NYT : Your Brain Lies to You

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Op-Ed Contributor: Your Brain Lies to You

By SAM WANG and SANDRA AAMODT | June 27, 2008

FALSE beliefs are everywhere. Eighteen percent of Americans think the sun revolves around the earth, one poll has found. Thus it seems slightly less egregious that, according to another poll, 10 percent of us think that Senator Barack Obama, a Christian, is instead a Muslim. The Obama campaign has created a Web site to dispel misinformation. But this effort may be more difficult than it seems, thanks to the quirky way in which our brains store memories — and mislead us along the way.

The brain does not simply gather and stockpile information as a computer’s hard drive does. Facts are stored first in the hippocampus, a structure deep in the brain about the size and shape of a fat man’s curled pinkie finger. But the information does not rest there. Every time we recall it, our brain writes it down again, and during this re-storage, it is also reprocessed. In time, the fact is gradually transferred to the cerebral cortex and is separated from the context in which it was originally learned. For example, you know that the capital of California is Sacramento, but you probably don’t remember how you learned it.

This phenomenon, known as source amnesia, can also lead people to forget whether a statement is true. Even when a lie is presented with a disclaimer, people often later remember it as true.

With time, this misremembering only gets worse. A false statement from a noncredible source that is at first not believed can gain credibility during the months it takes to reprocess memories from short-term hippocampal storage to longer-term cortical storage. As the source is forgotten, the message and its implications gain strength. This could explain why, during the 2004 presidential campaign, it took some weeks for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign against Senator John Kerry to have an effect on his standing in the polls.

Even if they do not understand the neuroscience behind source amnesia, campaign strategists can exploit it to spread misinformation. They know that if their message is initially memorable, its impression will persist long after it is debunked. In repeating a falsehood, someone may back it up with an opening line like “I think I read somewhere” or even with a reference to a specific source.

In one study, a group of Stanford students was exposed repeatedly to an unsubstantiated claim taken from a Web site that Coca-Cola is an effective paint thinner. Students who read the statement five times were nearly one-third more likely than those who read it only twice to attribute it to Consumer Reports (rather than The National Enquirer, their other choice), giving it a gloss of credibility.

Adding to this innate tendency to mold information we recall is the way our brains fit facts into established mental frameworks. We tend to remember news that accords with our worldview, and discount statements that contradict it.

In another Stanford study, 48 students, half of whom said they favored capital punishment and half of whom said they opposed it, were presented with two pieces of evidence, one supporting and one contradicting the claim that capital punishment deters crime. Both groups were more convinced by the evidence that supported their initial position.

Psychologists have suggested that legends propagate by striking an emotional chord. In the same way, ideas can spread by emotional selection, rather than by their factual merits, encouraging the persistence of falsehoods about Coke — or about a presidential candidate.

Journalists and campaign workers may think they are acting to counter misinformation by pointing out that it is not true. But by repeating a false rumor, they may inadvertently make it stronger. In its concerted effort to “stop the smears,” the Obama campaign may want to keep this in mind. Rather than emphasize that Mr. Obama is not a Muslim, for instance, it may be more effective to stress that he embraced Christianity as a young man.

Consumers of news, for their part, are prone to selectively accept and remember statements that reinforce beliefs they already hold. In a replication of the study of students’ impressions of evidence about the death penalty, researchers found that even when subjects were given a specific instruction to be objective, they were still inclined to reject evidence that disagreed with their beliefs.

In the same study, however, when subjects were asked to imagine their reaction if the evidence had pointed to the opposite conclusion, they were more open-minded to information that contradicted their beliefs. Apparently, it pays for consumers of controversial news to take a moment and consider that the opposite interpretation may be true.

In 1919, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes of the Supreme Court wrote that “the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.” Holmes erroneously assumed that ideas are more likely to spread if they are honest. Our brains do not naturally obey this admirable dictum, but by better understanding the mechanisms of memory perhaps we can move closer to Holmes’s ideal.

Sam Wang, an associate professor of molecular biology and neuroscience at Princeton, and Sandra Aamodt, a former editor in chief of Nature Neuroscience, are the authors of “Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys but Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life.”

WaPo : In Courts, Afghanistan Air Base May Become Next Guantanamo

Sunday, June 29, 2008

In Courts, Afghanistan Air Base May Become Next Guantanamo

By Del Quentin Wilber | Washington Post Staff Writer | June 29, 2008

Jawed Ahmad, a driver and assistant for reporters of a Canadian television network in Afghanistan, knew the roads to avoid, how to get interviews and which stories to pitch. Reporters trusted him, his bosses say.

Then, one day about seven months ago, the 22-year-old CTV News contractor vanished. Weeks later, reporters would learn from Ahmad's family that he had been arrested by U.S. troops, locked up in the U.S. military prison at Bagram air base and accused of being an enemy combatant.

Lawyers representing Ahmad filed a federal lawsuit early this month challenging his detention on grounds similar to those cited in successful lawsuits on behalf of captives at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The lawyers are hoping to turn Ahmad's case and a handful of others into the next legal battleground over the rights of terrorism suspects apprehended on foreign soil. More lawsuits are expected on behalf of Bagram detainees in coming months, the lawyers said.

The lawsuits seek the right of habeas corpus for the detainees. Habeas corpus is a centuries-old legal doctrine that gives people taken into custody the right to challenge their detention before a judge.

Although legal experts expressed uncertainty about the potential for success, the detainees' lawyers say they are optimistic. They note the Supreme Court's decision two weeks ago that granted detainees at Guantanamo Bay the right to challenge their detention in federal courts.

"They stopped sending people to Guantanamo and are sending them to Bagram instead," said Barbara J. Olshansky, who represents Ahmad and is the legal director of the International Justice Network, a nonprofit organization that provides legal support to detainees. "In some ways, we have a stronger case than Guantanamo." The U.S. military referred questions about the habeas corpus petitions to the Justice Department and declined to confirm whether any of those who filed suits are being held at Bagram. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment, saying that lawyers are reviewing the Supreme Court's June 12 decision in Boumediene v. Bush and Al Odah v. U.S.

