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Context of 'July 3, 2002: Few Detained on Immigration Charges Still in Custody'

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Hamza Alghamdi.Hamza Alghamdi. [Source: FBI]Raed Hijazi, Nabil al-Marabh’s former Boston roommate, is tried and convicted in Jordan for his role in planned millennium bombings in that country. (Hijazi is tried in absentia since he has yet to be arrested, but will later be retried in person and reconvicted.) In the wake of the trial, Jordanian officials send information to US investigators that shows Nabil al-Marabh and future 9/11 hijacker Hamza Alghamdi are associates of Hijazi. The Washington Post will report, “An FBI document circulated among law enforcement agencies [just after 9/11] noted that Hijazi, who is in a Jordanian jail, had shared a telephone number with [9/11] hijacker, Hamza Alghamdi.” Apparently this document is created when Jordan sends the US this information in late 2000. [Washington Post, 9/21/2001] The Boston Globe will later report that an FBI investigation found that “al-Marabh had, in the report’s language, a ‘telephone connection’ with one of the suspected hijackers, according to a federal source involved in the investigation. However, the source was uncertain whether the connection involved telephone conversations between al-Marabh and the unidentified suspect, or whether it involved their sharing a telephone number.” This is a probable reference to the same FBI report mentioning the Alghamdi-Hijazi phone link, especially since the same Globe article mentions that around the this time al-Marabh tells his coworkers that the FBI has been asking him about his links to bin Laden (see Late August 2000). [Boston Globe, 10/15/2001] It appears that Alghamdi is not put on any kind of watch list and will not be stopped when he will arrive in the US by January 2001 (see January or July 28, 2001) nor again on May 23, 2001 (see April 23-June 29, 2001). The 9/11 Commission Final Report will fail to mention any investigation into Alghamdi and will give no hint that his name was known to US authorities before 9/11.

Entity Tags: Nabil al-Marabh, Jordan, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Raed Hijazi, Hamza Alghamdi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ahmed Shehab.Ahmed Shehab. [Source: Ahmedshehab.com]The landlord and at least twelve tenants of a Toronto high rise building see 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi living there in the spring of 2001. Other witnesses recall seeing Alshehhi and/or hijacker Mohamed Atta in or near the building. Nabil al-Marabh is sporadically staying in the same building in an apartment unit owned by his uncle, Ahmed Shehab, a prominent local imam. None of the witnesses appear to have sighted any of the other hijackers. Alshehhi and Atta are also seen by eyewitnesses around this time at a Toronto photocopy shop owned by Shehab, and there are even some who see Atta occasionally working there (see January 2001-Summer 2001). [Toronto Sun, 9/28/2001; Toronto Sun, 9/28/2001; ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] The apartment where al-Marabh stayed will not be raided by police until about two weeks after 9/11, and one week after reports of al-Marabh’s connections to the hijackers has been in the newspapers. The Toronto Sun will report, “Many [building] residents questioned why police waited so long to raid [the] apartment after al-Marabh was arrested. Several tenants alleged they had seen a man late at night during the past week, taking away boxes from the apartment.” [Toronto Sun, 9/28/2001] Al-Marabh also shares a Toronto apartment with Hassan Almrei, a Syrian who the Canadian authorities are already suspecting for possible militant ties (see September 13, 2000 and After). One article says that are roommates in 2001, and it would likely mean early 2001 since al-Marabh leaves Toronto during the summer. Canadian authorities will later arrest Almrei and discover that he has extensive connections with al-Qaeda (see October 19, 2001). [ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] Some of the 9/11 hijackers may have been in Toronto as late as the end of August 2001. A motel manager in Hollywood, Florida, will later say that Mohamed Atta and Ziad Jarrah stay at his motel on August 30, 2001. He will say they gave a non-existent Toronto address and drove a car with Ontario, Canada, license plates. They claimed to be computer engineers from Iran, and said they had just come down from Canada to find jobs. [Washington Post, 10/4/2001; Toronto Sun, 10/5/2001]

