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Military Commission for Terrorist Mastermind Begins

11:26 AM, Nov 9, 2011 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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The trial by military commission of top al Qaeda operative Abd al Rahim al Nashiri is set to commence today at Guantanamo. Nashiri’s time in U.S. detention has been controversial because he was one of only three senior terrorists waterboarded by the CIA. Nashiri was subjected to other so-called enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) as well.

Abd al Rahim al Nashiri

There is no material dispute over Nashiri’s al Qaeda role. Nashiri’s claim before a Guantanamo tribunal that he was merely pursuing various fishing endeavors with the assistance of Osama bin Laden is laughable. Nashiri’s style of fishing actually involved ramming explosives-laden boats into U.S. warships and oil tankers. The failed attack on the USS The Sullivans in January 2000, the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000, and the attack on the merchant vessel Limburg in October 2002 were all masterminded by Nashiri.

But Nashiri’s plotting did not end there, according to a leaked Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) threat assessment, as well as other sources.     

Plots Thwarted

Nashiri was exploring a range of possible attacks when he was captured in 2002. How many of these plots were in the advanced stages is uncertain. But with an experienced terrorist like Nashiri at the helm we can be certain at least some of them would have progressed had Nashiri remained free.

The leaked JTF-GTMO threat assessment for Nashiri, dated December 8, 2006, describes him as “one of al Qaeda’s most skilled, capable, prolific operational coordinators” with a “proven ability to plan and carry out attacks against the US, its interests and allies.” Nashiri is “linked to as many as a dozen plots to attack US and western interests.”

JTF-GTMO provided this summary of Nashiri’s plotting:

Detainee masterminded the October 2000 attack against the USS Cole and the October 2002 attack against the merchant vessel (M/V) Limburg. From at least April 2001, detainee directed maritime and land-based terrorist attacks, many targeting US military interests, to include (but not limited to) a plot to sink a US warship or tanker in the Strait of Hormuz (SoH) intended to block the Strait; a plot using an explosives-filled airplane against western warships at Port Rashid, Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE); a plot to blow up the US Embassy in Sanaa, YM; maritime attacks in the Red Sea and off the coasts of al-Hudaydah and Aden, YM; and a disrupted maritime operation targeting US, United Kingdom (UK), and other NATO ships and submarines in the Strait of Gibraltar (SoG).

Other targets are mentioned in the leaked file, too, including the UK embassy in Sanaa, Yemen and a “major petroleum facility” in Saudi Arabia. Some of these plots had apparently been halted, including the planned attack in the Strait of Hormuz.

When Nashiri was first captured, the CIA turned its attention to uncovering the details of Nashiri’s extensive plotting. An investigation by the CIA’s inspector general, who was no apologist for the EIT program, found that Nashiri did in fact give up actionable intelligence. The IG report reads:

Because of the litany of techniques used by different interrogators over a relatively short period of time, it is difficult to identify exactly why Al-Nashiri became more willing to provide information. However, following the use of EITs, he provided information about his most current operational planning and [REDACTED] as opposed to the historical information he provided before the use of EITs.

None of Nashiri’s plots, according to the IG, appear to have been “imminent” at the time of his capture. Then again, this is a myopic way of viewing Nashiri’s plotting. Al Qaeda cells often have more than one plot in the works at any given time. A plot becomes “imminent” quickly. In Nashiri’s case, his minions had already performed surveillance on several possible targets, researched the logistics of the proposed attacks, and even acquired explosives.

It was only a matter of time until Nashiri attempted another attack, even if we cannot be sure which target would have been next.

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