In legal filings, however, the Justice Department has fiercely fought the Bagram suits, arguing that "Bagram airfield is in the zone of war" and not in a peaceful locale such as Guantanamo.

"To provide alien enemy combatants captured at the battlefield and detained in a theater of war the privilege of access to our civil courts is unthinkable both legally and practically," the government argued.

Human rights groups and activists have become increasingly concerned about the U.S. military prison at Bagram, about 40 miles north of Kabul. The prison has grown steadily over the years and has about 600 detainees, military officials said. The military is planning to spend $60 million to build a new, larger facility that would house the same number of captives but could accommodate as many as 1,000.

Some of the Bagram prisoners have been there since 2002, activists said. Although the vast majority were picked up in Afghanistan, activists and lawyers say at least a few were arrested in other countries.

"It provides a convenient place to hold people who you might not want the world to know you are holding," said Tina Monshipour Foster, a lawyer who represents Bagram detainees.

Military officials would not say whether people arrested in other countries are housed at Bagram. But they said they regularly review each detainee's status, release those who are no longer thought to be combatants, and turn others over to Afghan authorities.

Haji Wazir, whose federal lawsuit was filed in 2006, has been held as an enemy combatant since 2002, according to lawyers and human rights activists. But he "is not a commander, not a member of the Taliban or al-Qaeda," said Lal Gul, chairman of the Afghan Human Rights Organization. "He is a businessman."

Gul also complained about the arrest of Ahmad, whose bosses say they are frustrated that he has not had his day in court.

"We have been told nothing about him," said Robert Hurst, president of CTV News, who spent several days with Ahmad in 2006 while visiting Afghanistan. "When we ask, we are told we don't have the right to even ask that question. . . . Our reporters felt very secure around him. He is an excellent young journalist."

Legal experts say they are not sure how the courts will treat the lawsuits. The Supreme Court's majority opinion in the Guantanamo cases, written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, focused only on detainees held at the naval base in Cuba. In it, Kennedy took pains to examine the particular circumstances surrounding the detentions, according to David Cole, a law professor at the Georgetown University Law Center.

Among the factors that tilted the ruling in favor of the detainees: The government had complete control over Guantanamo, the detainees had been held for years without trial, and the prison was not near a battlefield.

Lawyers may be successful in applying similar tests to those being held elsewhere, Cole said.

"Bagram will be the next battleground," he said. "Kennedy's decision in Boumediene leaves open the question as to what other places the writ of habeas corpus extends."

Other legal scholars said they thought the courts would be reluctant to grant Bagram detainees such hearings, because the prison is in an area that the U.S. military considers a war zone.

Kennedy alluded to that issue when he wrote that "if the detention facility were located in an active theater of war, arguments that issuing the writ would be 'impracticable or anomalous' would have more weight."

"It seems unlikely that the conditions there are comparable to the conditions" at Guantanamo Bay, said Jonathan Siegel, a law professor at George Washington University's law school.

But Siegel added that Kennedy and other justices "expressed impatience with the notion that the United States can hold people indefinitely without charge."

NYT : U.S. to Settle Lawsuit of Man Investigated in Anthrax Case

Friday, June 27, 2008

U.S. to Settle Lawsuit of Man Investigated in Anthrax Case


WASHINGTON — The Justice Department announced Friday that it would pay $4.6 million to settle a lawsuit filed by Steven J. Hatfill, a former Army biodefense researcher intensively investigated as a “person of interest” in the deadly anthrax letters of 2001.

The settlement, consisting of $2.825 million in cash and an annuity paying Dr. Hatfill $150,000 a year for 20 years, brings to an end a five-year legal battle that had recently threatened a reporter with large fines for declining to name sources she said she did not recall.

Dr. Hatfill, who worked at the Army’s laboratory at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., in the late 1990s, was the subject of a flood of media coverage beginning in mid-2002, after television cameras showed F.B.I. agents in biohazard suits searching his apartment near the Army base. He was later named a “person of interest” in the case by then Attorney General John Ashcroft, speaking on national television.

In a news conference in August 2002, Dr. Hatfill tearfully denied that he had anything to do with the anthrax letters and said irresponsible media coverage based on government leaks had destroyed his reputation.

Dr. Hatfill’s lawsuit, filed in 2003, alleged that F.B.I. agents and Justice Department officials involved in the criminal investigation of the anthrax mailings had leaked information about him to the news media in violation of the Privacy Act. In order to prove their case, his lawyers took depositions from key F.B.I. investigators, senior officials and a number of reporters who had covered the investigation.

Mark Grannis, a lawyer for Dr. Hatfill, said his client was pleased with the settlement.

“This case has been about how the press behaves and how the government behaves,” Mr. Grannis said. “The good news is that we still live in a country where a guy who’s been horribly abused can go to a judge and say ‘I need your help,’ and maybe it takes a while, but he gets justice.”

The settlement, Mr. Grannis said, “means that Steven Hatfill is finally an ex-person of interest.”

The settlement called new attention to the fact that nearly seven years after the toxic letters were mailed, killing five people and sickening at least 17 others, the case has not been solved.

A Justice Department spokesman, Brian Roehrkasse, said in a statement that the government admitted no liability but decided settlement was “in the best interest of the United States.”

“The government remains resolute in its investigation into the anthrax attacks, which killed five individuals and sickened others after lethal anthrax powder was sent through the United States mail,” Mr. Roehrkasse said.

“We commend the agents and law enforcement personnel who have devoted countless hours to the pursuit of the perpetrator of this horrible crime, and we reassure the public and the victims that this investigation remains among the Department’s highest law enforcement priorities,” he said.

