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Context of 'October 25, 2006: Vice President Cheney Says Exploitation of Yemen Hub Information Could Have Prevented 9/11'

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Federal judge Vaughn Walker dismisses Jewel v. NSA, a lawsuit brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) against the National Security Agency and senior Bush administration officials over the administration’s warrantless surveillance program (see September 18, 2008). Walker rules that the privacy harm to millions of Americans from the illegal spying dragnet was not a “particularized injury” but instead a “generalized grievance” because almost everyone in the United States has a phone and Internet service. EFF legal director Cindy Cohn says: “We’re deeply disappointed in the judge’s ruling. This ruling robs innocent telecom customers of their privacy rights without due process of law. Setting limits on executive power is one of the most important elements of America’s system of government, and judicial oversight is a critical part of that.” EFF attorney Kevin Bankston says: “The alarming upshot of the court’s decision is that so long as the government spies on all Americans, the courts have no power to review or halt such mass surveillance even when it is flatly illegal and unconstitutional. With new revelations of illegal spying being reported practically every other week… the need for judicial oversight when it comes to government surveillance has never been clearer.” The EFF indicates it will appeal Walker’s decision. (Electronic Frontier Foundation 1/21/2010) The Obama administration echoed claims made in previous lawsuits by the Bush administration, invoking the “state secrets” privilege (see Late May, 2006) and supporting previous arguments by the Bush-era Justice Department. The administration even went a step further than its predecessor in arguing that under the Patriot Act, the government can never be sued for illegal wiretapping unless there is “willful disclosure” of the communications. (Klein 2009, pp. 116-117)

A US District Court judge awards damages in a lawsuit, finding the NSA illegally monitored the calls of the plaintiffs. The Al Haramain Islamic Foundation and two of its lawyers, Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor, sued the US government in 2006 based on evidence that their calls had been monitored; the US Treasury Department inadvertently provided them with an NSA log in August 2004 showing their calls had been monitored in May of that year (see February 28, 2006). In defending against the suit, the Justice Department argued, first under President Bush and then under President Obama, that the case should be dismissed based on the government’s invocation of the state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953) concerning the NSA log, and that the plaintiffs could not otherwise demonstrate that surveillance had occurred, meaning the plaintiffs had no standing to bring suit. Judge Vaughn Walker rejected these arguments, noting that the plaintiffs had introduced into evidence a speech posted on FBI’s Web site by FBI Deputy Director John Pistole to the American Bankers Association (ABA), in which he said that surveillance had been used to develop a case by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) against Al-Haramain, and Congressional testimony by Bush administration officials that disclosed the manner in which electronic surveillance was conducted. In the summary of his decision, Vaughn wrote, “[The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] FISA takes precedence over the state secrets privilege in this case,” and “defendants have failed to meet their burden to [provide] evidence that a FISA warrant was obtained, that plaintiffs were not surveilled or that the surveillance was otherwise lawful.” (Al-Haramain v. Obama 3/31/2010; Washington Post 4/1/2010, pp. A04)

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani at arraignment in New York, June 9th, 2009.Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani at arraignment in New York, June 9th, 2009. [Source: Reuters / Christine Cornell]Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani is sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). US District Judge Lewis Kaplan imposes the maximum sentence. In November 2010, Ghailani was convicted of conspiracy to destroy buildings or property of the United States. The verdict included a special finding that his conduct caused at least one death. But this was only one of the 285 charges against him, and he was acquitted of 273 counts of murder or attempted murder. Ghailani was captured in Pakistan in 2004 (see July 25-29, 2004), kept in the CIA’s secret prison system, and then was held in the US prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, starting in late 2006 (see September 2-3, 2006). He was transferred to the mainland of the US in 2009. He was the first former Guantanamo prison to be tried in a US civilian court, and his trial has been widely seen as a test case on whether other prisoners held outside the US legal system should be tried in US courts. Critics argue that Ghailani’s verdict shows the other prisoners still in Guantanamo should be tried in military tribunals there. But others point to the verdict as an example of the fairness of the US justice system. Prosecutors had been seeking life in prison for Ghailani, and that is the sentence he ultimately receives, even though he is only convicted of one count. His defense lawyers didn’t try to argue that Ghailani had no role in the embassy bombings, but instead argued that he was duped by other people and didn’t really know what he was doing. (Richey 1/25/2011)