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Ahmed Shehab, Hassan Almrei, Nabil al-Marabh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Satam Al Suqami.Satam Al Suqami. [Source: FBI]In the wake of the foiled al-Qaeda plot to blow up hotels in Jordan during the millennium celebrations, Jordan gives tips to the US that launch a Customs investigation into one of the plotters, Raed Hijazi, and his US connections. “Customs agents for months traced money flowing from several Boston banks to banks overseas, where officials believe the funds were intended for bin Laden’s network.” In September and October 2000, Jordanian officials gave US investigators evidence of financial transactions connecting Raed Hijazi, Nabil al-Marabh, and future 9/11 hijacker Hamza Alghamdi (see September 2000; October 2000). By spring 2001, Custom agents further connect al-Marabh and Hijazi to financial deals with future 9/11 hijackers Ahmed Alghamdi and Satam Al Suqami. The Washington Post will later note, “These various connections not only suggest that investigators are probing ties between bin Laden and the hijackers, but also that federal authorities knew about some of those associations long before the bombings.” [Washington Post, 9/21/2001] It appears that the money flowed from al-Marabh to Alghamdi and Al Suqami. [Cox News Service, 10/16/2001; ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] While accounts of these connections to Alghamdi and Al Suqami will be widely reported in the media in the months after 9/11, a Customs Service spokesman will say he can neither confirm nor deny the existence of the inquiry. [New York Times, 9/18/2001] It appears that the two hijackers are not put on any kind of watch list and are not stopped when they arrive in the US on April 23, 2001, and May 2, 2001, respectively (see April 23-June 29, 2001). British newspapers will note that Alghamdi was one of several hijackers who should have been “instantly ‘red-flagged’ by British intelligence” but in fact is not when he passes through Britain sometime in early 2001 (see January-June 2001). The 9/11 Commission Final Report will fail to mention the Customs investigation and will give no hint that these hijackers’ names were known in the US before 9/11.

Entity Tags: Satam Al Suqami, Raed Hijazi, 9/11 Commission, Nabil al-Marabh, US Customs Service, Jordan, Ahmed Alghamdi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Two months after 9/11, the Toronto Sun will report, “[Canadian] and US police probing [Nabil] al-Marabh have learned he had a flurry of phone calls and financial transactions with [Mohamed] Atta and [Marwan] Alshehhi days before the attacks.” [Toronto Sun, 10/16/2001] Additionally, Canadian authorities will claim that in the days before 9/11, al-Marabh sends money through a Toronto bank account to at least three men who will later be arrested in the US for supporting roles in the 9/11 attacks. The names of the three men have not been released. At least $15,000 is sent to the men in the days before 9/11. A source close to the investigation will say, “There are several links between this man and others in the US. There was money going back and forth.” Thousands more will be withdrawn from suspicious accounts in the days after 9/11. [Toronto Sun, 10/4/2001; Toronto Sun, 10/5/2001] US intelligence also intercepts al-Marabh’s associates making post-9/11 phone calls praising the attacks. [Ottawa Citizen, 10/29/2001] Al-Marabh sent money on other occasions. For instance, in May 2001, he made at least 15 monetary transactions, mostly sending money transfers to the US from Toronto. In late June 2001, he transferred $15,000 to an account in the US. It has not been revealed who he sent these transfers to. [New York Times, 10/14/2001; Toronto Sun, 10/16/2001] A Canadian police source will say, “There were a lot of banking activities prior to the attacks. There was a lot of money being moved through accounts, but most were small amounts.” [Toronto Sun, 10/17/2001] Canadian officials will call al-Marabh a “bureaucratic terrorist,” who provided logistical support, funding, and other services to the hijackers. [Toronto Sun, 10/30/2001]

Entity Tags: Canada, Marwan Alshehhi, Mohamed Atta, Nabil al-Marabh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

During a National Security Council meeting, FBI Director Robert Mueller begins to describe the investigation under way to identify the 9/11 hijackers. According to journalist Bob Woodward, “He said it was essential not to taint any evidence so that if accomplices were arrested, they could be convicted.” But Attorney General John Ashcroft interrupts. Woodward will paraphrase Ashcroft saying, “The chief mission of US law enforcement… is to stop another attack and apprehend any accomplices or terrorists before they hit us again. If we can’t bring them to trial, so be it.” Woodward will comment, “Now, Ashcroft was saying, the focus of the FBI and the Justice Department should change from prosecution to prevention, a radical shift in priorities.” President Bush is at the meeting and apparently does not challenge Ashcroft’s suggestion. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 42-43]

