Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri
Arabic: عبد الرحيم النشيري
Born (1965-01-05) January 5, 1965
Saudi Arabia
Citizenship Saudi Arabian
Detained at CIA black sites
Stare Kiejkuty
Guantanamo Bay
Alternate name Mullah Bilal[1][2]
ISN 10015
Charge(s) Charges dropped in February 2009, reinstated in 2011
Status Still held in Guantanamo Bay pending trial

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (Arabic: عبد الرحيم النشيري;  pronunciation  /ɑːbɪd/ /ælrɑːˈhm/ /ælnɑːˈʃr/; born January 5, 1965) is a Saudi Arabian citizen alleged to be the mastermind of the bombing of the USS Cole and other maritime terrorist attacks.[3] He is alleged to have headed al-Qaeda operations in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf states prior to his capture in November 2002 by the CIA's Special Activities Division.[4][5]

Al-Nashiri was captured in Dubai in 2002 and held for four years in secret CIA prisons known as "black sites" in Afghanistan, Thailand, Poland, Morocco, and Romania, before being transferred to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. While being interrogated, al-Nashiri was waterboarded, a technique since classified as torture. In 2005 the CIA destroyed the tapes of Nashiri's waterboarding. In another incident he was naked and hooded and threatened with a gun and a power drill to scare him into talking.[6][7][8][9] Al-Nashiri was granted victim status in 2010 by the Polish government and a Polish prosecutor began "investigating the possible abuse of power by Polish public officials with regard to a CIA black site" in 2008.[10][11][12]

In December 2008, al-Nashiri was charged by the United States before a Guantanamo Military Commission.[13] The charges were dropped in February 2009 and reinstated in 2011.[14][15] As of 2011, Al-Nashiri is on trial before a military tribunal in Guantanamo on charges of war crimes that carry the death penalty. As it is extremely unlikely he would be freed if found not guilty, his lawyers have called the proceeding a show trial.[16]


Born in Saudi Arabia, al-Nashiri travelled to Afghanistan in the early 1990s to participate in attacks against the Russians in the region, at a time when the United States supported the mujahideen in such actions. In 1996, he travelled to Tajikistan and then Jalalabad, Afghanistan, where he first met Osama bin Laden.[17] Bin Laden attempted to convince al-Nashiri to join al-Qaeda at this point, but he refused because he found the idea of swearing a loyalty oath to bin Laden to be distasteful. After al-Nashiri travelled to Yemen, he is alleged to have begun to consider committing terrorist actions against United States interests.[17]

When he returned to Afghanistan in 1997, he again met bin Laden, but again declined to join in the terrorist group. Instead, he fought with the Taliban against the Afghan Northern Alliance. Still, he assisted in the smuggling of four anti-tank missiles into Saudi Arabia, and helped arrange for a terrorist to get a Yemeni passport. His cousin, Jihad Mohammad Ali al-Makki, was one of the suicide bombers in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya.[17]

Allegedly joined al-Qaeda

Finally, probably in 1998, al-Nashiri is alleged to have joined al-Qaeda, reporting directly to bin Laden. In late 1998, he conceived of a plot to attack a U.S. vessel using a boat full of explosives. Bin Laden personally approved of the plan, and provided money for it. First, al-Nashiri allegedly attempted to attack the USS The Sullivans as a part of the 2000 millennium attack plots, but the boat he used was overloaded with explosives and began to sink.[17]

The next attempt was the USS Cole bombing, which was successful. Seventeen U.S. sailors were killed, and many more were injured. This terrorist attack made al-Nashiri prominent within al-Qaeda, and he allegedly was made the chief of operations for the Arabian Peninsula.[17] He organized the Limburg tanker bombing in 2002 of a French-flagged vessel off Yemen, and he may have planned other attacks as well.