WikiLeaks, a non-profit whistleblower group, releases some files on about 750 prisoners held at the US-run prison in Guantanamo, Cuba. This covers all but about 15 of the prisoners who have passed through the prison since it opened in early 2002 (see January 11, 2002). Nearly all of the prisoners were accused of belonging to al-Qaeda or the Taliban, or associated Islamist militant groups. The files were written by US military intelligence officials between the prison’s opening and January 2009. They contain assessments on whether each prisoner should remain in US custody, be imprisoned by another country, or be set free. Most of the prisoners have been released over the years, and no new prisoners have been sent to Guantanamo since 2007, but 172 prisoners remain at Guantanamo in April 2011. Seven news organizations—the New York Times, The Guardian, McClatchy Newspapers, the Washington Post, El Pais, Der Spiegel, and NPR (National Public Radio)—were given early access to the files by WikiLeaks in order to vet and analyze them. Their publication was sped up when the New York Times prepared to publish them after claiming to get copies of them from another unnamed source. The Obama administration immediately condemns the publication of the classified information in the files. (Savage, Glaberson, and Lehren 4/24/2011; Davidson 4/25/2011)
Files Often Contain Dubious Evidence - Journalists who analyze the files question the accuracy of their prisoner assessments. The New York Times comments that the files “show that the United States has imprisoned hundreds of men for years without trial based on a difficult and strikingly subjective evaluation of who they were, what they had done in the past, and what they might do in the future.” Furthermore, the files “reveal that the analysts sometimes ignored serious flaws in the evidence—for example, that the information came from other detainees whose mental illness made them unreliable. Some assessments quote witnesses who say they saw a detainee at a camp run by al-Qaeda but omit the witnesses’ record of falsehood or misidentification. They include detainees’ admissions without acknowledging other government documents that show the statements were later withdrawn, often attributed to abusive treatment or torture.” (Savage, Glaberson, and Lehren 4/24/2011) The Guardian comments that Guantanamo has been “a place that portrayed itself as the ultimate expression of a forensic and rational war run by the most sophisticated power on the planet, with the best intelligence available. The reality was an almost random collection of [prisoners who were] the bad, the accidental, and the irrelevant.” (Glover 4/25/2011) McClatchy Newspapers comments: “The world may have thought the US was detaining a band of international terrorists whose questioning would help the hunt for Osama Bin Laden or foil the next 9/11. But [the files] not meant to surface for another 20 years shows that the military’s efforts at Guantanamo often were much less effective than the government has acknowledged. Viewed as a whole, the secret intelligence summaries help explain why in May 2009 President Barack Obama, after ordering his own review of wartime intelligence, called America’s experiment at Guantanamo ‘quite simply a mess.’”
Files Dependant on Dubious Informants - McClatchy further claims that the files were “tremendously dependant on informants—both prison camp snitches repeating what they’d heard from fellow captives and self-described, at times self-aggrandizing, alleged al-Qaeda insiders turned government witnesses who Pentagon records show have since been released.” The information in the files is based on other sources, including intelligence documents and some confessions. (Rosenberg and Lasseter 4/24/2011) The New York Times similarly comments that “Guantanamo emerges from the documents as a nest of informants, a closed world where detainees were the main source of allegations against one another and sudden recollections of having spotted a fellow prisoner at an al-Qaeda training camp could curry favor with interrogators.” (Shane and Weiser 4/24/2011)
Files Also Based on Torture and Legally Questionable Methods - The files rarely mention the abuse and torture scandals concerning treatment of US prisoners in Guantanamo, in secret CIA prisons, in other overseas US-run prisons, and in prisons run by some US allies where the use of torture was more widespread. However, there are hints. For instance, one file on an Australian man sent to Guantanamo in 2002 mentions that he confessed while “under extreme duress” and “in the custody of the Egyptian government” to training six of the 9/11 hijackers in martial arts. But despite the apparent seriousness of this accusation, he was released in early 2005. Additionally, important prisoners such as Abu Zubaida held in secret CIA prisons were shown photos of Guantanamo prisoners and asked about them around the time they were subjected to waterboarding and other torture methods. The interrogations of Zubaida, who was waterboarded many times (see May 2003), are cited in over 100 prisoner files. However, his accusations against others have been systematically removed from government filings in court cases in recent years, which would indicate that officials are increasingly doubtful about his reliability and/or the legality of his tortured confessions. Also, many foreign officials were allowed to interrogate some prisoners in Guantanamo, including officials from China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Yemen, Kuwait, Algeria, and Tajikistan. Information in some files comes from these legally questionable interrogation sessions. (Rosenberg and Lasseter 4/24/2011; Savage, Glaberson, and Lehren 4/24/2011) One well-known case of torture involved Mohamed al-Khatani, the alleged 20th 9/11 hijacker (see December 2001). While being held in Guantanamo, he was interrogated for months with techniques that the senior Bush administration official in charge of bringing Guantanamo prisoners to trial later said legally met the definition of torture (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and January 14, 2009). His file says, “Although publicly released records allege detainee was subject to harsh interrogation techniques in the early stages of detention,” his confessions “appear to be true and are corroborated in reporting from other sources.” Claims al-Khatani made regarding 16 other Guantanamo prisoners are mentioned in their files without any caveats about the interrogation methods used on him. (Savage, Glaberson, and Lehren 4/24/2011)
Some Prisoners Unjustly Held - Some prisoners appear to be clearly innocent, and yet they often were held for years before being released. Some prisoners are still being held even though their files indicate that their interrogators are not even sure of their identities. In some cases, prisoners were held for years not because they were suspected of any crime, but because it was thought they knew useful information. For instance, files show one prisoner was sent to Guantanamo because of what he knew about the secret service of Uzbekistan. (Rosenberg and Lasseter 4/24/2011; Shane and Weiser 4/24/2011) In a cruel twist of fate, one man, Jamal al-Harith, appears to have been imprisoned mainly because he had been imprisoned by the Taliban. His file states, “He was expected to have knowledge of Taliban treatment of prisoners and interrogation tactics.” (Glover 4/25/2011)
Prisoner Releases Based More on Luck than Evidence - The New York Times claims the determination of which prisoners were released has mostly been a “lottery” that was largely based on which country the prisoner came from. “Most European inmates were sent home, despite grave qualms on the analysts’ part. Saudis went home, even some of the most militant, to enter the rehabilitation program; some would graduate and then join al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Yemenis have generally stayed put, even those cleared for release, because of the chaos in their country. Even in clearly mistaken arrests, release could be slow.” (Shane and Weiser 4/24/2011) In 2009, the new Obama administration put together a task force that re-evaluated the 240 prisoners remaining at Guantanamo. However, these more recent assessments remain secret. (Savage, Glaberson, and Lehren 4/24/2011)