Entity Tags: Robert S. Mueller III, John Ashcroft, Bob Woodward, National Security Council, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

It is reported that the FBI and Justice Department have ordered FBI agents across the US to cut back on their investigation of the September 11 attacks, so as to focus on preventing future, possibly imminent, attacks. According to the New York Times, while law enforcement officials say the investigation of 9/11 is continuing aggressively, “At the same time… efforts to thwart attacks have been given a much higher priority.” Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller “have ordered agents to drop their investigation of the [9/11] attacks or any other assignment any time they learn of a threat or lead that might suggest a future attack.” Mueller believes his agents have “a broad understanding of the events of September 11,” and now need “to concentrate on intelligence suggesting that other terrorist attacks [are] likely.” The Times quotes an unnamed law enforcement official: “The investigative staff has to be made to understand that we’re not trying to solve a crime now. Our number one goal is prevention.” [New York Times, 10/9/2001] At a news conference the previous day, Ashcroft stated that—following the commencement of the US-led attacks on Afghanistan—he had placed federal law enforcement on the highest level of alert. But he refused to say if he had received any specific new threats of terrorist attacks. [US Department of Justice, 10/8/2001] The New York Times also reports that Ashcroft and Mueller have ordered FBI agents to end their surveillance of some terrorist suspects and immediately take them into custody. However, some agents have been opposed to this order because they believe that “surveillance—if continued for days or weeks—might turn up critical evidence to prove who orchestrated the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.” [New York Times, 10/9/2001] Justice Department communications director Mindy Tucker responds to the New York Times article, saying it “is not accurate,” and that the investigation into 9/11 “has not been curtailed, it is ongoing.” [United Press International, 10/9/2001]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, John Ashcroft, Mindy Tucker, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

It is reported that Attorney General John Ashcroft and his Justice Department is assuming control of all terrorism-related prosecutions from the US Attorney’s office in New York, which has had a highly successful record of accomplishment in prosecuting cases connected to bin Laden. 15 of the 22 suspects listed on a most wanted terrorism list a month after 9/11 had already been indicted by the New York office in recent years. A former federal prosecutor says of the New York office, “For eight years, they have developed an expertise in these prosecutions and the complex facts that surround these groups. If ever there was a case where you’d want to play to your strength, this is it.” [New York Times, 10/11/2001] A grand jury in the New York district began investigating the 9/11 attacks one week after 9/11. But media accounts of this grand jury’s activity stop by late October 2001 and there appears to be no other grand jury taking its place (see September 18, 2001).

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

The contents of the anthrax letter to the New York Post.The contents of the anthrax letter to the New York Post. [Source: FBI]The New York Times suggests there could be a link between the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) and the 9/11 hijackers. The Times reports that investigators “say they suspect that the rash of contaminated letters is related to the Sept. 11 attacks and are investigating the possibility that al-Qaeda confederates of the hijackers are behind the incidents.… Senior government officials said investigators were focusing on the ability of the hijackers or their accomplices to obtain highly refined anthrax from a foreign or domestic supplier. While they have not ruled out the possibility that another criminal could be behind the anthrax attacks, investigators are looking intensely at evidentiary threads linking the letters to the hijackers.”
Little to No Evidence behind this Theory - FBI agents are said to have recently searched the Jersey City home of three men arrested on suspicion of links to the 9/11 attacks after learning they kept some magazines and newspaper articles about biological warfare there. These men include Ayub Ali Khan and Mohammed Azmath. Both men will later be cleared of having any al-Qaeda ties (see October 20, 2001). The hijackers did show some interest in crop dusters, which could be used in a biological attack, but a senior government official says no actual evidence has appeared linking any of the hijackers to the anthrax attacks in any way.
Domestic Loner Theory - The article notes that the FBI is also pursuing a competing theory, “that a disgruntled employee of a domestic laboratory that uses anthrax carried out the attacks.” However, no evidence has emerged yet to support this.
Iraq Not Likely - The article is dismissive of theories that Iraq or another foreign government was behind the attacks. It notes that the anthrax letters used the Ames strain of anthrax, and experts say the Iraqi government never obtained that strain. For instance, former UN weapons inspector Richard Spertzel says, “The Iraqis tried to get it but didn’t succeed.” [New York Times, 10/19/2001]

