The Soufan Group Morning Brief


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MONDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2017
ENTIRE DEFENSE TEAM QUITS GUANTANAMO CASE

In a stunning setback to the trial of the alleged mastermind of the 2000 USS Cole bombing, the case’s entire civilian legal team including its capital defense attorney has quit the case over a secret ethical conflict.

Although the details are classified, the fundamental reason apparently is related to the fact that the government has listened in on confidential attorney-client conversations. The most notorious example involved microphones in the interview rooms disguised as smoke detectors.

“At present, I am not confident that the prohibition on improper monitoring of attorney-client meetings at [Guantanamo] ... is being followed,” wrote the chief defense counsel, Brig. Gen. John Baker. “My loss of confidence extends to all potential ... meeting locations at [Guantanamo].”

The defense lawyers cannot discuss the specific details for their departure with either their client or the public because it involves classified information. The defendant, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri of Saudi Arabia, stands accused of organizing the 2000 al Qaeda suicide bombing on the USS Cole off of Yemen, which killed 17 Americans.

“We have mixed emotions about this,” said Attorney Rick Kammen said in a statement Friday afternoon. “We are angry about being placed in an ethically untenable position, disappointed in not being able to see the case through, and devastated to leave Mr. Nashiri, whom we genuinely like and who deserves a real chance for justice.”

The case was on track to be the first death-penalty trial held at Guantanamo in the post-Sept. 11 war crimes trial system. Pre-trial hearings have gone on for nearly 6 years. Miami Herald, JustSecurity, The Week
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GUANTANAMO DETAINEE IS SENTENCED
A panel of American military officers at the Guantánamo Bay wartime prison sentenced on Friday a Saudi detainee, Ahmed Muhammed Ahmed Haza al-Darbi, to 13 years in prison for his admitted role in a 2002 attack by Al Qaeda on a French oil tanker off the Yemeni coast.

The sentencing constituted a rare event before the military commission system -- a completed prosecution. The system has repeatedly struggled to bring contested cases — unlike that of Darbi, who pleaded guilty in February 2014 — to completion. New York Times

Suspect in would-be airport bombing nabbed with help from REI store: A man accused of leaving a bomb at the Asheville Regional Airport on October 6 was arrested with help from the outdoor store REI, where the suspect allegedly bought the backpack that contained the bomb. The suspect, Michael Estes, paid cash for the backpack, but apparently used an REI membership number when paying. NPR

Chelsea bomb trial: A defense lawyer for the man accused of blowing up a bomb in Chelsea last year all but conceded on Friday that her client committed the crime, instead focusing her closing arguments to jurors — and claims of innocence — on a second, unexploded device found four blocks away. An acquittal on charges related to the second device would spare Ahmad Khan Rahimi an automatic life sentence in prison. New York Times

Mueller interviews Priebus: Former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus was interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team on Friday, according to his lawyer, William Burck. “Mr. Priebus was voluntarily interviewed by Special Counsel Mueller’s team today. He was happy to answer all of their questions,” Burck said. Politico


AT LEAST 300 DEAD FROM TRUCK BOMBINGS IN SOMALIA
The death toll from two truck bombs in Somalia’s capital reached 300 on Monday, as the deadliest attack in the country’s decade-long war with Islamist extremists signaled that the insurgency is far from defeated, despite years of U.S. counterterrorism operations. Hundreds more are reported injured.

Nearly all of the dead were killed by the first bomb, which exploded Saturday outside a popular hotel near a busy intersection in Mogadishu, sending a plume of smoke into the sky that could be seen across the city. The second truck bomb killed several more people nearby.

“This is the deadliest incident I ever remember” since the 1990s, when the government collapsed, a shaken Senator Abshir Ahmed, deputy speaker of the upper house of parliament, said in a Facebook posting.

As the death toll grew Sunday, the Somali president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, declared three days of national mourning. He donated blood for the victims and asked his fellow citizens to do the same.
“Today’s horrific attack proves our enemy would stop nothing to cause our people pain and suffering. Let’s unite against terror,” Mohamed said on Twitter. “Time to unite and pray together. Terror won’t win.”

Suspicion immediately fell on the Islamic militant group al Shabaab, which has been fighting with the Somali government for a decade, though no one has yet claimed responsibility for the blasts. Analysts speculated the latest attack might have been in retaliation both for a loss of territory and for increasing American drone attacks since President Trump loosened restrictions meant to strictly limit civilian casualties.