Law professor John Yoo, who during his tenure at the Justice Department wrote memos defending torture and the right of the executive branch to conduct its business in secret (see March 1996, September 25, 2001, September 25, 2001, October 4, 2001, October 23, 2001, October 23, 2001, November 2, 2001, November 5, 2001, and November 6-10, 2001), co-authors an article for the far-right American Enterprise Institute that attacks the Obama administration for considering the idea of an executive order to require government contractors to disclose their political contributions (see April 20, 2011 and May 26, 2011). The article, by Yoo and lawyer David W. Marston, is entitled “Overruling Citizens United with Chicago-Style Politics,” a reference to some of the unsavory and often-illegal political machinations undertaken by Chicago Democrats. The article repeatedly compares the Obama administration to the Nixon administration’s attempts to “use the available federal machinery to screw [their] political enemies,” as Yoo and Marston quote from a 1971 Nixon White House memo. Yoo and Marston say that the Obama administration, in an effort to recoup its losses from the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010]), “is making an unprecedented assault on free speech” by considering the executive order and by pushing the DISCLOSE Act (see July 26-27, 2010). (Yoo and Marston claim that the DISCLOSE Act, if passed into law, “would have forced all those doing business with the government to give up their ability to participate in the political process, as is their right under the First Amendment, aside from just voting on Election Day.”) They write: “Under the guise of ‘transparency’ and ‘accountability,’ the order curtails constitutionally protected speech rights and opens the door for retaliation against those not supporting the administration politically,” and go on to observe that in their opinion, this “assault on free speech” (see January 21, 2010 and January 22, 2010) is being joined by “the media [and] defenders of free speech.” Yoo and Marston claim that the Founding Fathers intended for corporations and other entities to be able to involve themselves in politics entirely anonymously, citing the example of Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison publishing the Federalist Papers under the nom de plume “Publius.” Indeed, Yoo and Marston write, “disclosure of political contributions may be a prelude to the thuggish suppression of political speech by harassment and intimidation,” and they cite the instances of boycotts, vandalism, and death threats against people in California who donated money in support of Proposition 8, which declared gay marriage illegal. “Mandated disclosure of financial support for a political viewpoint can become the springboard for lawless retaliation against citizens for holding unpopular views,” the authors write. “Disclosure” and “transparency,” the “wonder drugs du jour,” are already “being used to silence core First Amendment speech rights and to threaten America’s long protection of anonymous political speech,” they contend, and claim that “thugs” are attempting to use violence and intimidation to nullify the Citizens United decision, force the issuance of the Obama executive order, and push the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to expand disclosure requirements. Only allowing financial donors to remain secret, the authors say, protects their rights to free speech and political involvement. “[D]isclosure invites retaliation,” they argue; only secrecy can protect free speech. The authors even cite a case brought on behalf of the NAACP, in which the organization was allowed to keep its membership lists secret for fear of attacks on its members or their families by white supremacists. (Yoo and Marston 7/20/2011) Ian Millhiser, a legal expert for the liberal news Web site Think Progress, angrily rebuts Yoo and Marston’s claims. Millhiser, referencing Yoo’s opinions issued during his stint in the Bush administration, writes, “If there is anyone in the universe who should think twice before criticizing a government lawyer for enabling a president to break the law, it is John Yoo.” He goes on to criticize Yoo’s legal thinking in the article, noting that the Citizens United ruling held that “disclosure could be justified based on a governmental interest in ‘provid[ing] the electorate with information’ about the sources of election-related spending.” Millhiser writes: “President Obama’s proposed executive order provides the electorate with information about the sources of election-related spending. So Yoo’s entire argument can be rebutted in exactly two sentences.” After rebutting other portions of Yoo and Marston’s arguments, Millhiser concludes, “Yoo’s defense of corporate America’s power to secretly buy elections is weak even by his own tragically incompetent standards.” (Millhiser 7/22/2011)