But Representative Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat whose district was the site of a postal box believed to have been used in the attacks, said he would press Robert S. Mueller III, director of the F.B.I., for more answers about the status of the long-stalled case.

“As today’s settlement announcement confirms, this case was botched from the very beginning,” Mr. Holt said. “The F.B.I. did a poor job of collecting evidence, and then inappropriately focused on one individual as a suspect for too long, developing an erroneous theory of the case that has led to this very expensive dead end.” Dr. Hatfill subpoenaed a number of Washington journalists to try to determine which federal officials had spoken to the news media about the case against him in possible violation of federal privacy laws.

Toni Locy, a former legal affairs reporter for USA Today who wrote several articles about the case, was held in contempt of court, facing fines of up to $5,000 a day from Judge Reggie Walton over her refusal to name her sources, and her case is pending before an appeals court. She said Friday she was relieved by the developments but that it was too soon to celebrate.

“I hope this means that this ordeal is over and that I can get on with my life,” said Ms. Locy, who will begin teaching legal reporting at Washington and Lee University in the fall. She said Dr. Hatfill’s lawyers said they no longer needed her testimony, though she had not been told whether the contempt order against her had been lifted.

The outcome differed significantly from the settlement of a similar case involving Wen Ho Lee, a former nuclear scientist once suspected of espionage. In that case, five news organizations joined the government’s settlement, agreeing to pay a total of $750,000 to prevent their reporters from having to testify about their sources.

Ms. Locy said a federal mediator had tried to get Gannett, which owns USA Today, to negotiate some type of settlement with Dr. Hatfill’s lawyers, but it had refused

She called the result an important affirmation of journalists’ ability to use confidential sources in gathering material on important news stories. “I protected my sources, and that’s important.”

Dr. Hatfill also sued The New York Times and the columnist Nicholas Kristof, alleging that columns Mr. Kristof wrote about the case had libeled him by suggesting that he might be the anthrax mailer. That lawsuit was dismissed last year, but Dr. Hatfill has appealed the dismissal.

The former Army scientist also sued Vanity Fair and the author of an article about the case in the magazine, Donald Foster, as well as Reader’s Digest, which published a condensed version. That case was settled last year on confidential terms.

The anthrax attacks, which began while the nation was still in shock over the Sept. 11 attacks, set off waves of speculation over their source. Early on, investigators investigated whether the origin of the anthrax might have been Iraq, where Saddam Hussein was known to have used poison gas on his own subjects, but no link to Iraq was ever found.

Then, too, the victims of the attacks, and other intended targets who escaped harm, seemed to have nothing in common. While Tom Brokaw of NBC, to whom one letter was addressed, had a name and face recognizable to millions of people, other recipients of anthrax letters, Senators Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, could hardly be described as famous although their names were instantly recognizable in the nation’s capital.

It is known that the letters to the senators, along with one that went to Seymour, Conn., and killed a woman there, were mailed within an hour or so of each other on Oct. 9, 2001, from a post office in Hamilton Township, N.J. It is also known that the Washington-bound letters went through the capital’s huge Brentwood mail facility, killing two workers there. Dr. Hatfill, 54, grew up in Illinois but studied medicine in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. After returning to the United States in the early 1990s, he worked at the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick. A Ph.D. degree from a South African University that he used to get hired later turned out to be a forgery.

He did training on bioterrorism for the F.B.I., Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency and trained to be a bioweapons inspector for the United Nations, though he never began the job.

After Dr. Hatfill came under suspicion in the anthrax case in 2002, an F.B.I. surveillance team began following him everywhere, and a small motorcade sometimes trailed his car around Washington.

In May 2003, an F.B.I. surveillance car ran over Dr. Hatfill’s foot in Georgetown as he approached the car to take the driver’s picture. He was given a ticket for “walking to create a hazard” and paid a $5 fine.

David Stout contributed reporting from Washington.

WaPo : Senate Passes Broad War Funding Measure

Friday, June 27, 2008

Senate Passes Broad War Funding Measure

Democrats' Domestic Spending Intact

By Paul Kane | Washington Post Staff Writer | June 27, 2008

In a 92 to 6 vote, the Senate yesterday approved unrestricted funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that allows continuation of the current military course of action through the end of President Bush's term and beyond.

In exchange for that unencumbered freedom to operate in Iraq, Bush agreed to demands by congressional Democrats to create a new higher-education benefit for veterans and their families, and to extend unemployment benefits.

"There are going to be a lot of veterans in the United States who are going to be happy with the United States Senate," said Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), who crafted the legislation granting the new education benefit.

In the end, the $257.5 billion emergency spending bill, which had been the subject of two months of intense debate and negotiation, won overwhelming support in the Senate and the House, where it was approved last Friday by 416 to 12.

Bush is expected to sign the bill next week.

Since House passage last week, the outcome of Bush's last war funding fight with the Democratic-controlled Congress had been a foregone conclusion. But the bill became entangled in unrelated disputes that created a logjam in the Senate, as conservatives opposed a housing bill and liberal Democrats opposed a rewriting of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Unable to overcome parliamentary hurdles, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) postponed consideration of both until Congress returns from its week-long Fourth of July recess. In addition, the Senate failed to clear a 60-vote threshold on a bill to postpone a 10.6 percent fee cut for doctors who treat Medicare patients. That reduction will take effect next week.

By setting aside those issues, the Senate cleared a path for the war funding measure, which ended up with enough legislative morsels to please just about every philosophical corner of Congress.

Bush began the fight in early May by demanding a "clean" war funding bill that would provide the $108 billion he needed for Iraq and Afghanistan with no restrictions on how he could conduct the war and with no additional domestic spending favored by Democrats.

Having lost every attempt in the previous year to limit Bush's hand in Iraq, Democrats quickly gave up their effort to force a timeline for troop withdrawals and focused their efforts on a domestic agenda.