Entity Tags: Richard Spertzel, Mohammed Azmath, Syed Gul Mohammad Shah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Domestic Propaganda, 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Mohammed Azmath, left, and Syed Gul Mohammad Shah/ Ayub Ali  Khan, right.Mohammed Azmath, left, and Syed Gul Mohammad Shah/ Ayub Ali Khan, right. [Source: Associated Press]The New York Times reports that, although 830 people have been arrested in the 9/11 terrorism investigation (a number that eventually exceeds between 1,200 and 2,000 (see November 5, 2001), there is no evidence that anyone now in custody was a conspirator in the 9/11 attacks. Furthermore, “none of the nearly 100 people still being sought by the [FBI] is seen as a major suspect.” Of all the people arrested, only four, Zacarias Moussaoui, Ayub Ali Khan, Mohammed Azmath, and Nabil al-Marabh, are likely connected to al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 10/21/2001] Three of those are later cleared of ties to al-Qaeda. After being kept in solitary confinement for more than eight months without seeing a judge or being assigned a lawyer, al-Marabh pleads guilty to the minor charge of entering the United States illegally (see September 3, 2002) and is deported to Syria (see January 2004). There is considerable evidence al-Marabh did have ties to al-Qaeda and even the 9/11 plot (see September 2000; January 2001-Summer 2001; January 2001-Summer 2001; Spring 2001; Early September 2001). [Washington Post, 6/12/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 8/27/2002] On September 12, 2002, after a year in solitary confinement and four months before he was able to contact a lawyer, Mohammed Azmath pleads guilty to one count of credit card fraud, and is released with time served. Ayub Ali Khan, whose real name is apparently Syed Gul Mohammad Shah, is given a longer sentence for credit card fraud, but is released and deported by the end of 2002. [Village Voice, 9/25/2002; New York Times, 12/31/2002] By December 2002, only 6 are known to still be in custody, and none have been charged with any terrorist acts (see December 11, 2002). On September 24, 2001, Newsweek reported that “the FBI has privately estimated that more than 1,000 individuals—most of them foreign nationals—with suspected terrorist ties are currently living in the United States.” [Newsweek, 10/1/2001]

Entity Tags: Nabil al-Marabh, Al-Qaeda, Mohammed Azmath, Syed Gul Mohammad Shah, Zacarias Moussaoui, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

A Washington Post article hints at the US government’s use rendition and torture. It refers to four suspects out of the hundreds arrested in the US—Zacarias Moussaoui, Nabil al-Marabh, Ayub Ali Khan, and Mohammed Azmath—who may actually have links to al-Qaeda (see October 20, 2001). The article quotes an “experienced FBI agent involved in the investigation,” who says: “We are known for humanitarian treatment, so basically we are stuck.… Usually there is some incentive, some angle to play, what you can do for them. But it could get to that spot where we could go to pressure… where we won’t have a choice, and we are probably getting there.” The article goes on to mention: “Among the alternative strategies under discussion are using drugs or pressure tactics, such as those employed occasionally by Israeli interrogators, to extract information. Another idea is extraditing the suspects to allied countries where security services sometimes employ threats to family members or resort to torture.” [Washington Post, 10/21/2001] Although it is little known in the US at the time, the CIA has already been renditioning suspects to countries known for practicing torture (see September 23, 2001), and has made arrangements with NATO countries to increase the number of such renditions (see October 4, 2001). Azmath and Khan will later be cleared of al-Qaeda ties and released (see October 20, 2001). Al-Marabh will be deported to Syria under mysterious circumstances and rearrested by the Syrian government (see Spring 2004). Moussaoui will be sentenced to life in prison in the US (see May 3, 2006).

