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Falling for the Spin of the Gitmo Bar

Why do reporters keep whitewashing the records of al Qaeda detainees?

Apr 26, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 30 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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On March 27, the Christian Science Monitor published an article (“Defending due process for Guantánamo detainees”) extolling the virtues of the attorneys who have rushed to the defense of the detainees. It portrays the attorneys as engaging in a noble defense of “due process” rights in the face of widespread threats and criticism. Undoubtedly the attorneys have faced criticism from some corridors, but for the most part they have been lionized in the press, leading to hopelessly skewed media coverage in which dangerous jihadists are presented as lambs and the U.S. military and government as villains. 

Falling for the Spin of the Gitmo Bar

The Monitor story featured attorney Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, who has represented, pro bono, a number of Guantánamo detainees. One of his clients is a former detainee named Juma al Dossari. He was captured near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in December 2001, transported to Guantánamo, and held there until being repatriated to Saudi Arabia on July 15, 2007.

Colangelo-Bryan says he and al Dossari quickly became friends, engaging in playful banter about the attorney’s cheapness and single life. During one meeting early in the relationship, the Monitor reports, “They told jokes, talked about women, [and] shared childhood stories.” Colangelo-Bryan even made sure on one occasion to bring his friend a cheesecake from Junior’s, a well-known Brooklyn eatery, all the way to Cuba.

The Monitor’s readers are told little of why Dossari was being held at Guantánamo. He was, the story says, “rumored to be an al Qaeda recruiter in Buffalo, N.Y., a jihadi in Chechnya, [and] a member of a Muslim fighting force in Bosnia.” But there is supposedly no reason to worry about any of this because:

When Colangelo-Bryan opened the files, he didn’t see much to prosecute. “There were no transcripts of phone calls that had been intercepted involving [Dossari]. There were no photographs of him with bin Laden. There were no fingerprints on incriminating materials. There was really nothing that any judge would consider reliable evidence,” he says.

But according to the FBI, Colangelo-Bryan’s summary is false. It’s true there is no picture of Dossari with Osama, but few al Qaeda members have ever been awarded that privilege, and it is absurd to claim that such evidence is required. The FBI file contains plenty of other evidence against Dossari, including the testimony of convicted al Qaeda trainees. 

Juma al Dossari’s story is intertwined with that of Kamal Derwish. In 2001, the two men convinced a group of Yemeni-American men attending a mosque in the Buffalo area to travel to Afghanistan for training at al Qaeda’s notorious al Farouq camp, whose alumni include some of the September 11 hijackers. Dossari and Derwish’s recruits came to be known as the “Lackawanna Six.” (In actuality, the duo convinced at least seven Buffalo-area recruits to travel to Afghanistan for training. Six of the seven were apprehended and pleaded guilty in U.S. courts to providing material support to al Qaeda.)  

According to a summary prepared by the FBI, and obtained by The Weekly Standard, it was Derwish who first showed the Lackawanna men the path to jihad. His recruiting strategy was twofold. First, Derwish criticized the men for their Westernized habits and lack of knowledge of Islam. There was only one way, he said, for them to make amends for their transgressions against the faith. They needed to participate in jihad: specifically to travel to Afghanistan for training. Just a few months at a training camp could save the men, they were told. Derwish said he had received such training himself, in an idyllic camp surrounded by trees and a waterfall. 

Second, Derwish portrayed the world as embroiled in a conflict between Muslim and non-Muslim forces. He showed the men propaganda tapes highlighting atrocities committed against Muslims in Bosnia and Chechnya, saying that the women in Bosnia even pleaded for birth control so that they would not have to witness their children being murdered. Derwish told his new recruits that he agreed with Osama bin Laden, particularly on the issue of American forces stationed in Saudi Arabia. He harped on President Clinton’s faults, America’s relationship with Israel, and pointed to al Qaeda’s bombing of the USS Cole as an example of American vulnerability. During a military commission held at Guantánamo, three members of the Lackawanna Six testified that while in Afghanistan they were shown a video produced by Ali Hamza Al-Bahlul, Osama bin Laden’s onetime chief propagandist, glorifying the Cole attack. 

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