My article from the Sept. 28, 2015 issue of FrontPageMag:
The Obama administration quietly shipped Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard back to the Wahhabist Kingdom of Saudi Arabia last week despite warnings that the Muslim terrorist remains a serious threat to the United States.
The newly released terrorist detainee is Abdul Shalabi, 39, who trained to be the 20th hijacker for the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Shalabi was set free even though military officials deemed him too dangerous to be unleashed on the world and too valuable as an intelligence asset to be released from U.S. custody.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said last week that the liberation of Shalabi, whom he referred to as a “dangerous detainee,” is “another example of President Obama playing politics with national security and putting campaign promises ahead of U.S. national security interests.” Shuttering the terrorist detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba has long been a goal of President Obama, going back at least to the campaign trail in 2008.
Shalabi’s unshackling should have Americans wondering which bloodthirsty jihadist is next to be released by the soft-on-Islamism president of the United States. Could it be the “Blind Sheikh,” a.k.a. Omar Abdel-Rahman, who orchestrated the deadly bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993? News reports that the Obama administration is working on releasing the deadly fatwa-issuing cleric linked to the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat go back years. The sheikh is a hero to his followers, including deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, and a spiritual leader of al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.
The process by which Shalabi won his freedom offers disturbing insights into the system that determines if a terrorist detainee should be held indefinitely in wartime as allowed under the laws of war.
In May 2008 when George W. Bush was president, Rear Admiral David M. Thomas Jr., then the commander of the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo, recommended in a since-unclassified memo that Shalabi’s detention be continued.
Spelling the word high in block capitals and boldfacing it for emphasis, Thomas warned that Shalabi was “[a]HIGH risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the U.S., its interests and allies[,]” “[a] HIGH threat from a detention perspective[,]” and “[o]f HIGH intelligence value.”
Born Dec. 4, 1975 in the Muslim holy city of Medina, Saudi Arabia, Shalabi is a man of many aliases. He has also been known as Abdul Rahman Shalabi, Abdul Rahman, Abd al Rahman Shalbi Isa Uwaydah, Abdul Haq Rahman, Saqr al-Madani, and Mahmud Abd Aziz al-Mujahid.
Shalabi, who had been on a hunger strike for years at Guantanamo, is a member of al-Qaeda who began working as one of Osama bin Laden’s bodyguards in 1999, the memo stated. Shalabi “received advanced training at multiple al-Qaida camps” and “received specialized close combat training for his role as a suicide operative in an aborted component of the 11 September 2001 al-Qaida attacks.”
“Detainee attended an elite commando course run by al-Qaida operative Salah al-Din Abd al-Halim Zaydan aka (Sayf al-Adl) at the Mes Aynak Training Camp in 1999,” Thomas wrote. “This course was offered to select trainees who had already received al-Qaida’s basic training.”
Shalabi was involved in “hostilities against U.S. and Coalition forces and was captured with a group referred to as the Dirty 30, which included UBL [Osama bin Laden] bodyguards and an assessed 20th 11 September 2001 hijacker.” Shalabi, who has “familial ties” to bin Laden, “will likely reestablish ties to al-Qaida and other extremist elements if released.”
Thomas argued that Shalabi was far from rehabilitated (assuming rehabilitation is even possible for a jihadist). His behavior while confined was atrocious.
His overall behavior has been mostly noncompliant and hostile to the guard force and staff. He currently has 95 Reports of Disciplinary Infraction listed in DIMS with the most recent occurring on 27 February 2008, when he was reported spitting on the guard force. Detainee has 11 Reports of Disciplinary Infraction for assault with the most recent occurring on 27 February 2008, when he was reported spitting on the guard force. Other incidents for which he has been disciplined include inciting and participating in mass disturbances, failure to follow guard instructions and camp rules, inappropriate use of bodily fluids, unauthorized communications, damage to government property, attempted assaults, assaults, provoking words and gestures, and possession of food and nonweapon type contraband. On 7 August 2005, detainee was reported to be in possession of broken glass (shank).
“Does that sound like someone who is going to be rehabilitated in Saudi Arabia?” Investor’s Business Daily editorialized. “Or someone who will be returning to the terrorist battlefield to wage jihad against America?”
Even if Shalabi does not return to terrorism, his release provides a morale boost for those who support the jihadist cause, the newspaper opined. “He was also on a partial hunger strike for nine years at Gitmo, and will undoubtedly be used in Islamist propaganda against U.S. detention policies once he returns to his home.”