Entity Tags: Mohammed Azmath, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Nabil al-Marabh, Syed Gul Mohammad Shah, Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Subash Gurung.Subash Gurung. [Source: CNN/Courtesy WLS-TV]A young Nepalese man named Subash Gurung is arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare airport trying to board a United Airlines flight to Omaha with numerous knives, a can of mace, and a stun gun. He is in the US on an expired student visa. He is unemployed at the time of his arrest. Gurung claims that he was in a hurry and was unaware of the knives and other items in his luggage. But CNN reports that Gurung gave as his address an apartment building in Chicago that was also used by one of two terror suspects arrested on September 12, 2001 (see September 19, 2001 and After and October 20, 2001). This individual, Ayub Ali Khan (whose real name is apparently Syed Gul Mohammad Shah), lived in New Jersey but also used a Chicago address. A CNN government source says “many phone calls were made to and from that apartment, and credit card bills were paid from that address.” After being released by local police on bond, Gurung will be re-arrested the following day by the FBI for a weapons violation. Despite the apparent link to Ayub Ali Khan, the FBI denies any terror connection: “There is no allegation that this incident involves any suspected terrorist activity.” [CNN, 11/5/2001; CNN, 11/6/2001] Gurung will be convicted of a weapons charge in October 2002, and then deported. [New York Times, 10/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Subash Gurung, Syed Gul Mohammad Shah, Mohammed Azmath

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Justice Department announces that it has put 1,182 people into secret custody since 9/11. Most all of them are from the Middle East or South Asia. [New York Times, 8/3/2002] After this it stops releasing new numbers, but human rights groups believe the total number could be as high as 2,000. [Independent, 2/26/2002] Apparently this is roughly the peak for secret arrests, and eventually most of the prisoners are released, and none are charged with any terrorist acts (see July 3, 2002; December 11, 2002). Their names will still not have been revealed (see August 2, 2002).

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Attorney General John Ashcroft announces that the Justice Department is now on what he calls a “wartime footing.” The agency is revamping its priorities to refocus its efforts on battling terrorism. According to Ashcroft, a plan, which he intends to submit to Congress, mandates a reorganization of the Justice Department, as well as component agencies such as the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), both of which will be overhauled to take a more aggressive stance in the effort to ward off terrorism. The plan will take five years to fully implement. Ashcroft is reticent about the details of the plans, but some proposals include:
bullet Allowing federal prison authorities to eavesdrop on prisoners conferring with their attorneys, effectively voiding the attorney-client privilege, if those prisoners are considered to be a threat to national security;
bullet Redirecting 10 percent of the Justice Department’s budget, or about $2.5 billion, to counterterrorism efforts;
bullet Restructuring the INS to focus on identifying, deporting, and prosecuting illegal aliens, with a special focus on potential terrorists.
The eavesdropping privilege causes an immediate stir among civil libertarians and Constitutional scholars. Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker notes that the order has already been published in the Federal Register and is, essentially, the law. Information gathered by authorities during such eavesdropping sessions would not be used in criminal prosecutions of the suspects, Tucker promises. “The team that listens is not involved in the criminal proceedings,” she says. “There’s a firewall there.” Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he agrees with the general idea of refocusing the agency on terrorism, but suggests Ashcroft’s plan be reviewed by an existing commission that is now examining the FBI’s counterintelligence operations. That commission is headed by former FBI Director William Webster. Leahy’s fellow senator, Charles Grassley (R-IA), says: “As with any reorganization, the devil will be in the details. I hope for new accountability measures, not just structural changes.” Ashcroft says: “Defending our nation and defending the citizens of America against terrorist attacks is now our first and overriding priority. To fulfill this mission, we are devoting all the resources necessary to eliminate terrorist networks, to prevent terrorist attacks, and to bring to justice all those who kill Americans in the name of murderous ideologies.” [New York Times, 11/3/2001; Rich, 2006, pp. 35] “It is amazing to me that Ashcroft is essentially trying to dismantle the bureau,” says a former FBI executive director. “They don’t know their history and they are not listening to people who do.” [Harper's, 12/4/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mindy Tucker, John Ashcroft, US Immigration and Naturalization Service, Patrick J. Leahy, Charles Grassley, US Department of Justice, William H. Webster

