearly daily terrorism and we fuss over old attacks that our “justice system” can’t get it’s dubious act together to pass judgment on.

We also know that there would have been no invasion of the ME had it been truly done in their interests and those funds had been handed to local contractors and had included more of their own manpower in greater positions of control and decision making. The appetite for invasion would have evaporated. Had any of the military been called up by a draft there would have been violence in the streets here. They would also have had to confront the problem of calling up women.

And the fact that the only thing the troops were certain they guarded at the start were the oil fields, is really all you have to know about this country’s double taking intentions in the whole region. Bin Laden’s son in law is too polite, in spite of his photo.

This is not an inherently honest country and its past decisions and foot dragging are proof that it doesn’t know what to do with the human problems it created.

Without a doubt, the enormous and ravenous appetites of this country rule every action that has typified the last ten plus years in the ME and continue to do so.

Some of us still have consciences and they are not for sale to the highest bidder. That has not been the case for most of the easily boosted war effort here. We do it on automatic as an adjunct to our standard of living and only others bleed.

Neither this country nor the court system, either civil or military really deserves much respect at this point. They get the verdicts they want to assuage popular opinion. You may as well ask prostitutes for justice.

You may as well ask a fat men to despise super sized portions and no amount of flattery, or the appearance of due process, will really disguise the stench.

BTW – it didn’t really take Rick’s book to come to this conclusion. I and many comments here were saying about the same thing during the past ten years. It was just so much more encouraging to see it it one place and to see the other military commanders who were saying similar things and not being widely listened too.

This country wants to be the New Roman Empire but lacks the graciousness and magnanimity of the old Romans. It is a needful machine now and it’s “soul” is irrelevant.

This country got what it deserved by the credit crash and if it ever tries imperial posturing again, I hope the bottom falls out of its “lifestyle” for good and all. I’m sure someday it will be forced to take some of its own medicine and I know the country will not react any better than either the Afghanistan or the Iraqi’s did. It will likely be so much worse.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

what do you mean this country, you are a muslim (not sure if arab) living in the middle east according to your other posts.

/can’t keep your story or history straight it seems

Posted by VultureTX | Report as abusive

I’m not a muslim and I’ve never even set foot in the ME. And other than a guy from Pakistan up here who used to own a gas station downtown, I haven’t even talked to a muslim in at least 40 years. And I’m not sure he was. And what difference does it make to you? You accuse me of bias against the Israelis in another post, but if I were an Arab, you would have an automatic bias against anything I said?

You haven’t read enough of my posts. You haven’t kept any of the recent history straight and a lot of people I know don’t think about it and don’t want to. A lot of people are willing to let the wars go on automatic and it is over their heads. The convergence of events in the economy is almost designed to keep people preoccupied with their own affairs and not consider the bigger picture. Their lives are not at stake so they are free to export their arrogance and aggression as a let to their frustration. A few young men I know are considering the military because that may be the only employment they will be able to find.

But what I saw in Rick’s book confirmed what I and many others thought was a war crime, although he never actually comes out and says that. He wants them to do it better and I hope they never do it again.

If you really need an explanation for my attitude it is this. For over 50 years I only heard the Israeli (Jewish) side of the argument but hardly ever saw anything in the mainstream press, or other media, about the Palestinians side. That wasn’t right. And if you are so simple minded about the issues that you think what is done to any Arab is acceptable, you don’t know how to think at all.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

based on your knowledge of iranians students from 40 years ago? oh that’s great you think that those students from the reign of Shah Pavli represent the modern Iranian regime!

/Back when the Shah fled Iranian college students were desperate to seek US citizenship, females Iranians offered americans money to marry them in droves here in Texas.

Posted by VultureTX | Report as abusive

Tho she’s clearly right about the military commission system, which is a total disaster, and the ordinary crim ct system has worked perfectly for decades, the problem with Gitmo is that out of the 154 detainees there, only about 80 are likely to be prosecuted for some kind of war crime. The rest are being held there as “prisoners of war” and may be subject to being held until the end of the “war on terror,” which of course may be decades away. In the meantime, Congress won’t let them into the US, other countries won’t take them, so where do you keep them?

Posted by HSchwartz | Report as abusive

It’s not a big surprise that many wanted out of Iran when the Shah fled. Many former aristocrats fled France when the monarchy collapsed during their revolution. But why do you care VultureTX? You obviously have nothing but contempt for anyone from the ME.