United States Special Operations forces have launched 15 airstrikes against Shabaab leaders, fighters and training camps since the beginning of the year, including five strikes last month. Washington Post, New York Times, Guardian

TALIBAN DENY FIGHTERS RAPED HOSTAGE AND KILLED BABY
The Taliban on Sunday denied an assertion by a freed Canadian hostage that his American wife had been raped during their five years of captivity and that their infant had been killed by the Haqqani network, saying the infant had died during a miscarriage.

Soon after arriving in Toronto on Friday with his wife, Caitlan Coleman, and their three children, the former captive, Joshua Boyle, said she had been raped. He also said the Haqqani network had authorized “the murder of my infant daughter,” their fourth child. Ms. Coleman was pregnant when the couple were abducted in 2012 while traveling in Afghanistan. Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, rejected the accusations of rape as “fabricated claims” fed to Boyle. New York Times
Related:
Wall Street Journal: Freed Family Tries to Rebuild Life After Dark Details Emerge About Ordeal
Washington Post: What Were Coleman and Boyle Really Doing in Afghanistan?
Guardian: Parents of Freed U.S. Hostage Furious with Son-in-Law for Afghanistan Trip

IRAQI FORCES SEIZE OIL-RICH KURDISH AREAS
Iraqi state television said early Monday that Iraqi forces had begun an operation to seize the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk and its surrounding oil fields, despite weeks of urgent efforts by the United States to keep tensions between its allies from boiling over into another war in the Middle East. The operation would be the first use of military force by the government in Baghdad in response to a vote of independence last month by the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

State-run TV said the initial assault by Iraqi troops, counterterrorism forces and federal police did not encounter resistance as they sought to reclaim areas seized by Kurdish forces in 2014. But there were unconfirmed reports of clashes with the peshmerga, who maintain defensive lines around Kirkuk and the oil fields. New York Times, CNBC, Associated Press
Related:
Bloomberg: Kurdish Oil Tensions Show Iran Was a Trump Sideshow

U.S.-BACKED FORCES IN RAQQA BEGIN ‘FINAL ASSAULT’ ON THE CITY
Syrian forces backed by the United States said Sunday that they have launched a final push to drive ISIS from its last footholds in Raqqa, after tribal leaders and a provincial council negotiated the safe exit of civilians along with the surrender of local militants and family members.

An alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias known as the Syrian Democratic Forces said its fighters had achieved “great victories” since the offensive to recapture the group’s self-styled capital began in June and now control over 90 percent of the city. LA Times, BBC News, Associated Press

TERROR SUSPECT ON U.S. MOST-WANTED LIST KILLED IN PHILIPPINES
One of the U.S.’s most-wanted terrorists was among the last remaining leaders killed as Philippine forces near victory in a prolonged and bloody battle against Islamic State-linked militants occupying the southern city of Marawi, authorities said.

The bodies of Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute were recovered after a military operation to retake the militants’ last stronghold early Monday. The two were leading a last stand against troops in Marawi when they were killed, authorities said.

Hapilon is on the U.S. Department of Justice list of most-wanted terrorists world-wide, with a reward on his head of up to $5 million. He was accused of being personally involved in several kidnappings, including the 2001 abduction from a high-end island resort of 20 people, including an American who was later beheaded. Wall Street Journal, Guardian, New York Times


Drone crashes into plane in Canada: A drone crashed into a commercial airplane in Canada, the first time such an incident has occurred in the country, the government said Sunday. CNN, CBC
TOP OP-EDS
‘Enemy combatants’ again? “Placing terrorism suspects apprehended while fighting abroad in American custody is hardly unprecedented,” said Karen Greenberg in TomDispatch.com. “The U.S. government has periodically captured citizen and non-citizen members of ISIS, and fighters from the Somali terrorist organization al-Shabaab, as well as from al-Qaeda-linked groups.  To those who have followed such matters, however, the Trump administration’s quick embrace of the term “enemy combatant” for the latest captive is an obvious red flag and so has elicited a chorus of concern from national security attorneys and experts, myself included. Our collective disquiet stems from grim memories of the extralegal terrorism policies the Bush administration institutionalized, especially the way the term “enemy combatant” helped free its officials and the presidency from many restraints, and from fears that those abandoned policies might have a second life in the Trump era.”

I am in Guantanamo. The government is starving me to death. “I haven’t had food in my stomach for 23 days,” says Khalid Qasim, a detainee at Guantanamo, to his attorney, Shelby Sullivan-Bennis in the Guardian. “The 20 September was the day they told us they would no longer feed us. They have decided to leave us to waste away and die instead.”

The coming confrontation between Israel and Iran: “In the United States, discussions of Iran have, for the last few years, centered mostly around the JCPOA—the nuclear deal negotiated by President Obama. In the Middle East, things are different,” writes Elliott Abrams in The Atlantic. “Iran has been acting—and Israel has been reacting.”
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