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Former FBI director William Webster and eight former FBI officials publicly criticize Attorney General John Ashcroft’s post-9/11 policies (see Spring 2001, September 12, 2001, October 9, 2001, October 11, 2001, and November 9, 2001). The criticisms come less over Ashcroft’s civil liberties abrogations and more because Ashcroft’s policies violate law-enforcement common sense. By capturing suspected low-level terrorists in public sweeps, the Justice Department and the FBI lose the ability to track those suspects to their superiors in their organizations and groups. (None of the 900 or so suspects rounded up in the Ashcroft sweeps will be charged with any 9/11-related crimes—see October 20, 2001 and November 5, 2001.) [Rich, 2006, pp. 35-36] Webster says that long-term surveillance and undercover operations are much more effective than mass arrests. [Harper's, 12/4/2001] The former FBI officials also ridicule Ashcroft’s idea of interviewing 5,000 Middle Eastern men (none of whom will ever be convicted of a terrorism-related crime). Kenneth Walton, who founded the FBI’s first Joint Terrorism Task Force, says: “It’s the Perry Mason school of law enforcement, where you put them in there and they confess. Well, it just doesn’t work that way. You say, ‘Tell me everything you know,’ and they give you the recipe to Mom’s chicken soup.… It is ridiculous.” Most of those “invited” to interview never showed up, the officials note, and those who did merely answered “yes” or “no” to rote questions. [Time, 11/29/2001; Rich, 2006, pp. 35-36] Many local police officers are reluctant to participate in Ashcroft’s public sweeps. Eugene, Oregon police spokeswoman Pam Alejandere tells reporters, “Give us some legitimate reason to talk to the people—other than that they’re from the Middle East—and we’ll be glad to.” [Time, 11/29/2001]

Entity Tags: William H. Webster, John Ashcroft, Pam Alejandere, Kenneth Walton, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Justice Department announces that only 74 of the 752 people detained on immigration charges after 9/11 are still in US custody. By December, only six of them will remain in custody (see December 11, 2002). Hundreds more were detained on other charges or as material witnesses, but no numbers pertaining to them have been released. 611 were subject to secret hearings. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), who had requested the figures, says, “It took the Justice Department more than three months to produce a partial response to my letter.” But the answers raise “a number of additional questions, including why closed hearings were necessary for so many people.” Though many were held for months, “the vast majority were never charged with anything other than overstaying a visa.” [New York Times, 7/11/2002] All the deportation hearings for these people have been held in secret as well. Some say the government is cloaking its activities out of embarrassment, because none of these people have turned out to have any ties to terrorism. [New York Times, 7/11/2002; Detroit Free Press, 7/18/2002]

Entity Tags: Carl Levin, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

A federal judge rules that the Bush administration must reveal the identities of the hundreds of people secretly arrested after the 9/11 attacks within 15 days. [Washington Post, 8/3/2002] The judge calls the secret arrests “odious to a democratic society.” The New York Times applauds the decision and notes that the government’s argument that terrorist groups could exploit the release of the names makes no sense, because the detainees were allowed a phone call to notify anyone that they were being held. [New York Times, 8/6/2002] Two weeks later, the same judge agrees to postpone the release of the names until an appeals court can rule on the matter. [New York Times, 8/16/2002]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