Two CIA analysts, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky and Michael Anne Casey, who were involved in pre-9/11 intelligence failures and torture are named publicly for the first time, at the website Boiling Frogs Post (BFP). Bikowsky, now apparently head of the CIA’s Global Jihad Unit, made a false statement to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry and was later involved in some of the CIA’s most notorious abuses (see After March 7, 2003 and Before January 23, 2004). Casey deliberately withheld information about two 9/11 hijackers from the FBI in January 2000 (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000 and January 6, 2000). BFP obtained the two names from a document posted in error at the website secrecykills.com, which was set up to support an audio documentary about the intelligence failures before 9/11 entitled Who Is Rich Blee? (note: Blee was the former boss of both analysts). Due to threats previously made against them by the CIA, the documentary’s producers, John Duffy and Ray Nowosielski, ask BFP to take down Casey’s name and BFP complies. However, Nowosielski will later name both women in an article posted at Salon. (Boiling Frogs Post 9/21/2011; O'Connor and Nowosielski 10/14/2011) The two identities were found using information previously made available about the two and from Google searches. Bikowsky’s name was found by searching State Department nominations for her middle name, which was released by the Associated Press earlier in the year. Duffy and Nowosielski found Casey after learning she was the child of a CIA officer and theorising (incorrectly, as they later learned) that her father could have been former CIA Director William Casey. Her name also appears in State Department nominations, where they found it. (O'Connor and Nowosielski 10/14/2011)

An artist’s rendition of Adel Abdel Bary tearing up in court.An artist’s rendition of Adel Abdel Bary tearing up in court. [Source: Reuters]Adel Abdel Bary is sentenced to 25 years in prison after pleading guilty to several terror-related counts, including making bomb threats and conspiring to kill American citizens overseas. Bary is the father of Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, a suspected Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS) militant, originally one of three people thought to be the infamous “Jihadi John” who beheaded journalist James Foley in August 2014. (Authorities will later determine “Jihadi John” to be Briton Mohammed Emwazi.) Adel Abdel Bary admits to being an al-Qaeda spokesman following the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Anas al-Liby and Khalid al-Fawwaz, also accused of being al-Qaeda operatives, were set to appear alongside Adel Abdel Bary in New York in two months’ time. Al-Liby and Fawwaz have pleaded not guilty to their terror charges. (Dearden 9/20/2014; Affairs 2/6/2015; Mekhennet and Goldman 2/26/2015)

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