That included the education benefit, which gives veterans who have served since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks the ability to pay tuition at even the most expensive state universities. Democrats also included the unemployment extension for jobless workers who already have used their 26 weeks of insurance. It will cost taxpayers more than $8 billion.

Democrats inflated the war funds to about $162 billion. The additional money will keep military operations going well into 2009.

After initially fighting the education and unemployment provisions, Bush capitulated and demanded that the education benefit be transferable to spouses and children of veterans. That pushed the cost of the Webb bill to $62.8 billion over 11 years.

The legislation also contains a $24 billion grab bag of other items, including $5.8 billion to strengthen levees in Louisiana and $4.6 billion to rebuild veterans hospitals.

The additions brought the total cost of the bill to almost $150 billion more than Bush's original request.

IHT : Obama's policy pirouettes lead him toward the center

Friday, June 27, 2008

Obama's policy pirouettes lead him toward the center

By Michael Powell | June 27, 2008

Barack Obama has taken a stroll this week away from traditional liberal positions, his path toward the political center marked by artful leaps and turns.

On Thursday, he seemed to embrace a Supreme Court decision, written by the court's premier conservative and upheld 5 to 4, which struck down a ban on handguns in Washington, D.C.

Obama seemed to voice support for the ban as recently as February. On Thursday, however, he issued a delphic news release that seemed to support the Supreme Court, although staff members later insisted that might not be the case.

"I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms, but I also identify with the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children from the violence that plagues our streets through common-sense, effective safety measures," Obama said. "The Supreme Court has now endorsed that view."

He added, "Today's decision reinforces that if we act responsibly, we can both protect the constitutional right to bear arms and keep our communities and our children safe."

In the last week, Obama has taken calibrated positions on issues that include electronic surveillance, campaign finance and the death penalty for child rapists, suggesting a presidential candidate in hot pursuit of what Bill Clinton once lovingly described as "the vital center."

"A presidential candidate's great desire is to be seen as pragmatic, and they hope their maneuvering and shifting will be seen in pursuit of some higher purpose," said Robert Dallek, the presidential historian. "It doesn't mean they are utterly insincere."

Obama has executed several policy pirouettes in recent weeks, each time landing more toward the center of the political ring. On Wednesday in Chicago, he confirmed that he would not fight a revised law that would extend retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that helped the government spy on U.S. citizens. (He had previously spoken against immunity provisions in an earlier version of the bill.) And recently he backed away from his own earlier support for campaign finance spending limits in the 2008 election.

Obama describes his new turns as consistent with long-held beliefs. On Wednesday he painted his decision to opt out of the campaign finance system as a reformist gesture, noting that most of his donors were not wealthy. "Our donor base is the American people," he said, adding that this was the thematic goal of campaign finance reform.

This most observant of politicians has throughout his career shown an appreciation for the virtues of political ambiguity. In February, a local television anchor asked Obama to explain his support of the Washington gun ban. The candidate, a transcript shows, did not object to that characterization of his position, even as he said he favored the Second Amendment and supports law-abiding people who use guns for sport and protection. "And so I think there is nothing wrong with a community saying we are going to take those illegal handguns off the streets, we are going to trace more effectively how these guns are ending up on the streets, to unscrupulous gun dealers, who often times are selling to straw purchasers," he said.

In South Carolina this year, Obama lent his voice to the battle against the Bush administration's program of wiretaps without warrants. "This administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security he demands," he said in South Carolina earlier this year.

The bill since has been modified, with internal safeguards put in place on wiretaps without warrants. This has not pleased Obama's Democratic allies in Washington; Senators Charles Schumer of New York, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut strongly oppose the bill.

But Obama indicated Wednesday he probably would vote for it. "The issue of the phone companies per se is not one that overrides the security of the American people," he said.

On the death penalty, Obama wrote in his 2007 memoir, "The Audacity of Hope," that the penalty "does little to deter crime." But he added that society had the right to express outrage at heinous crimes. During his 2004 Senate campaign, he publicly supported the death penalty, even as he called the justice system flawed and urged a moratorium on executions.

Obama is an introspective candidate, and perhaps the best analyst of his own political style. "I serve as a blank screen," he wrote in "The Audacity of Hope," "on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views."

NYT : Briton Admits to Plot to Set Off Explosives at Heathrow Airport

Friday, June 27, 2008

Briton Admits to Plot to Set Off Explosives at Heathrow Airport

By JOHN F. BURNS | June 4, 2008

LONDON — A British man accused of leading a plot to blow up as many as seven trans-Atlantic airliners on a single day in 2006 said in a London court on Tuesday that he had planned to set off one or two explosive devices at Heathrow Airport, but that he had never intended to place them on aircraft.

The man, Abdulla Ahmed Ali, is one of eight Muslim men on trial on charges of planning suicide attacks on airliners using bombs mixed from household chemicals carried on board. Mr. Ali said the plan had been to “create a disturbance” outside one of the American airlines’ offices at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 that would attract “a lot of attention” to Muslim militants’ opposition to British and American policy in Iraq and Afghanistan and to a video documentary his group planned to place on YouTube.

The defendants are charged with conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to “commit an act of violence likely to endanger the safety of an aircraft.” All have denied the accusations. The trial is expected to last eight months.

The men were arrested in a series of police raids in and around London before any attacks were carried out. But the scale of the alleged plot, a year after the July 7, 2005, suicide bombings on the London transit system that killed 56 people, including 4 bombers, had a major impact in Britain, prompting a further tightening security at airports and other public buildings.

The repercussions were felt around the world. Police claims that the raids had recovered equipment for making bombs from hydrogen peroxide and other liquids that could be carried aboard a plane disguised as bottled drinks led to a tightening of airport security in many parts of the world, including Europe and the United States.