The FBI decides not to charge Nabil al-Marabh on any terrorism related charge. Instead, on September 3, 2002, al-Marabh pleads guilty to illegally entering the US in June 2001 (see June 27, 2001-July 11, 2001), and is sentenced to only eight months in prison. [Chicago Sun-Times, 9/5/2002] Federal prosecutors claim that “at this time” there is no evidence “of any involvement by [al-Marabh] in any terrorist organization,” even though he has admitted to getting weapons training in Afghan training camps. [Washington Post, 9/4/2002] Numerous reported ties between al-Marabh and the 9/11 hijackers are apparently not mentioned in the trial (see September 2000; January 2001-Summer 2001; January 2001-Summer 2001; Spring 2001; Early September 2001). The judge states he cannot say “in good conscience” that he approves of the plea bargain worked out between the prosecution and defense, but he seems unable to stop it. He says, “Something about this case makes me feel uncomfortable. I just don’t have a lot of information.” He has a number of unanswered questions, such as how al-Marabh had $22,000 in cash and $25,000 worth of amber jewels on his possession when he was arrested, despite holding only a sporadic series of low-paying jobs. “These are the things that kind of bother me. It’s kind of unusual, isn’t it?” says the judge. [National Post, 9/4/2002] In 2003, the judge at al-Marabh’s deportation hearing will rule that al-Marabh presents “a danger to national security” and is “credibly linked to elements of terrorism” but this will not stop him from being deported.(see January 2004).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Nabil al-Marabh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Washington Post reports that the US is using an obscure statute to detain and investigate terrorism suspects without having to charge them with a crime. At least 44 people, some of them US citizens, have been held as “material witnesses.” Some have been held for months, and some have been held in maximum-security conditions. Most in fact have never testified, even though that is supposedly why they were held. [Washington Post, 11/24/2002]

Entity Tags: United States

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

The cover of ‘Bush at War.’The cover of ‘Bush at War.’ [Source: Amazon (.co.uk)]Author and famed reporter Bob Woodward’s book Bush at War is published.
Unprecedented Access - Woodward, who made his reputation uncovering the Watergate conspiracy from 30 years before (see June 15, 1974), is no longer an unknown young reporter working to find sources that will confide in him. Now he is an established Washington insider. For this book, Woodward was granted “unprecedented access” to Bush administration officials, including notes from National Security Council meetings and two long interviews with President Bush himself, far more access than even that granted to the 9/11 Commission and Congressional inquiries into other events of interest. Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich will find this level of access inexplicable, saying that “it makes no sense for an administration that has jealously guarded its executive privilege to allow a reporter the access it denies to members of Congress.”
Hagiographic Account - The Observer’s Peter Preston calls Woodward’s book a “more-or-less instant study of the White House after 9/11,” and writes that while Woodward could have created “a classic of investigative journalism,” instead he gave us a compendium of “painful, obsessively useless detail” that generally paints the picture the White House wants painted. If Woodward’s book is to be believed, Preston writes, the Colin Powell moderates and the Dick Cheney hawks “had their snappy moments, but they’re OK-ish now.” CIA Director George Tenet “is a far-sighted man” who not only immediately divined that Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks, but while the towers were still burning, wondered if the attacks had anything to do with “that guy taking pilot training,” Zacarias Moussaoui. Iraq war planner General Tommy Franks usually feels “finer than the hair on a frog’s back.” Former President Clinton’s “weak-willed men used to ‘pound the desert’ ineffectually, while his brilliant successors like to hit something, if at all possible.” And President Bush “is bright and talented and eloquent and decisive,” who runs National Security Council meetings himself and knows all he needs to know about the state of the world (Woodward quotes Bush as saying, “I’m not a textbook player—I’m a gut player”). Both Preston and author Frank Rich accuse Woodward of “burnishing” Bush’s image at the expense of the truth. A few potentially embarrassing tidbits manage to poke their way through what both Preston and Rich call the “hagiography,” mostly relating to senior administration officials’ lack of knowledge about Afghan tribal politics and the lack of evidence tying Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks. But all told, the book seems to tell a clear story: where Clinton was indecisive, Bush is forthright; where Clinton muddled around with bin Laden and Middle East terrorism, Bush is taking the war straight into the heart of the Islamist redoubt. [Observer, 12/1/2002; Rich, 2006, pp. 66-67] The book gives such a favorable impression of Bush and his administration that the Republican National Committee will recommend it on its Web site. [New York Times, 11/12/2006]
Selective Reporting - The administration officials who talked to Woodward are painted in largely glowing terms, while those who did not (including Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security head Tom Ridge) are, in Preston’s words, “written out of the script.” Potentially embarrassing incidents such as the administration’s complete failure to find the source of the anthrax mailings of 2001 (see September 17-18, 2001 and October 5-November 21, 2001) and the ineffective roundup of thousands of Middle Eastern “terror suspects” after 9/11 (see Late November, 2001) are ignored entirely. The pivotal Afghan battle of Tora Bora, where bin Laden was allowed to escape US clutches (see Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001), gets two paragraphs. [Observer, 12/1/2002; Rich, 2006, pp. 66-67] Guardian reviewer Peter Symon notes that Woodward even fails to ask the most “obvious questions” about the 9/11 attacks, instead accepting the administration’s accounts of events and its responses as absolute and unquestionable. [Guardian, 1/29/2003] Rich notes that Woodward grants Bush and his officials tremendous individual credence, taking their word on one issue after another without question: for example, when Bush calls investigative journalist Seymour Hersh “a liar,” Woodward takes Bush’s word without giving Hersh a chance to respond. More generally, Woodward never asks the obvious follow-up questions. Bush explains why the US didn’t attack Afghanistan and Iraq simultaneously after the 9/11 attacks: “If we tried to do too many things… militarily, then… the lack of focus would have been a huge risk.” Rich notes, “The follow-up question that was not to be found in Bush at War was simple enough: If it was a huge risk to split our focus between Saddam and al-Qaeda then, why wasn’t it now?” Preston concludes: “Maybe the Woodward of three decades ago would have given [the Bush administration more intense scrutiny]. No longer. Today’s Woodward, eight bestsellers later, skates breathlessly from interview to interview and notepad to notepad without ever, seemingly, stopping to think, ‘Why am I being told all this? What does it mean?’ It isn’t investigation, just cross-referenced compilation.” [Observer, 12/1/2002; Rich, 2006, pp. 66-67]