Some commentators accused the Obama administration of releasing Shalabi suddenly and without warning on Sept. 22 while the public and the media were distracted by the first-ever visit of Pope Francis to the United States.
While the timing of Shalabi’s deinstitutionalization may be suspect, the process that led to his repatriation began at least two years ago.
Following the great American journalistic tradition of undermining U.S. national security to sell newspapers, theMiami Herald set in motion the events that led to Shalabi’s low-key exfiltration from U.S.-held territory.
In June 2013, the U.S. Department of Defense released a list of detainees held at Guantanamo in response to a lawsuit filed by the newspaper. The media outlet then reported that Shalabi was one of 48 Guantanamo detainees “deemed too dangerous to release but ineligible for trial.”
An unclassified transcript of an April 21 hearing of an Obama administration-controlled detention review board indicated its unnamed “presiding member” said Shalabi behaved badly in detention and “has refused to respond to substantive questions.” That board, established under Executive Order 13567 (issued March 7, 2011 by President Obama), convened to hear evidence about whether Shalabi’s continued detention at Guantanamo “remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.” The panel, according to the U.S. military, “consists of one senior official from the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State; the Joint Staff, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.”
In a little-noticed development, the board determined June 15 that “continued law of war detention of the detainee is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.” The board recommended Shalabi be returned to his native Saudi Arabia.
At the April hearing, Shalabi’s private counsel, Julia Tarver Mason-Wood, told the board that she had “represented Mr. Shalabi on a pro bono basis for almost a decade.” She said her client “wants to make clear that he harbors no ill will to the United States, the American people, and non-Muslims.”
The ethically challenged Mason-Wood told the board:
As he will explain to you, Mr. Shalabi is a teacher of Islam, which he believes is a religion of peace, not war. Mr. Shalabi will tell you that he does not support terrorism or the killing of innocent people; he steadfastly believes that such acts are contrary to the Quran and to the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed.
Manhattan-based Mason-Wood is a partner in the Paul, Weiss law firm, which represents many Muslim terrorist detainees. She clerked for leftist U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor when the jurist sat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Richard Pollock previously reported at PJ Media that Mason-Wood was banned from the Guantanamo facility by the base commander and the U.S. Department of Justice in 2006 “for secretly passing on anti-American propaganda and operational detention details to her ‘client.'”
The detainee was Majeed Abdullah Al Joudi, a Saudi who belonged to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. In 2004 a status review tribunal heard that he was “was captured with al-Qaeda surveillance evasion reports and after-action reports.”
The anti-American propaganda Mason secretly passed on to Mr. Al Joudi was a slick, inflammatory 18-page color brochure — written entirely in Arabic — that slammed American detention policy as “that of anti-Arab, anti-Islamic, and other racist abuse.” It was filled with pictures of masked, bound, and kneeling prisoners, and according to the Wall Street Journal, “included pictures of what appeared to be detainee operations in Iraq.”
Mason-Wood had been surreptitiously forwarding “incendiary materials to her client through a system called ‘legal mail,’ which is supposed to be strictly legal correspondence between a lawyer and the enemy combatant.” This appears to contravene “a 2004 protective order by federal Judge Joyce Hens Green [that] forbids the lawyers to give out any information on political news, current events, or the names of U.S. government personnel.”
Mason-Wood brings to mind Lynne Stewart, the since-disbarred radical lawyer who was briefly imprisoned for providing material support for terrorism by illegally passing on a message from her client, Omar Abdel-Rahman. The communiqué was “the blessing of a return to violence from a terrorist leader,” prosecutor Anthony Barkow said during Stewart’s 2006 trial. In it, the sheikh urged disciples to abandon a ceasefire with the government of Egypt and resume terrorist operations.
According to Debra Burlingame and Thomas Joscelyn, Mason-Wood is one of several legal counsel to Guantanamo detainees who “went far beyond vigorous representation of their clients.” (Burlingame, a former attorney, is the sister of the late Charles F. “Chic” Burlingame III, pilot of American Airlines flight 77, which was crashed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.)
Mason-Wood, Burlingame and Joscelyn wrote in the Wall Street Journal,
inflamed tensions with the hunger strikers during a visit to Guantanamo in October 2005. She told one of the detainees, Yousef Al Sherhri, that the U.S. Government had no court authority to feed him using a nasal tube, according to Justice Department documents. As a result Al Sherhri pulled out his feeding tube, persuaded detainees in his cell block to do the same and exhorted them to physically resist. [Department of Justice] lawyers would later argue that Ms. Mason’s advocacy “resulted in a disruption of camp security and a potential threat to the health of eight hunger-striker detainees.”