In November 2002, al-Nashiri was captured in the United Arab Emirates.[18] He is in American military custody in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp,[5] having previously been held at some secret locations. On September 29, 2004, he was sentenced to death in absentia in a Yemeni court for his role in the USS Cole bombing.[19]

Before being transported to military custody at Guantanamo, al-Nashiri was held by the CIA at black sites in Thailand and Poland for an undisclosed amount of time. CIA officials disagreed on al-Nashiri's role in planning the Cole bombing. Said one CIA official of al-Nashiri, "He was an idiot. He couldn't read or comprehend a comic book."[20]

Combatant Status Review

The Department of Defense announced on August 9, 2007 that all fourteen of the "high-value detainees" who had been transferred to Guantanamo from the CIA's black sites, had been officially classified as "enemy combatants".[21] Although judges Peter Brownback and Keith J. Allred had ruled two months earlier that only "illegal enemy combatants" could face military commissions, the Department of Defense waived the qualifier and said that all fourteen men could now face charges before Guantanamo military commissions.[22][23]


Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was interrogated numerous times. In 2007 he attributed his confessions of involvement in the USS Cole bombing to torture, including waterboarding.[24] All the details Abd al-Rahim offered of his claims of torture were redacted from his transcript.[25][26]

Through Freedom of Information Act requests, the American Civil Liberties Union was able to acquire less redacted versions of the transcripts from Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri's Combatant Status Review Tribunal, and those of three other captives.[27][28]

In his opening statement, al-Nashiri listed seven false confessions he had been coerced to make while being waterboarded.[25]

  1. The French Merchant Vessel Limburg incident.
  2. The USS Cole bombing.
  3. The rockets in Saudi Arabia.
  4. The plan to bomb American ships in the Gulf.
  5. Relationship with people committing bombings in Saudi Arabia.
  6. Osama Bin Laden having a nuclear bomb.
  7. A plan to hijack a plane and crash it into a ship.

During the course of his tribunal, he claimed to have made additional confessions under the duress of torture. He was ostensibly the last of the al-Qaeda suspects to be videotaped, as he was waterboarded in Thailand by CIA officers who questioned him. Shortly after, when a prisoner died in CIA custody in Iraq, the government agents decided against videotaping such interrogations, as this provided criminal "evidence" if things went wrong.[29] All the CIA tapes showing detainees being waterboarded were destroyed in 2005.

It was reported on August 22, 2009, that al-Nashiri was the subject of what is described as a mock execution during his torture by the CIA. A power drill and a handgun were used.[30]

In May 2011 al-Nashiri's lawyers filed a case against Poland with the European Court of Human Rights. They said that Al-Nashiri was held and allegedly tortured in a secret CIA "black site" prison "north of Warsaw" (OSAW) from December 2002 to June 2003 with the collaboration or consent of the Polish government.[31]

Order overruled

On January 29, 2009, an order from Obama's new White House administration to suspend all Guantanamo military commission hearings for 120 days was overruled by military judge Army Colonel James Pohl in al-Nashiri's case.[32][33]

Charges dropped

On February 5, 2009, al-Nashiri's charges were withdrawn without prejudice.[34]

Charges re-instated

Since 2011, al-Nashiri has been at trial.

Death penalty

The prosecution planned to request the death penalty for Al Nashiri.[35] The decision lies with the Convening authority, retired Admiral Bruce MacDonald. In April 2011 the Department of Defense allowed Richard Kammen, a civilian lawyer with a background in defending suspects against death penalty cases, to join Al Nashiri's defense team.[36]

Al Nashiri became the first Guantanamo captive to face the death penalty.[37]

Request to end the prosecution

In a letter in July 2011, al-Nashiri's legal team said:

"Through the infliction of physical and psychological abuse, the government has essentially already killed the man it seized almost 10 years ago." and "By torturing Mr. Al-Nashiri and subjecting him to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, the United States has forfeited its right to try him and certainly to kill him,"[38]

Questioning whether Al Nashiri will continue to be detained if he is acquitted

On October 24, 2011 Lieutenant Commander Stephen Reyes filed a legal motion requesting that jurors in his case be informed that he may be detained in Guantanamo, even if he was acquitted of all charges.[39][40][41][42] Al Nashiri's formal charges are scheduled to be announced at the Tribunal on November 9, 2011.