Entity Tags: Peter Preston, National Security Council, John Ashcroft, Frank Rich, Bob Woodward, Bush administration (43), Newt Gingrich, Thomas Franks, Peter Symon, George W. Bush, Republican National Committee, Seymour Hersh, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

The vast majority of the more than 900 people the federal government acknowledges detaining after the 9/11 attacks have been deported, released or convicted of minor crimes unrelated to terrorism. The Justice Department announces that of the 765 people detained on immigration charges after 9/11, only six are still in US custody (see November 5, 2001; July 3, 2002). Almost 500 of them were released to their home countries; the remainder are still in the US. 134 others were arrested on criminal charges and 99 were convicted. Another group of more than 300 were taken into custody by state and local law enforcement and so statistics are unknown about them. Additionally, more were arrested on material witness warrants, but the government won’t say how many. The Washington Post has determined there are at least 44 in this category (see November 24, 2002). [Washington Post, 12/12/2002; Associated Press, 12/12/2002] Newsweek reports that of the “more than 800 people” rounded up since 9/11, “only 10 have been linked in any way to the hijackings” and “probably will turn out to be innocent.” [Newsweek, 10/29/2001] The names of all those secretly arrested still have not been released (see August 2, 2002). None in any of the categories have been charged with any terrorist acts.

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, United States

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Nabil al-Marabh.Nabil al-Marabh. [Source: Associated Press]After Nabil al-Marabh’s eight-month prison sentence was completed in 2003, he remained in a Chicago prison awaiting deportation. However, deportation proceedings were put on hold because federal prosecutors lodged a material witness warrant against him. When the warrant is dropped, al-Marabh is cleared to be deported to Syria. [Associated Press, 1/29/2003; Associated Press, 6/3/2004] In late 2002, the US government argued that there was no evidence al-Marabh had ever been involved in any terrorist activity or connected to any terrorist organization (see September 3, 2002). However, in al-Marabh’s deportation hearing, the judge rules that he “does present a danger to national security,” is “credibly linked to elements of terrorism,” and has a “propensity to lie.” A footnote in his 2003 deportation ruling states, “The FBI has been unable to rule out the possibility that al-Marabh has engaged in terrorist activity or will do so if he is not removed from the United States.” He is deported nonetheless, and prosecutors from two US cities are not allowed to indict him. Both Democratic and Republican Senators will later express bafflement and complain about this deportation (see June 30, 2004). [Associated Press, 6/3/2004]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Nabil al-Marabh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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