After being banned from Guantanamo for breaking the rules, attorneys sued the government to regain access to detainees. The ban on Paul, Weiss lawyers that was enforced for part of 2006, was later rescinded “as part of a private settlement containing a variety of stipulations.”
Mason-Wood’s client, Majeed Abdullah Al Joudi, was sent back to Saudi Arabia in February 2007. In 2009 the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency confirmed Joudi had “reengaged in terrorism.”
Freeing Omar Abdel-Rahman would be a logical enough choice for the Obama administration which has shown a willingness to release the worst of the worst among Muslim terrorists.
Remember that Obama freed five Islamist generals in exchange for Taliban collaborator U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
Releasing the Blind Sheikh, whose list of U.S. targets overlapped with the targets Obama pal Bill Ayers and the Weather Underground Organization bombed or plotted to bomb in the 1970s, would delight the president’s Islamist allies.
From the time since-overthrown Egyptian President Morsi took office, he promised to pressure the U.S. government to free the sheikh, the Washington Post reported in early 2013
In October 2012 al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called on Egyptians to kidnap Americans to force the sheikh’s release. Muslim terrorist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who attacked U.S. and European oil workers in January 2013, put the sheikh’s freedom on his list of political demands.
The sheikh “was the godfather of all Islamic movements,” Zawahiri’s younger brother, Mohamed al-Zawahiri has said. “Maybe if he was not going through such injustice, 9/11 would not have happened. [The sheikh’s imprisonment] was one of the reasons that the people felt so strongly about the American offenses against the Islamic people.”
The sheikh has long been a revered figure is Islamism but after Hosni Mubarak, who kept Egypt’s Islamist problem under control, was ousted as the Arab republic’s president, demands for the sheikh to be returned to Egypt have grown progressively louder.
In 2001 before the 9/11 attacks Osama bin Laden himself reportedly demanded the sheikh’s release from U.S. custody. Author Peter Bergen described the sheikh as the “spiritual guide of 9/11” because he wrote an edict in prisons requiring Muslims to take up arms against their enemies and “kill them in the sea, on land and in the air.”
The sheikh is reportedly very popular among Egyptian Salafists who view him as a legitimate religious and political leader railroaded by the U.S. justice system. Some call him the “Emir of Jihad.”
Militants who attacked the In Amenas gas facility in southeastern Algeria offered to swap American hostages for the sheikh. Algerian authorities didn’t pursue the offer and instead conducted a raid that left at least 29 terrorists and 37 captives dead.
A Libyan group known as the Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman Brigade took responsibility for assaults on Western targets in Libya in 2012, including the Sept. 11 attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi that left four Americans dead including Ambassador Chris Stevens. The sheikh’s son, Abdallah, said the killers “were acting in the name of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman.”
In a video message earlier this month, al-Qaeda’s Zawahiri reminded his followers that the sheikh and his brethren remain in custody and, according to MEMRI, “urged all groups to include them in their deals when negotiating for the release of any of their hostages.”
In recent years media outlets have reported that the U.S. Department of State “is actively considering negotiations with the Egyptian government for the transfer of custody of Omar Abdel-Rahman, also known as ‘the Blind Sheikh,’ for humanitarian and health reasons.” Obama administration officials deny that there have been any such negotiations but the administration isn’t exactly known for its honesty.
The Arabic language newspaper al-Arabiya reported previously that the Obama administration offered to send Abdel-Rahman to Egypt as part a prisoner swap. Now well into his seventies, Abdel-Rahman was convicted of “seditious conspiracy” in 1995 in connection with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
Abdel-Rahman’s terrorist organization, Jamaa Islamiya (Islamic Group), is a “radical offshoot” of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Jamaa Islamiya also tried to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 1995. To try to force the release of Abdel-Rahman from the U.S., Jamaa Islamiya murdered 62 people in Luxor, Egypt, in 1997.
Shalabi’s lawyer, Julia Tarver Mason-Wood, should be getting a telephone call from the Blind Sheikh’s people any day now.
Correction: This article has been updated to remove a statement that asserted that President Obama has the authority to pardon Mumia Abu-Jamal and Assata Shakur.