Legal scholar Robert M. Chesney, of Lawfare, speculated Al Nashiri would be detained, if acquitted, for at least several more years.[43] Chesney argued that it would be just to continue to detain Al Nashiri, even if he were acquitted, because conviction requires a higher standard of evidence than a habeas corpus petition.

Eligibility for military detention, according to a now-substantial body of habeas case law, turns on the preponderance of the evidence standard, as applied to a substantive test inquiring whether the person was a member of al Qaeda at the time of capture. One can satisfy that standard consistent with a military commission acquittal.
Robert M. Chesney

Defense motions filed in April 2012

Presiding Officer James L. Pohl considered several motions during a pre-trial hearing on April 11, 2012.[44] He deferred rulings on many of them. He did rule to unshackle Nashiri for meetings with his lawyers, who had argued that he was traumatized by being shackled for years in secret CIA prisons and that being shackled during meetings impairs his ability to work with his lawyers.

Jose Rodriguez's dispute over al Nashiri's role

On May 8, 2012, Ali Soufan, Al Nashiri's original FBI interrogator, asked whether a recently published book by former CIA official Jose Rodriguez would undermine Al Nashiri's prosecution.[45] Soufan's original FBI interrogation used the time-tested, legal technique of rapport-building. He has argued that the information derived from the suspects using legal techniques, prior to the Bush administration decision to allow the CIA to take over the interrogations and to employ torture, was reliable—where the confessions derived through torture were not.

Rodriguez was in over-all charge of the CIA's torture program.[45] According to Soufan, Rodriquez's account of al Nashiri's role in the Cole bombing differed markedly from that of the prosecution. Rodriguez disputed that Al Nashiri had been the bombing's "mastermind", and agreed with a colleague who characterized him as "the dumbest terrorist I have ever met".

Mental health examination

Presiding Officer James Pohl ruled on February 7, 2013, that an independent panel of mental health experts should examine Al Nashiri, and report back on how the documented torture he was subjected to would affect his ability to assist in his own defense.[12] Pohl called for the director of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to nominate the members of examination team.[46] He called for the team to report back by April 1, 2013. The team is supposed to be given full access to al Nashiri's medical files, including the top secret records from his times in CIA custody. The assessment was requested by the prosecution.[47]

Al Nashiri's defense team objected to the assessment, based on their doubts that a team appointed by the Office of Military Commissions could be relied upon. They called for the team to rely on the advice of Dr Vincent Iacopino for how to interview Al Nashiri, without causing additional damage. Iacopino, a renowned expert on torture, had testified before the Military Commission on February 5, 2013 about the possible effects of torture on Al Nashiri.[48]

Military Commission

On February 18, 2014, al Nashiri attempted to fire his counsel, Rick Kammen. Judge Pohl granted a recess until February 19, 2014, to allow Kammen to attempt to repair the relationship with his client. If the two are unable to overcome their differences, al Nashiri will be permitted to fire Kammen under current military commission rules.[49]

On October 18, 2016, new Military Judge, Air Force Col Vance Spath took a step that Stephen Vladeck, a law Professor, and national security expert described as "unprecedented".[50] Spath had United States Marshalls take Stephen Gill, into custody, to compel him to testify at a pre-trial hearing.

