Binalshibh May Be Tried Before Military Tribunal
W A S H I N G T O N, Sept. 17 — Ramzi Binalshibh, one of the biggest prizes in the U.S.-led war on terror, could be the first alleged terrorist tried before a military tribunal, after interrogators try to learn all they can from the alleged al Qaeda lieutenant.
Officials said the decision on how to try Binalshibh, one of the most important captures since the Sept. 11 attacks, ultimately rests with President Bush.
Senior government officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the first priority is determining how much information the United States can learn from Binalshibh about planned attacks and the operations of Osama bin Laden's network.
"The primary and first goal is to get valuable intelligence from him and prevent further attacks," a senior intelligence official said.
Any information extracted from Binalshibh could be used against other terror defendants, and could also be used against Binalshibh himself if he is tried before a military tribunal, lawyers said.
That information would probably be excluded from a traditional criminal trial, lawyers said. Similarly, a television news tape in which a man identified as Binalshibh freely boasts of involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks would probably be admissible at a tribunal.
"This is not a guy a lot of people are going to sit back and worry they got an innocent man," said Robert Turner, associate director of the Center for National Security Law at the University of Virginia.
Legal experts said Binalshibh fits the administration's criteria for use of military tribunals: He is not a U.S. citizen, he was captured abroad, and he is allegedly a member of al Qaeda.
"He certainly fits the bill," said Neal Sonnett, a Miami criminal defense lawyer who was an early critic of administration plans to strip traditional legal protections from defendants tried before tribunals.
"If they are going to utilize military commissions to try any of these folks, based on what we've heard about him he seems to be a likely candidate."
So far, there is no indication that any alleged terrorist has been tried by a military tribunal, whose proceedings can be kept much more secret than ordinary courts. Some lawyers said the administration may be waiting for a big enough fish.
Though not a member of Osama bin Laden's top leadership, Binalshibh is believed to have been a long-serving and determined al Qaeda operative. He allegedly had a role in the USS Cole bombing and last year's terror attacks, and was a member of the al Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, which U.S. and German investigators believe planned and carried out the jetliner attacks.
Binalshibh may have intended to be the 20th suicide hijacker, but he failed repeatedly to enter the United States. He was captured in Pakistan last week and is now in U.S. custody.
His history heightens the public relations value of making Binalshibh the first alleged terrorist tried before a tribunal, said Scott L. Silliman, director of Duke University's Center on Law, Ethics and National Security.
"The administration needs to come out with a military commission to justify the political capital it invested with Congress and the public," said Silliman, who also was critical of plans for tribunals when they were announced last fall.
Some of the initial criticism was tempered when the administration issued detailed rules for tribunals in March that would give defendants many traditional legal rights. Defendants still do not have full constitutional protection, and the standards of evidence are looser before a tribunal than before a traditional criminal court.
The U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is the most likely place to hold and interrogate Binalshibh, lawyers said.
At Guantanamo, Binalshibh could be interrogated for a longer period and with far fewer protections than if he were held inside the United States. Bringing Binalshibh onto U.S. shores would make him eligible for prosecution in the federal court system, but also could afford him constitutional and legal protections the government would prefer to withhold, lawyers said.
—The Associated Press
U.S. Officials Identify Two Bin Laden Lieutenants
W A S H I N G T O N, Sept. 17 — U.S. counterterrorism officials have identified two key lieutenants of Osama bin Laden — including an alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks — as the most active plotters of several al Qaeda attacks during the past year.
While many top al Qaeda leaders went into hiding after Sept. 11, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri have taken the lead in arranging new attacks with cells in the field, U.S. officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Mohammed, a Sept. 11 organizer who has risen to be one of bin Laden's top planners, and al-Nashiri, al Qaeda's Persian Gulf operations chief, are among roughly two dozen key lieutenants being sought by the CIA, FBI and military in a worldwide manhunt.
While last week's capture of Ramzi Binalshibh in Pakistan may shed light on both the Sept. 11 attacks and ongoing al Qaeda plots, U.S. officials say he was not a leader but an aide to Mohammed. Officials hope that by tracking down the leaders they can disrupt terrorist plots and the multiple cells under their command.
Mohammed, a Kuwait-born Pakistani national, has been linked to the April 11 suicide truck bombing of the Djerba synagogue in Tunisia. At least 19 tourists, mostly Germans, were killed.
The suspected bomber, Nizar Naouar, spoke by phone with Mohammed about three hours before the attack, German officials said. Bin Laden's son Saad, seen as a rising star in al Qaeda, is also suspected of ties to the plot.
The Tunisia attack marked al Qaeda's first successful strike since Sept. 11. The suicide bombing of the U.S. consulate in Karachi in June is also believed to be an al Qaeda operation, but who commanded it has not been determined.
Mohammed, who is on the FBI's most-wanted terrorists list, has been charged in connection with plots in the Philippines to bomb trans-Pacific airliners and crash a plane into CIA headquarters. Those were broken up in 1995. He is believed to be related to Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
"He's the most significant operational player out there right now," said a senior U.S. counterterrorism official, speaking recently on the condition of anonymity.
U.S. counterterrorism officials believed Mohammed was in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region as recently as June.
The capture of Binalshibh, a Yemeni and planner in the Sept. 11 attacks, probably has set Mohammed on the run, said Vince Cannistraro, a former CIA counterterrorism official.
"Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is probably in touch with all the cells, through other lieutenants," he said. "[Binalshibh] will know where he is — or at least, where he was."