Mr. Ali, 27, told the court that he had originally planned to use one of the peroxide bombs to attack the House of Commons, but had decided that security was so tight that “we’d probably get shot,” so he had switched the target to Heathrow. He said the group had planned to leave one or two of the devices with timers that would detonate the explosives after 5 or 10 minutes, to give the plotters time to escape.

“We were trying to create a disturbance, not to kill anyone,” he said.

Mr. Ali admitted that he had researched flight times and destinations of aircraft leaving Terminal 3, but said that his purpose was to determine the times at which the terminal would be busiest, so as to cause “maximum disruption,” not to place the bombs on aircraft. “That was never our intention,” he said. “When we thought about the airport it was the terminal and more specific American offices. We did not even think about boarding a plane.”

In his first day of testimony on Monday, Mr. Ali was questioned about “martyrdom” videotapes made by six of the men now on trial, which prosecutors say were recovered in police raids. In his tape, Mr. Ali warned of attacks that the group planned to launch. “As you kill us, you will be killed,” he said. “As you bomb us, you will be bombed.”

But he told the court that the videos were intended as “propaganda” to attract attention to the group and its planned documentary, not as part of a plot to kill. “We thought we should do a publicity stunt,” he said.

BBC : 'Planes plotter' bought chemicals

Friday, June 27, 2008

'Planes plotter' bought chemicals

June 10, 2008

A man accused of being part of a plot to blow up passenger planes flying from the UK has admitted buying and hiding materials to make an explosive device.

Assad Sarwar, 25, told Woolwich Crown Court the device would have had the "hallmark of an al-Qaeda attack".

But he said it would have represented a protest against Western foreign policy and would not have hurt anyone.

Mr Sarwar, from High Wycombe, Bucks, is one of eight men who deny a plot to blow up transatlantic flights in 2006.

Prosecutors allege the men planned to make hydrogen peroxide bombs disguised as soft drinks to detonate in mid-air on at least seven planes flying out of London's Heathrow airport.

But the alleged leader of the plot Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 27, of Walthamstow, east London, has told the court that the men merely wanted to set off a harmless explosion as a "publicity stunt".

And Mr Sarwar told the jury that the use of hydrogen peroxide in their device was designed to give the stunt authenticity, not cause harm.

Possible targets

Mr Sarwar said he made a trip to Wales in April 2006 and used a false name to buy hydrogen peroxide from a laboratory supplier.

By July that year, he said he and Mr Ali had been keen to advance their plan, so he made a second trip to buy more.

Mr Sarwar said he hid the highly volatile chemical in King's Wood, High Wycombe, but later could not locate it.

Mr Sarwar also told the jury that during a trip to Pakistan between mid-June and early July 2006, he met a contact who told him how to make a highly explosive chemical compound called HMTD and he made a note of it.

He also described how he used the internet to research possible targets for the device, including the Houses of Parliament and Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Birmingham airports.

And he told the court he purchased three voice disguisers.

He said he and Mr Ali planned to contact police after the device was detonated to claim that al-Qaeda had been responsible.

They also planned "to say other devices were planted to cause more panic and alarm to get the most mass media attention", Mr Sarwar said.


On Monday, Mr Sarwar told the court he had never been involved in a plan to blow up aircraft.

He said he believed that suicide bombers ended up "in hell fire" and called al-Qaeda "deviant".

Mr Sarwar and Mr Ali's co-defendants are Tanvir Hussain, 27, of Leyton, east London, Waheed Zaman, 24, and Arafat Waheed Khan, 27, both of Walthamstow, east London.

Also charged are Mohammed Gulzar, 26, of Barking, east London, Ibrahim Savant, 27, of Stoke Newington, north London, and Umar Islam, 30, of Plaistow, east London.

All eight deny two joint charges of conspiring to murder and to endanger aircraft.

The trial continues.

Guardian : I expect to go to jail, says airline bomb plot 'ringleader'

Friday, June 27, 2008

I expect to go to jail, says airline bomb plot 'ringleader'

Haroon Siddique and agencies | June 4, 2008

The alleged leader of a gang of eight men accused of plotting to blow up transatlantic planes in mid-air today told a court his intentions had been "taken out of proportion".

Abdulla Ahmed Ali said he expected to go to prison for planning to detonate a device at Heathrow airport's terminal three.

However, the 27-year-old insisted the device was not intended to do any damage and was a protest against Britain's foreign policy.

He denied the prosecution's case that he planned to smuggle liquid explosives, hidden in soft drink bottles, on to planes and detonate them during flights to north America.

The prosecution alleges that the plot, which was foiled in August 2006, would have killed more than 1,500 people.

Ali told jurors at Woolwich crown court: "I understand that admitting to use an explosive device in a sensitive place such as an airport is an offence, and I don't expect to go home after the trial - I expect to do time for that.

"This whole thing has been blown up out of proportion. I'm not going to admit to something I didn't do and never intended to do."

He maintained that the plastic bottle and battery explosive device he attempted to make was never intended to harm.

"That's the truth," he said. "I've done something which is an offence, I'm putting my hand up to that."

He claimed the charges against him had been "exaggerated", with the media being used "to ruthless effect".

Ali and five other defendants made alleged "martyrdom" videos in which they threatened bloodshed in response to UK and US foreign policy.

In Ali's video, he vowed to teach non-Muslims "a lesson they will never forget" and warned of "body parts … decorating the streets" if Muslims were not left alone.

He has claimed the films were meant to form part of a "documentary" that would be posted on the internet and highlight unjust foreign policies.

Ali said the explosion was intended as a way to draw attention to the documentary.

He admitted giving his co-defendants Ibrahim Savant and Arafat Waheed Khan scripts to record videos, but said they knew nothing about the plan to detonate a device.

However, he said he had discussed the idea of a device with co-defendant Tanvir Hussain when they smoked a hashish pipe in April 2006.

