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Gone Fishing?

The ACLU's quest to free a terrorist responsible for the USS Cole bombing.

11:00 PM, Jan 15, 2009 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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On Wednesday, Bob Woodward of the Washington Post reported a bit of old news that was dressed up as something new. Susan Crawford, the convening authority of military commissions, said that Mohammed al-Qahtani (the would-be 20th hijacker on September 11) was tortured while in U.S. custody and that is why she did not move forward with his trial at Guantánamo. The story of Qahtani's interrogation has long been known, but that did not stop Woodward's article from making a splash.
Human rights groups and critics of Guantánamo quickly trumpeted Crawford's "admission." The ACLU took it a step further, claiming in a press release that the charges against another Guantánamo detainee, Abd al-Rahim Hussain Mohammed al-Nashiri, should be dropped. The ACLU and Nashiri's lawyers argue that because Nashiri was waterboarded, he too should not be tried at Guantánamo.

One need not agree with the way Nashiri (or Qahtani, for that matter) was treated to see that the ACLU's argument is without merit. Nashiri is a notorious al Qaeda terrorist, responsible for orchestrating the USS Cole bombing, which killed 17 American servicemen, as well as other attacks. It was not surprising that the ACLU would come to Nashiri's defense. His story has been continuously misreported.

In 2007, the Department of Defense released a transcript of Nashiri's hearing at Guantánamo. And the media quickly latched onto Nashiri's allegation that he "confessed under torture" to the Cole bombing and other terrorist acts. Nashiri claimed that he was not a member of al Qaeda and that his admissions were all either coerced or a misunderstanding.

But if you take a look at Nashiri's own testimony, it becomes readily apparent that his denials are not credible. Moreover, Nashiri freely made a number of important admissions while attempting to rebut the serious charges against him. It is hard to believe that a good prosecutor could not move forward on the basis of those admissions.

Consider Nashiri's exchange with a member of his tribunal concerning his ties to Osama bin Laden.

Board Member: How many times did you meet Osama bin Laden and did you take money from him every time?

Nashiri: Many times. I don't remember what year I met Osama bin Laden. What year, I don't remember. I don't remember what year. Maybe 96 or 95. And during that time whenever [I] went to Afghanistan I just stop by and visited him. And if I needed money I would just ask him and he would give money to me.

Nashiri claimed that he took bin Laden's money for "personal expenses," including getting married. Nashiri admitted that he met with bin Laden in Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks:

Board Member: So you were with [Osama bin Laden] in Afghanistan in late 2001 and into 2002?

Nashiri: I don't remember exact date. But I remember when the war started. When you went into Afghanistan, when you interfered in Afghanistan. I was in Kabul during that time. And I saw Osama bin Laden during that time.

I rented house and I was sitting there. I met him there like you meet other people. On that day that's when he told me that he told we could use the ship. They were planning to use for a fishing project and use it in a military incident. After that I never saw him again. I have no idea where he is.

The U.S. government believes that the "ship" Nashiri and bin Laden discussed was being prepared for a post-9/11 attack. Nashiri claimed, implausibly, that bin Laden mentioned using the ship for "military" purposes, but Nashiri was only interested in using it for his "fishing" business.

Nashiri took that story to absurd lengths. He was asked about his dealings with the al Qaeda terrorists who bombed the Limburg, a French oil tanker, in the Gulf of Aden in 2002. Nashiri said: "I help them go to Yemen but in reality I did not know what they planning to do." Nashiri claimed that he met with them "one to two days before" they left Pakistan for Yemen, but he only learned the details of the attack afterwards.