Al-Nashiri is more of a mystery. A Saudi who is also known as Umar Mohammed al-Harazi and Abu Bilal al-Makki, he is considered a step below Mohammed in al Qaeda's hierarchy.
He seems to have a particular hatred for the U.S. Navy, and is suspected of links to plots on four naval targets during the last three years.
Most recently, he has been tied to a failed al Qaeda plot to bomb U.S. and British warships crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, U.S. officials have said. Three Saudis were arrested in Morocco in June in connection with that plot.
He is also suspected of being behind plans to bomb the 5th Fleet Headquarters in Bahrain, a plot revealed in January by a former al Qaeda training camp commander captured by Pakistan after fleeing Afghanistan.
The 5th Fleet has responsibility for the Persian Gulf and provides ships for the operations of U.S. Central Command, which is running the war effort in Afghanistan. It also supports the enforcement of the no-fly zone over southern Iraq, the U.N. economic embargo against Iraq and the monitoring of sea traffic from the Arabian Sea to the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf.
The fleet headquarters went on high alert this week in response to new threats tied to the Sept. 11 anniversary. It's unclear whether al-Nashiri is linked to the alert.
Al-Nashiri is believed to be a mastermind of the October 2000 bombing of the destroyer USS Cole, which was hit by a small boat full of explosives at the port in Aden, Yemen.
He is similarly thought to be behind the attempt to bomb the USS The Sullivans nine months earlier at Aden, which failed when the suicide boat, overloaded with explosives, sank. U.S. counterterrorism officials also suspect he is tied to the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa.
Officials have said al-Nashiri gave telephone orders to the bombers from the United Arab Emirates.
U.S. officials believe he was in Ghazni, Afghanistan, around the time the war began last October. He is thought to have moved to Pakistan when the Taliban fell.
A third top bin Laden lieutenant, Abu Zubaydah, remained active in plotting terrorist attacks after Sept. 11, but he was captured in March in a joint U.S.-Pakistani raid in Faisalabad, Pakistan.
One of Zubaydah's associates, Omar al-Farouq, was al Qaeda's chief of operations in Southeast Asia before he was captured and turned over to U.S. authorities. His warnings led in part to the Sept. 10 worldwide terrorism alert.
—The Associated Press
Terror Hearings to Mention Pre-9/11 Clues
W A S H I N G T O N, Sept. 17 — U.S. intelligence agencies had picked up reports of threats about attacks planned for inside the United States and of using airplanes as weapons during the summer before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but had been more focused on the possibility of an attack overseas, a congressional source said today.
But there was no information that specified date, time, place and method of attack that would have pointed to the attacks on New York and Washington, the source familiar with a congressional inquiry into intelligence failures told reporters.
"What you're going to find is that there was reporting on domestic attacks in the U.S. even though a lot of people were much more focused on overseas," the source said.
"You're going to see specific reporting about aircraft as weapons and what the intelligence community had on aircraft as weapons prior to 9/11," the congressional source said referring to information that will be revealed on Wednesday at the first open hearing of the joint congressional inquiry.
Report: Cantor Fitzgerald Says Terror Victims Fund Is Unfair
N E W Y O R K, Sept. 17 — Cantor Fitzgerald, the firm that lost two-thirds of its employees in the World Trade Center attack, has concluded that the federal compensation fund for the terror victims is unfair and violates several laws, according to a published report.
The bond broker, which lost 658 of the 1,050 people employed at its headquarters on Sept. 11, 2001, is expected to submit a report to the federal government this week, The New York Times reported today.
The report contains numerous objections to the way the payments are being calculated, and claims that the fund has placed an artificial cap on awards to highly paid employees like those at Cantor, the Times said.
It argues that capping payments violates the legislation that created the fund, which was part of the airline bailout bill passed by Congress after the terrorist attacks.
The report also argues that basing lost income on after-tax projections is illegal under New York State law, and that presumed payments of $250,000 for pain and suffering are "woefully inadequate," the Times said.
When reached by the Times, Kenneth Feinberg, the fund's special master, said he had not seen the report and could not comment on it.
"I look forward with great interest to receiving it," he told the Times. "I will review it with great care, because anything that will help me in the difficult task of computing awards in individual cases, I welcome." Still, Feinberg reiterated his previous statements that "there will be no change in the final rules and regulations."
The fund's awards are based on a formula that includes earning potential and a non-economic payout for pain and suffering of $250,000. Another $100,000 is added for a spouse or each dependent child, and life insurance and workers compensation payments are deducted.
Families who chose to participate in the fund must relinquish the right to sue the airlines and other entities.
Cantor Fitzgerald's formula for calculating awards for its relief fund uses gross income and higher estimates of future earnings than those used by the government, the Times said.
—The Associated Press
Pakistani Accused of Threatening to Kill Bush Mistakenly Freed
W A S H I N G T O N, Sept. 17 — Jailers mistakenly freed a student from Pakistan who threatened to kill President Bush a week after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to a published report.
The student, Khushal Khan, and three other inmates were mistakenly freed last month, but Khan and one of the others later turned themselves in, The Washington Post reported in today's editions.
The District of Columbia jail was supposed to take Khan to federal authorities for a deportation hearing, the newspaper said.
Khan was on a student visa, studying for a master's degree in engineering at George Washington University, when he allegedly wrote a threatening e-mail to Bush.
The jail records office has been blamed in the mistaken release of at least nine inmates this year, including the four last month.
Khan and another of the inmates turned themselves in after they were discharged between Aug. 19 and Aug. 25, the Post said. One other who was serving six months for domestic abuse was apprehended. The fourth, wanted for violating her release after a drug conviction, remains at large.
—The Associated Press