The defendants deny conspiring to murder between January 1 and August 11 2006, and conspiring to commit an act of violence likely to endanger the safety of an aircraft between the same dates

Ali, of Prospect Hill, Walthamstow, east London, is on trial with seven other men.

They are Assad Sarwar, 28, of High Wycombe; Buckinghamshire; Hussain, 27, of Leyton, east London; Mohammed Gulzar, 26, of Barking, east London; Savant, 27, of Denver Road, Stoke Newington, north London; Khan, 27, of Walthamstow; Waheed Zaman, 24, of Walthamstow, and Umar Islam, aka Brian Young, 30, of Plaistow, east London.

The trial continues.

Bucks Free Press : Explosion plot "not known to suspect"

Friday, June 27, 2008

Explosion plot "not known to suspect"

By Lucy Clapham | June 4, 2008

A TERROR suspect had no idea his co-defendant intended to cause explosions and made a "suicide video" as "propaganda", a court was told.

Umar Islam, formerly of High Wycombe, had no knowledge of explosions planned for an airport, jurors heard.

In his third day of evidence, Abdulla Ahmed Ali, the first accused to give evidence, said the 30-year-old was someone who "really enjoyed helping out".

Ali denies prosecution claims that the defendants plotted to smuggle bombs disguised as soft drink bottles onto planes and detonate them, killing thousands.

Instead they wanted to set off a harmless explosion in a high profile location such as the Houses of Parliament and Heathrow airport, he claims.

Islam, a former Rastafarian known as Brian Young, agreed to be filmed making threats and demands in an al-Qaeda style video, which was due to be posted on video website YouTube.

Lawrence McNulty QC, representing Islam, suggested to Ali the plan to carry out explosions was never mentioned to his client.

Ali replied: "No."

Ali warned Islam making the video could cause problems for him, but that it may present an opportunity for him to emigrate to Pakistan, jurors heard.

Islam and Ali first met in Pakistan in January 2003 while working for the Islamic Medical Association, an aid charity, the trial at Woolwich Crown Court was told.

The idea of the video was first suggested to Islam when the pair met again in July 2006.

But Ali described it as a documentary showing footage of previous conflicts and wars, interspersed with people speaking.

Ali told the court: "I told him going on marches and stuff was a waste of time. Even doing aid work is not addressing the problem."

But when they met a few weeks later the idea of the film had changed to making "martyrdom" videos.

The court heard Ali had drafted a loose script for Islam to read out on the video, which has been shown at the trial.

The pair met on August 9, 2006 to film the video at a flat in Walthamstow, just hours before Ali was arrested along with High Wycombe co-defendant Assad Sarwar.

He also admitted in court today to being responsible for changing the security procedures at airports following his arrest, which saw the banning of liquid items in hand luggage at airports.

Peter Wright QC, prosecuting, asked him: "What do you feel responsible for?"

Ali replied: "For my co-defendants to go through this difficulty, for the problems I have caused I suppose.

"In regard to what's happening at the airports and stuff.

"The banning of bottles and all these other things and long queues."

Mr Wright told the court that at the time of his arrest Ali and his co-conspirators had enough chemicals to, when mixed, cause "an explosion of quite devastating consequence".

Mr Wright went on to allege that Ali had received instructions on his "mission" from people higher up the "chain of command".

He added: "You received instructions on what to obtain, on how to construct it and how to reap the greatest harvest of death."

Ali replied: "That's totally not true."

The men deny conspiracy to murder and endanger aircraft. The trial continues.

WaPo : Computer Files Hold Key in CIA Case

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Computer Files Hold Key in CIA Case

Officer Had Maps, Photos Involving Abducted Cleric, Court Told

By Craig Whitlock | Washington Post Foreign Service | June 26, 2008

BERLIN, June 25 -- As Italian police investigated the mysterious disappearance of a radical Islamic cleric in 2003, they found a trove of clues on the home computer of the CIA's chief spy in Milan, according to court testimony.

Angelo Foglieri, an Italian anti-terrorism investigator, said Wednesday during trial proceedings in Milan that police found street maps on the CIA officer's computer that had been downloaded from an Internet travel service, Expedia.com. The maps, he said, showed the quickest routes from the cleric's mosque and home in Milan to Aviano Air Base, a joint U.S.-Italian military installation a few hours' drive away.

Also found on the computer were surveillance photos of the Egyptian cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, taken about a month before his alleged abduction, Foglieri said.

Foglieri's testimony came during a trial of 26 Americans charged with grabbing Nasr off the street as he walked toward a Milan mosque on Feb. 17, 2003. He was later flown to Cairo, where he has asserted he was tortured by the Egyptian secret police as part of an investigation into al-Qaeda.

All of the American defendants are being tried in absentia. Italian authorities said all but three are known only by aliases. Several members of the Italian military intelligence agency, SISMI, are also on trial, charged with conspiring with the CIA.

The seized computer belonged to Robert Seldon Lady, the CIA's chief in Milan at the time. It was taken by Italian police after they came to suspect CIA involvement in Nasr's disappearance, despite the agency's denials to Italian anti-terrorism investigators.

Recovered computer files also showed that Lady used Expedia to book a plane reservation to Cairo around the time Nasr was kidnapped. Lady left Italy before he was charged. He has since retired from the CIA.

The computer also contained a list of about 70 hotels around Milan that Italian investigators used to help identify CIA operatives who played a role in the kidnapping, according to testimony from Foglieri and another Italian investigator, the Associated Press reported.

Italian authorities have said they were astounded to find the evidence left unprotected on Lady's computer. But according to the testimony and court records, the CIA repeatedly failed to cover its tracks during the operation.

While most of the CIA officers used false identities, they left a long paper and electronic trail that enabled Italian investigators to retrace their movements, court documents show.

Posing as tourists and business travelers, the Americans often stayed in the same five-star hotels -- with rates as high as $500 a night. They rarely paid in cash, gave their frequent traveler account numbers to desk clerks and made dozens of calls from room phones that were not secure.