European Court of Human Rights decision

On July 24, 2014 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Poland violated the European Convention on Human Rights when it cooperated with US allowing the CIA to hold and torture al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah on its territory in 2002–2003. The court ordered the Polish government to pay each of the men 100,000 euros in damages.[51][52]


  1. http://www.rulit.net/books/the-black-banners-read-249656-23.htm
  2. OARDEC (February 8, 2007). "Summary of Evidence for Combatant Status Review Tribunal - Al Nashiri, Abd Al Rahim Hussein Mohammed" (PDF). Department of Defense. Retrieved April 13, 2007.
  3. http://www.globalsecurity.org/security/profiles/abd_al-rahim_al-nashiri.htm
  4. "U.S.: Top al Qaeda operative arrested". CNN. Archived from the original on August 26, 2006. Retrieved May 16, 2013.
  5. 1 2 "Detainee Biographies" (PDF). Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-08-31.
  6. Price, Caitlin. "CIA chief confirms use of waterboarding on 3 terror detainees". Jurist Legal News & Research. Archived from the original on October 4, 2008. Retrieved May 16, 2013.
  7. "CIA finally admits to waterboarding". The Australian. February 7, 2008. Archived from the original on February 9, 2008. Retrieved February 18, 2008.
  8. Shane, Scott (June 22, 2008). "Inside a 9/11 Mastermind's Interrogation". New York Times. Archived from the original on December 20, 2013. Retrieved June 23, 2008.
  9. Carol Rosenberg (November 3, 2011). "Guantánamo's war court can't free captive found innocent". Miami Herald. Archived from the original on February 9, 2013. The U.S. military tribunal for the USS Cole bombing suspect has no power to free a captive found innocent of war crimes but shouldn’t be told the terror suspect could be held for life anyway, Pentagon prosecutors said in a court document made public Wednesday.
  10. Foster, Peter (July 17, 2012). "Court demands secret files on US 'black jails'". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  11. Gera, Vanessa (October 27, 2010). "Terror suspect gets victim status in Polish probe". The Guardian. London.
  12. 1 2 Carol Rosenberg (February 8, 2013). "Mental-health experts get access to detainee's CIA file". Guantanamo: Miami Herald. Archived from the original on February 9, 2013. At issue is whether the man whom agents sought to break through waterboarding, threatening to rape his mother in front of him and staging his mock execution with a drill while he was naked and hooded is mentally competent to stand trial.
  13. Salon.com, "Goodbye to Guantanamo?", December 23, 2008
  14. "U.S. drops Guantanamo charges per Obama order". Reuters. February 6, 2009. Archived from the original on February 9, 2009. Retrieved February 6, 2009.
  15. "Executive Order -- Review and Disposition of Individuals Detained at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base and Closure of Detention Facilities". whitehouse.gov. Archived from the original on February 9, 2009. Retrieved February 6, 2009.
  16. "Guantanamo court can't free bomb suspect, U.S. says". Reuters. November 2, 2011.
  17. 1 2 3 4 5 National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (2004). "Chapter 5". 9/11 Commission Report.
  18. "U.S.: Top al Qaeda operative arrested". CNN. November 22, 2002. Archived from the original on August 26, 2006.
  19. Neil MacFarquhar, David Johnston (September 30, 2004). "Death Sentences in Attack on Cole". Cairo: New York Times. Archived from the original on February 9, 2013. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi-born bin Laden associate, and Jamal al-Badawi, a 35-year-old Yemeni, were sentenced to death for their roles in the deaths of 17 United States sailors on board the destroyer, for planning the attack and for organizing an armed gang to carry it out. Mr. Nashiri, in custody at an undisclosed location outside the United States, was tried in absentia.
  20. Goldman, Adam, "The hidden history of the CIA’s prison in Poland", Washington Post, January 23, 2014
  21. Lolita C. Baldur (August 9, 2007). "Pentagon: 14 Guantanamo Suspects Are Now Combatants". Time magazine. mirror
  22. Sergeant Sara Wood (June 4, 2007). "Charges Dismissed Against Canadian at Guantanamo". Department of Defense. Retrieved 2007-06-07.