It’s a false concern at best and an old tactic that is human nature: convince yourself the “enemy” is less of a human being than you think you (and you always think you are more human or smarter or more civilized) so you can justify to yourself and your lynch mob, that you have valid reasons to kill, rob and dominate him for his “own good”, whether or not it actually works to his benefit and whether or not your real concerns are only about maintaining your own standard of living. And you just as quickly forget or ignore any evidence to the contrary.

Females anywhere seem to be eager to marry outside danger zones and they were doing that in WWII also.

It should be obvious by now, I’m not a fan of the double talk and easy virtues that everyone seems to grab vicariously in times of war. Some are even nostalgic for that sense of a common goal but ignore the voices they caused to shut up. In the old days of WWII – backtalk was brutally suppressed. But so many now are far more sophisticated and know there is no such thing as a true common goal. It’s an illusion always made up through myth and propaganda. My grandparents never had more than grade school educations, my parents had one college education, my father, and both children had them so we don’t think the same as they did in WWII. We can’t afford to actually and I’ve never seen a so called “common goal” my whole life. In a country that is splitting so widely into winners and losers, it’s more of a myth than ever. And the country produces far fewer disposable male children than my Grandparent’s or parent’s generation. I went to college in the Vietnam era and I haven’t forgotten the double talk of those years.

It’s easy for a country to exonerate itself through it’s own court system. When all countries start to submit themselves to pan-national tribunals as a way to redress grievances, then that is the time to take seriously the idea that there is such a thing as international justice. Otherwise it’s just show time for the home audience and no principals of international law seem to matter much to most of them. Their courts do nothing more than confirm their own prejudices and priorities ignore their own crimes. That should be an obvious point to most people.

Instead, they turn the most disposable or vulnerable in their populations into human hamburger and praise them for the valor as long as they need to keep up moral and until they don’t need to think about them anymore. And the rest of the nest of vultures and hypocrites, that wouldn’t dare risk their own lives because they deem themselves too valuable, continue feeding and take it all for granted. Don’t we all, except on Veterans and Memorial days perhaps, and I can’t say I do any differently?

And I hope there are better debaters of my points than you are. BTW – The Shah’s name was Reza Shah Pahlavi. He was a crook and maintained a secret police regime that suppressed domestic criticism as surely as SH did. He thought he reigned by divine right and was the inheritor of an ancient tradition when, in fact, only his father before him had been restored, with US connivance, and took the title of Shah. He was a military man, known murderer, who killed like Nero or Caligula to furnish his own fortune, (by some accounts I read) and presided over a corrupt government. They both had western sympathies but alienated their own countrymen, especially those not included in the big take. This country was really more interested in Iran’s oil wealth and it’s own battle with communism and the son was a good customer for military hardware and other US product lines. When he was deposed he walked off with as much state wealth as he could get out with. And that was a “good” leader?

Recent article make much of Khamenei’s control of a fortune but it sounds far more like a general welfare and development fund that is not at his personal disposal and isn’t used for the lavish self-indulgence the Shah, or even the British Royal family, used/uses their wealth for. But the British royal family support a lot of charities. If the Iranians ever outgrow the theocratic model of government, and sooner or later they will, the funds may become something like a Rockefeller foundation, who knows? But the quality of Iranian governance isn’t what concerns most people and is certainly what will motivate them to go to war. Most of them haven’t the least concern for the present government of Iraq and if Iran were left in ruins and then spent decades in civil strife. they would blame the country and not their own contribution to its collapse. BTW – even providing “humanitarian assistance” to an insurgency (as the present administration is doing in Syria) would get any private citizen in a country branded a traitor. The double standards are rife.

But I’m getting used to the idea that all modern political leaders think they must be wealthy, and it’s only for the low income and uneducated or undereducated, and up and comers, to fight and die for their superior’s fortunes and grip on power. To borrow a line from Nancy Mitford regarding the corrupt court of the ancien regime of France, todays vets may only find “a moving ladder of preferment with half the rungs sawed through”.

I’m sure they will.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

Our purpose is intimidation of all people. We see from the actions in Gitmo (gitmo gitmo gitmo Curmudgeon, and gitmo again)no process of discernable coherance, because it is to demonstrate the absolute power of those who call the shots. It is as much for the US citizens to see as the rest of the world. It is to prove that no one has rights and protections, no one.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

The US legal doctrine of conspiracy is ludicrously unfair and unjust. Where is the bright line demarcating the free speech and incitement to war?
If I were to say on this forum “hung all lawyers” starting from DC, would that be protected free speech or conspiracy to commit crimes? What if I have soap and rope?
Dick was right in so many of his writings…

Posted by SeeEyeDog | Report as abusive