They were also spotted in broad daylight. A witness reported seeing men jump out of a van and grab Nasr as he was walking down the street around noon on Feb. 17, 2003.

Prosecutors in Milan have asked the Italian Justice Ministry in Rome to seek the extradition of the American defendants. So far, the Italian government has refused, but arrest warrants for the Americans have been posted throughout the European Union.

Reuters : UN security chief to quit after bombing report

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

UN security chief to quit after bombing report

By Patrick Worsnip | June 24, 2008

UNITED NATIONS, June 24 (Reuters) - The head of U.N. security has resigned after an inquiry into a car bombing that killed 17 U.N. staff in Algiers criticized failures by his department, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Tuesday.

Ban said in a statement that Britain's David Veness, Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security, had told him on Monday he was taking the blame for "any security lapse that may have occurred" over the attack on Dec. 11 last year.

Veness, a former anti-terrorism chief at Britain's Scotland Yard police headquarters, has held the U.N. job for three years. Ban said he had significantly improved the world body's security system and would stay on until a successor could be found.

A seven-person outside panel that investigated the Algiers bombing aimed at the U.N. compound there, and drew lessons for U.N. security worldwide, said in a report the attack had put security arrangements to the test.

"Most unfortunately, the system as a whole and individuals who, both in the duty station itself and at headquarters, held direct responsibility for the U.N. presence in Algiers and the security of its personnel and premises, have been found wanting," panel chief Lakhdar Brahimi said.

There was "ample evidence that several staff members up and down the hierarchy may have failed to respond adequately to the Algiers attack, both before and after the tragedy," Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister and U.N. official said in the report.

The report did not identify individual accountability. U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas told reporters that a separate "accountability panel" would determine in the coming weeks who was to blame and what consequences should follow.


It said that although Algerian authorities had provided the United Nations with effective security for 20 years, this proved inadequate on Dec. 11.

The lack of a close working relationship between the two prevented better security cooperation, it said. "This weakness could and should have been at least partially offset by pro-active support from" Veness's department in New York.

The department needed to address "as a matter of priority" accountability, leadership and internal management and oversight. It was also inadequate in responses to warnings and security-related information and had insufficient resources.

Management had ignored warnings about potential threats in Algiers, had not supported security efforts by U.N. officials there and had not approached Algeria's U.N. mission to seek better protection for the building, it said.

U.N. employees had "limited confidence" in the security management system, it added, and the 75 percent of field staff worldwide who were locally employed felt that they were not protected as well as international staff. Fourteen of the 17 staff who died in Algiers were Algerians.

A group called Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the attack on the U.N. compound and another bombing in Algiers on the same day. At least 41 people were killed in the two attacks.

A key section of the report discussed why the United Nations was now coming under attack from militants, an issue first highlighted when the U.N. compound in Iraq was blown up in 2003, killing 15 staff and seven others.

The U.N., it said, "is being targeted by terrorists for what it is and what it represents." This was due to perceptions that the body had become "an instrument of powerful member states to advance agendas that serve their own interests, rather than those of the global community of nations.

"This is often broadly referred to as a pro-western agenda; others have called it an anti-Muslim agenda," it said. "Whatever it is called ... the fact is that in many places the U.N. is no longer seen as impartial and neutral." (Editing by Chris Wilson)

IHT : An unlikely antagonist in the detainees' corner

Thursday, June 19, 2008

An unlikely antagonist in the detainees' corner

By William Glaberson | June 19, 2008

When he speaks publicly, Lieutenant Commander William Kuebler, a military lawyer for a Guantánamo detainee, is careful to say his remarks do not reflect the views of the Pentagon.

As if anybody would make that mistake.

In his navy blues, the youthful commander could pass for an eager cadet. But give him a minute on the subject of his client, a terrorism suspect named Omar Khadr, and he sounds like some 1960s radical lawyer, an apple-cheeked William Kunstler in uniform.

The Bush administration's war crimes system "is designed to get criminal convictions" with "no real evidence," Kuebler says. Or he lets fly that military prosecutors "launder evidence derived from torture."

"You put the whole package together and it stinks," he said in an interview.

When President George W. Bush announced plans for military commission trials in 2001, critics said military defense lawyers would not put up much of a fight on behalf of men labeled terrorists. "They wanted us to just be good little boys," one of the lawyers, Major Michael Mori of the Marines, once told an interviewer.

But nearly seven years later, not one trial has been held, partly because the military defense lawyers have raised a continuous ruckus, challenging the commission system rather than simply defending their clients. After the Supreme Court said last week that the Constitution gave detainees a right to challenge their detention in federal court, some of the military defense lawyers, including Kuebler, seized on the ruling as another opportunity to paralyze the war crimes system with new claims that detainees are entitled to even broader constitutional rights.

The lawyers, trained in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, were selected to defend detainees in a judicial system established especially for terrorism suspects. But many of them share a sense of indignation that Guantánamo makes military justice seem like watered-down justice. Representing detainees, said one of them, Lieutenant Commander Brian Mizer, "is a historic opportunity to defend the rule of law."

Kuebler (pronounced KEEB-ler) is the latest example of a lawyer in uniform attacking the Pentagon's legal system.

He is no natural agitator. At 37, he is in some ways deeply conventional. Married to the first girl he ever dated in high school, he is a self-described born-again Christian and conservative who has "never voted for a Democrat." Tom Fleener, a former Guantánamo military defense lawyer, described Kuebler, saying, "Take the average conservative guy in the street and multiply that by a million."

Kuebler is prone to begin provocative comments with a deep sigh, as if giving himself a shove.

But he has emerged recently as one of the Pentagon's most persistent challengers, working the news media with incendiary claims about the military's case, filing motion after motion in court and traveling to Canada to whip up support for his client, a Canadian who is charged with throwing a hand grenade that killed an American serviceman in Afghanistan in 2002 and other offenses.