  23. Sergeant Sara Wood (June 4, 2007). "Judge Dismisses Charges Against Second Guantanamo Detainee". Department of Defense. Retrieved 2007-06-07.
  24. Gabriel Haboubi (March 30, 2007). "Guantanamo detainee says torture prompted confession to USS Cole bombing". The Jurist. Archived from the original on June 23, 2007. Retrieved June 19, 2007.
  25. 1 2 OARDEC (March 14, 2007). "Verbatim Transcript of Open Session Combatant Status Review Tribunal Hearing for ISN 10015" (PDF). United States Department of Defense. pp. 1–36. Retrieved December 25, 2007.
  26. Lolita C. Baldor (March 30, 2007). "Suspect at Guantanamo Claims Torture". Associated Press. Retrieved June 19, 2007.
  27. "CSRT censorship". American Civil Liberties Union. June 15, 2009. Archived from the original on June 17, 2009. Retrieved June 15, 2009.
  28. OARDEC (March 14, 2007). "Verbatim Transcript of Combatant Status Review Tribunal Hearing for ISN 10015" (PDF). United States Department of Defense. pp. 1–39. Archived (PDF) from the original on June 17, 2009. Retrieved June 15, 2009.
  29. Mayer, Jane, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals, 2008. p. 225
  30. Beaumont, Peter (August 22, 2009). "Bombshell report on CIA interrogations is leaked". The Guardian. London.
  31. "Al-Qaida Suspect Files Human Rights Case Against Poland". Voice of America. May 9, 2011. Archived from the original on February 9, 2013. The suit also alleges that Poland violated the European Convention of Human Rights by helping transfer al-Nashiri to U.S. custody in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he is currently being held.
  32. "Judge rejects Obama bid to stall trial". NZ Herald - AP. January 29, 2009. Retrieved February 7, 2009.
  33. Media related to USA v. Al Nashiri -- motion to dismiss -- January 9, 2009 at Wikimedia Commons
  34. "U.S. drops Guantanamo charges per Obama order". Reuters. February 5, 2009. Archived from the original on May 17, 2010. Retrieved May 17, 2010. The charges against Abd al Rahim al Nashiri were dropped without prejudice, meaning they could be refiled later, said the spokesman, Navy Commander J.D. Gordon.
  35. Carol Rosenberg (July 16, 2011). "Defenders: USS Cole Bombing Case Too Tainted For Death Penalty Trial". Miami Herald. Archived from the original on October 26, 2011. Retrieved October 26, 2011. Now it will be up to retired Navy Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald to decide whether Nashiri, 46, could be subjected to military execution if a Guantánamo jury convicts him for the al Qaida suicide bombing off Yemen. Seventeen American sailors were killed, dozens more wounded and the $1.1 billion warship was crippled in the October 2000 explosion.
  36. Carol Rosenberg (April 30, 2011). "Death-Penalty Expert To Join Defense Team At USS Cole Trial". Miami Herald. Archived from the original on October 26, 2011. Retrieved October 26, 2011. The Pentagon has moved one step closer to putting the USS Cole bombing suspect before a capital war-crimes trial at Guantanamo, assigning an Indiana attorney with extensive death-penalty experience to help defend a Saudi-born Yemeni captive who was waterboarded by the CIA.
  37. Peter Finn (September 29, 2011). "USS Cole Suspect Referred For Trial: Military commission at Guantanamo Bay to hear death penalty case". Washington Post. p. 8. Archived from the original on October 26, 2011. Retrieved October 26, 2011. One of Nashiri's attorneys, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Reyes, has warned that he intends to call to the stand CIA officials involved in his client's interrogation. Reyes criticized the decision to seek the death penalty. "As currently constituted, the commissions lack the protections required to hold a reliable and trustworthy capital trial," he said.
  38. "Guantanamo detainee lawyers ask that death penalty case be dropped". CNN. 19 July 2011.
  39. "Lawyer: Gitmo trial in Cole Attack could be moot". Kansas City Star. October 24, 2011. Archived from the original on October 26, 2011. Retrieved October 26, 2011. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Reyes says officials have suggested that prisoners like Abd al-Nashiri will never be released. He says that renders a trial meaningless and that officers who serve as jurors should be told from the start. He says some may choose not to participate.
