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Friday, May 30, 2008

More Political Posturing?

It is hard not to conclude that the administration and its supposedly nonpartisan allies and agencies are spinning everything towards the election date.

From today's Miami Herald:
9/11 trial sought during presidential campaign
Posted on Thu, May. 29, 2008
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Defense lawyers for the alleged 9/11 conspirators on Thursday accused the Pentagon prosecutor of rushing to begin the complex Sept. 11, 2001, mass-murder trial in the height of the presidential campaign season.

The U.S. military attorneys included the claim in a 20-page brief asking the military judge to dismiss the capital charges against alleged al Qaeda kingpin Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other Guantánamo detainees.

The document includes an e-mail from a civilian member of the prosecution team proposing to set the trial date for Sept. 15, the Monday after the seventh anniversary of the suicide attacks.

''Not coincidentally,'' the defense attorneys say, ``that would force the trial of this case in mid-September, some seven weeks before the general elections.''

The date, in fact, is 10 days after Sen. John McCain, an architect of Military Commissions law, is expected to be officially nominated as the Republican presidential candidate at the GOP national convention in St. Paul, Minn.

''Three months and 18 days is not enough time to prepare a defense in this death penalty case even if the government had provided the defense with the attorneys, resources, and facilities necessary to do so,'' said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, attorney for Ammar al Baluchi, who is also known as Ali Abdul Aziz Ali.

A Pentagon spokesman denied the trial schedule was linked to the national political campaign season. ''We're moving forward with the trials,'' said Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon. ``And we're going to continue with the process.''


In other signs of the drive to get more cases to trial this year:

• The Defense Department on Thursday issued preliminary conspiracy charges against three alleged al Qaeda bomb-makers -- two Saudis and an Algerian -- raising the total number of currently active prosecutions to 17. Sufiyan Barhoumi, Jibran Qahtani and Ghassan Sharbi, long-held Guantánamo detainees, face maximum life sentences, if convicted.

• The military replaced an Army judge who had threatened to suspend the commission trial of Canadian captive Omar Khadr, until the prison camps at Guantánamo release Khadr's health records to defense attorneys. Military commissions sources had earlier indicated that the judge, Col. Peter E. Brownback III, was weighing his retirement.

By law, U.S.-held detainees charged at the war court must be tried within 120 days of finalization of charges -- unless the defense team is granted a delay.

All five men in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror-attack case face possible execution, if convicted. Civilian and military criminal defense lawyers have predicted it will take a year to prepare, in part because it's a death-penalty case and classified information is being used.


Defense lawyers have claimed for some time that the Pentagon is rushing to trial before President Bush leaves the White House in January, or cited alleged internal debates by appointees about whether charges could be brought for political gain or to capture the imagination of the American people.

The latest brief raises the allegations a notch a week before the five men go before a military judge for their arraignment, or official reading of charges.

The Pentagon is organizing for large-scale coverage of the first-ever appearances of the former CIA-held captives.

It has invited 60 national and international journalists to be airlifted to Guantánamo from Andrews Air Force Base a day ahead of the trial date and then taken back to the Washington Beltway the next day.

From the Guardian UK:
CIA chief claims al-Qaida essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia

* Ewen MacAskill in Washington
* guardian.co.uk,
* Friday May 30 2008
* Article history

The CIA changed direction again today in its assessment of al-Qaida, claiming it has been essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and is on the defensive throughout most of the rest of the world.

The upbeat assessment comes less than a year after US intelligence reported that al-Qaida had rebuilt its strength around the world and was well-placed to launch fresh attacks.

But, in an interview with the Washington Post published this morning, Michael Hayden, the CIA director, said: "On balance, we are doing pretty well. Near strategic defeat of al-Qaida in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaida globally - and here I'm going to use the word 'ideologically', as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam."

Hayden cited US success in using Predator drones to strike against suspected al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan, including the killings this year of Abu Laith al-Libi and Abu Sulayman al-Jazairi.

Hayden said: "The ability to kill and capture key members of al-Qaida continues, and keeps them off balance - even in their best safe haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border,"

He added that capturing Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, still at large seven years after 9/11, remained a top priority.

Various US intelligence analysts, while accepting that al-Qaida has suffered various setbacks, questioned whether this would be permanent and noted al-Qaida activity in Afghanistan and continuing plots against European targets.

Mike Scheur, the former chief of the CIA's Osama bin Laden unit, said it may be that Hayden's comments may be aimed at trying to exploit recent outbursts by Muslim clerics against al-Qaida.

He added that Hayden had a reputation within the agency for being frank and honest but these comments might put a dent in it.

"The stuff on the ground that you can measure does not look like a strategic defeat for al-Qaida. When you look on the ground, they are expanding in the Levant and across North Africa. They have fought the US to a standstill in Iraq and Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden has not been caught. They have the initiative in Afghanistan."

Vincent Cannistraro, former chief of operations and analysis at the CIA's counter-terrorist centre, said Hayden was going public about a consensus reached within the agency about six weeks ago that al-Qaida had been weakened.

"The question is whether it is permanent or not. There is no real agreement on that," he said.

Although it was an embarrassment for the US that neither bin laden or Zawahiri had been caught, Cannistraro said, there is a lot of intelligence about Zawahiri, mainly because he is more publicity hungry than bin Laden.

"There is intelligence about where he (Zawahiri) has been but they no real time intelligence. They are about 24-48 hours behind him," he said, adding that they were closing in too on bin Laden.

Jarret Brachman, director of research at West Point's Combating Terrorism Centre, said he agreed with Hayden about successes in Saudi Arabia and Iraq

"Nonetheless, we must recognise their organization is capable of re-surging if given sufficient breathing space. We must also recognise that AQ's senior leadership has called their wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the most important areas of focus for their movement. AQ will not go down quietly," Brachman said.

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