The Kuebler strategy is obvious: to irritate the powers that be into sending his client, the last citizen of a Western country at Guantánamo, home to Canada. There is no sign yet of a ticket out for Khadr, 21, the son of a family once so close to Osama bin Laden that it is sometimes called Canada's first family of terrorism.

But the irritation strategy seems to be driving the prosecutors to distraction.

The latest incident, this month, was an assertion that found a quick audience. In a news release, he described learning of a Guantánamo manual that encouraged interrogators to destroy their notes. He suggested it was to evade questions about torture. Countless news accounts carried his claims.

The military prosecutors had complained about Kuebler's tactics before, but after the torture-concealment accusations it seemed they had reached their limit.

"One defense counsel in particular," said the chief military prosecutor, Colonel Lawrence Morris, "has habitually flouted the rules" and was responsible for "grossly distorting" and "fabricating information."

Kuebler responded that he "abides by military commission secrecy rules, as draconian as they are."

However scrappy he may appear, Commander Kuebler does not claim the typical lawyer's zest for a fight for its own sake. Instead, he said, his faith and his work are intertwined.

"It is a powerful way to be a witness for Christ," he said, "by demonstrating your capacity to not judge the way everybody else is judging and to serve unconditionally."

His sister, Karen Picard, said his search for meaningful work began when he was in his late 20s and a business lawyer in San Diego. His mother died suddenly. He found religion. He joined the navy. "I think he started to realize," Picard said, "there's more to life than driving a BMW and having your initials on your cuff." As a navy lawyer, his work has included criminal defense. His clients have included a sailor charged with rape.

Since he was appointed Khadr's lawyer last year, Kuebler has taken on his cause with a drip-drip-drip of attacks on the prosecution.

He has raised questions about the government's description of the firefight in July 2002, when the American, Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer, was fatally wounded. Officials have suggested that Khadr, then 15, was the last survivor of a group of anti-American fighters who "popped up and threw a grenade."

But in February, Kuebler highlighted a military report that said another enemy fighter was still alive in the compound when the grenade was thrown, suggesting that Khadr might not have been the killer.

In March, he took note of an American commander's report that said the assailant had been killed, which would also seem to eliminate Khadr as the attacker.

He often aims at a Canadian audience as he works to pressure the Conservative government in Canada, which has been supportive of the Bush administration, to request Khadr's return. The Toronto Star: "U.S. Doctored Evidence to Implicate Khadr, Lawyer Says." The Edmonton Journal: "Khadr Was Likely Tortured."

In April, Kuebler appeared before a Canadian Parliament committee. "Lies have been told about Omar," he testified.

Major Jeffrey Groharing of the Marines, the prosecutor in the Khadr case, told a military judge that "the time the defense has spent lobbying the Canadian Parliament would be better spent interviewing the witnesses."

Asked about the role the military defense lawyers have been playing, Commander Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, said military defense lawyers have a duty to represent their clients zealously and to follow the ethical standards of their profession. He added, without naming any of the lawyers, that "it is disappointing when counsel do not live up to these standards."

But Kuebler argued that such attacks on Guantánamo were necessary. "If we're not advocating against the process," he said, "we're not competently representing our clients."

Kuebler's strategy follows energetic efforts by other military lawyers to undercut the commissions.

Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift, who has since retired from the military, helped take the case of Salim Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden, to the Supreme Court. The ruling in 2006 invalidated the Bush administration's first military commission system.

Swift, now a visiting associate professor at Emory University, said he and other lawyers worried that focusing only on a defense in a commission trial would help the Pentagon argue that its system was fair enough to encourage zealous defense lawyers.

"We were concerned," Professor Swift said, "that fighting would serve to validate the system." The strategy to avoid that, he said, was: "Attack the system."

Outsiders to the culture of military lawyers sometimes find their willingness to challenge their commanders' system surprising. John Altenburg Jr., a retired major general who headed the Office of Military Commissions at the Pentagon until 2006, said administration planners of the commissions may have misunderstood military lawyers. They may have been influenced, he said, by old movies that showed quick military trials and perfunctory defense presentations. "I can just imagine," he said, "a bunch of guys sitting around and saying, 'Hey, I know, we can do military trials because the defense lawyers will all roll over.' "

The reality has been far different, said Altenburg, a former senior army lawyer.

Kuebler said many of the lawyers feel the role they have been assigned "is not career enhancing" in climbing the Pentagon ladder. And at times, defense lawyers have been met with hostility within the military for their aggressive tactics.

Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley, an Air Force reservist from Pennsylvania, was once nearly sent to the brig when she angered a military judge by asserting that legal ethics barred her from participating in the proceedings.

Mizer, the fourth-generation military man in his family, challenged a Pentagon general by filing a successful claim that the general had exerted unlawful influence over the commissions.

After Mori made seven trips to Australia on behalf of the detainee David Hicks, an Australian Qaeda trainee, the chief military prosecutor at the time suggested that the major could be prosecuted for using "contemptuous words" against American leaders.

In Australia, Mori had told audiences that Guantánamo commissions were "kangaroo courts" and that Hicks was "like a monkey in a cage." In 2007, after Australia's prime minister at the time, John Howard, came under pressure over the case, the United States government reached a plea deal. Hicks was soon released. Mori was not prosecuted, and is now serving in Iraq.

As the military defense lawyers prepare for a new constitutional challenge to the Pentagon's commissions, they are facing an unforeseen obstacle. Many detainees are refusing to cooperate with them because they see the lawyers as agents of their captors.

Khadr, however, is working with Kuebler on his defense, preparing for a trial that could come as soon as this summer.

But the cooperation is not because Kuebler offers any hope for a courtroom victory. If there is a trial, he said, he expects Khadr to be convicted.

"I don't believe it is a fair process," Kuebler said.

As if anyone thought he did.