  40. "USS Cole bombing suspect seeks release if acquitted". The New Age. October 25, 2011. Retrieved October 26, 2011. The defense wants a response delivered at the hearing November 9 at which he was supposed to be charged. "In a variety of contexts, officials in the United States, including the president, have suggested that no matter what the outcome of the trials in Guantanamo, individuals such as Mr Al-Nashiri will not be released because he is allegedly a terrorist," the attorneys' statement reads in part.
  41. Media related to USA v. Al Nashiri -- Defense motion ot allow in camera, ex parte requests for expert assistance with limited notice to the opposing party in compliance with R.M.C. 703 -- October 19, 2011 at Wikimedia Commons
  42. Media related to USA v. Al Nashiri -- motion for appropriate relief to determine if the trial of this case is one from which the defendant may be meaningfully acquitted -- October 19, 2011. at Wikimedia Commons
  43. Robert M. Chesney (October 24, 2011). "Al-Nashiri's Motion on Potential Post-Acquittal Detention". Lawfare. Archived from the original on October 27, 2011. Retrieved October 27, 2011. I expect the government will resist the idea that it must tell al-Nashiri now whether it would keep him in military custody following an acquittal, and will certainly deny that any such decision necessarily would require custody for life. Not that I doubt that he would be kept in custody at least for some years following acquittal; an acquittal would prove that the government did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that al-Nashiri committed a crime, but this does not simultaneously require the conclusion that the government lacks the factual and legal grounds to continue to use military detention.
  44. Jim Garamone (April 13, 2012). "More motions filed in al Nashiri case" (PDF). The Wire (JTF-GTMO). p. 5. Retrieved May 10, 2012. Works related to More motions filed in al Nashiri case at Wikisource
  45. 1 2 Ali Soufan (May 8, 2012). "Will a CIA Veteran's Book Save a Terrorist?". Bloomberg News. Archived from the original on May 10, 2012. Retrieved May 10, 2012. The defense of Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri -- the mastermind in the bombing of the U.S. Navy destroyer Cole in 2000 -- has received a boost from a surprising source: Jose Rodriguez, a former high-ranking CIA official.
  46. Jane Sutton (February 8, 2013). "Doctors to review USS Cole suspect's CIA detention records". Guantanamo: Reuters. Archived from the original on February 9, 2013. CIA records documenting the waterboarding and interrogation of an alleged al Qaeda chieftain must be shown to the doctors who will decide whether he is mentally competent for trial on charges of conspiring to bomb a U.S. warship, a judge ordered.
  47. Donna Miles (February 7, 2013). "Mental Health Test Delays Cole Bombing Suspect Hearings". American Forces Press Service. Archived from the original on February 9, 2013. However, that schedule got derailed after the prosecution requested a mental-health assessment, challenging the defense claim that Nashiri suffers from long-term post-traumatic stress allegedly caused by enhanced interrogation techniques the CIA used on him before he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay.
  48. Carol Rosenberg (February 5, 2013). "Torture expert testifies at Guantánamo in USS Cole case". Miami Herald. Archived from the original on February 6, 2013. A doctor with expertise in torture testified remotely before the war court Tuesday, advising the chief judge how to conduct a no-harm medical examination on an alleged al-Qaida deputy who was waterboarded by the CIA.
  49. Carol Rosenberg (2016-10-18). "Guantánamo judge has U.S. Marshals seize no-show war court witness". Miami Herald. Archived from the original on 2016-10-18. Vladeck questioned the war court’s authority to do this. “I have to imagine he has a pretty good habeas claim,” he said of Gill’s overnight detention to testify. “If the commissions can’t usually issue extraordinary writs, what is the government’s legal basis for detaining him?”
  50. Poland 'helped in CIA rendition', European Court rules
  51. http://online.wsj.com/articles/eu-court-rules-against-poland-in-cia-rendition-case-1406193988

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