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Morning Brief - 4/20/12

The U.S. announced Thursday that two Uighur detainees at Guantanamo, long cleared for resettlement, have been transferred to El Salvador. It’s the first time Guantanamo detainees have been resettled in a Central American country. And it “reduced the prison camps’ census to 169 foreign men, just five of them convicted war criminals,” reports the Miami Herald. “Attorneys identified the men as Hamad Memet, who turns 34 next month, and Abdul Razzak, whose age is not known. They were sent to Guantanamo from Afghanistan in 2002,” and were ordered freed by a judge in 2008. “This week’s transfer left three other Uighurs at Guantanamo’s Camp Iguana awaiting resettlement. They, like the two sent to El Salvador, had previously spurned an Obama administration special envoy’s offer to send them to the Pacific island nation of Palau,” according to the Miami Herald report. They were not sent home to China for fear they might be persecuted. (Miami Herald) (More: NYT, WSJ)

The United States
Saajid Badat, a British militant formerly imprisoned in Britain on charges he conspired with shoebomber Richard Reid, was deposed by U.S. prosecutors last month and the video shown yesterday at the terror trial of Adis Medunjanin, who is accused of plotting to bomb the NYC subway system. Two of Medunjanin’s alleged co-conspirators, Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay, have testified against him this week. Prosecutors said Badat didn’t have any connection to Medunjanin or the other men, but they wanted to “use his testimony to corroborate what Zazi and Ahmedzay have said about al Qaeda’s leadership and training methods,” reports the Washington Post. Badat revealed in the deposition that he met Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan several times between 2000 and 2001. Jailed in 2005, his sentence was cut in exchange for his testimony and he has been freed. (WaPo, NY Daily News, CNN, BBC News)

Guantanamo: Lawyers for Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, one of the five accused 9/11 conspirators set to be arraigned next month at Guantanamo, have filed a motion calling for the end of “the presumption of classification” that applies to everything the Guantanamo detainees say, reports AFP.

Piracy trial: A crewmember on a German ship that was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2010 testified yesterday at an accused pirate negotiator’s trial in Norfolk, Virginia, about how the pirates tortured and threatened to execute him. (AP)

Spy satellites: James Risen reports in the NYT that the “nation’s spies and its military commanders are at odds over the future of America’s spy satellites, a divide that could determine whether the United States government will increasingly rely on its own eyes in the sky or on less costly commercial technology.” (NYT)

Conflict Zones
Less than a year after South Sudan declared independence from Sudan, the two countries slid toward conflict this week, and on Thursday, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir openly threatened a full-blown war, saying he would teach South Sudan a “final lesson by force.” A day earlier, he threatened to “liberate” South Sudan from the “insects” that rule it, reports the Washington Post. Last week, South Sudan claimed the contested, oil-rich region of Heglig, a move that the African Union condemned as illegal. Sudan responded by striking a town deep inside South Sudan with aerial bombs. South Sudanese military spokesman Philip Aguer said the South had repelled four attacks in the previous 24 hours. The two sides fought a brutal, decades-long civil war that ended in a 2005 peace deal. “The last thing the people of these two countries need is another war,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. (WaPo, NYT, LA Times, Time)

Afghanistan: The Taliban claimed responsibility Friday for downing a U.S. Black Hawk helicopter in Afghanistan. The four U.S. crew members are feared dead. (CNN)

Syria: Syria and the U.N. agreed to an increase of hundreds of U.N. observers to monitor the ceasefire, but international diplomats meeting in Paris expressed doubt the ceasefire could hold without tougher moves against the Assad regime. (Reuters, WSJ, AP)

Afghanistan: A Taliban commander turned himself into U.S. forces this week in order to collect the $100 that had been offered for his capture. (NY Post)

World News
UK: Three men from Birmingham were arrested at London’s Heathrow Airport on Thursday night after arriving from Oman on suspicion of possessing articles and documents with intent to use them for terrorist purposes overseas. (Guardian, BBC News)

UK: Al Qaeda militants have reportedly warned on jihadist sites of a terror attack on Britain if Islamic cleric Abu Qatada is deported to Jordan, as the UK government is attempting to do. (Telegraph)

Kazakhstan: Forty-seven people were sentenced to up to 15 years in prison for charges related to terrorism this week. (AP)

Arguments, Editorials, and Must Reads
David Cole on the Mehanna verdict and 39 ways to limit free speech: “Google ‘39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad’ and you’ll get over 590,000 hits,” writes Cole in the New York Review of Books. “You’ll find full-text English language translations of this Arabic document on the Internet Archive, an Internet library; on 4Shared Desktop, a file-sharing site; and on numerous Islamic sites. You will find it cited and discussed in a US Senate Committee staff report and Congressional testimony. Feel free to read it. Just don’t try to make your own translation from the original, which was written in Arabic in Saudi Arabia in 2003. Because if you look a little further on Google you will find multiple news accounts reporting that on April 12, a 29-year old citizen from Sudbury, Massachusetts named Tarek Mehanna was sentenced to seventeen and a half years in prison for translating ‘39 Ways’ and helping to distribute it online. As Anthony Lewis was wont to ask in his New York Times columns, ‘Is this America?’ Seventeen and a half years for translating a document?”

Benjamin Wittes and John Villasenor on the danger of regulating domestic drones on a deadline: “In February, President Obama signed into law a reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that requires the agency — on a fairly rapid schedule — to write rules opening U.S. airspace to unmanned aerial vehicles,” write Wittes and Villasenor in the Washington Post. “This puts the FAA at the center of a potentially dramatic set of policy changes that stand to usher in a long list of direct and indirect benefits. But the FAA is not a privacy agency. And although real privacy concerns have arisen about these aircraft, asking the agency to take on the role of privacy czar for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) would be a mistake.”

Joe Heim on how we’ve seen disturbing war images before: “We’ve seen these images before,” writes Heim in the Washington Post. “Photographs of victors posing with the corpses of their enemies. Photographs of the vanquished subjected to posthumous humiliation. From Iraq and Afghanistan. From Bosnia and Berlin. Rwanda and Darfur. Okinawa and Vietnam. No matter the war, no matter the perpetrator, what comes across in these photographs is almost always the same: They capture a moment where the humanity of both the living and the dead is absent. War dehumanizes, desensitizes. It can break the spirits of great men and create monsters of schoolboys. And the history of warfare is accompanied by a history of trophy taking and desecration. So, why are we still surprised?”

Ray Takeyh on why Iran’s mullahs can’t rest easy: “To many, it appears that Iran has achieved an autocratic stability, with the mullahs having vanquished the once-popular Green Movement,” writes Takeyh in the New York Times. “But beneath the facade of order and stability the clerical state continues to face a deep crisis of legitimacy. It is impossible to predict whether the Green Movement will revive. But whatever its fate, history suggests that another social movement is lurking around the corner, ready to challenge the clerics.”

Robin Simcox on the Abu Qatada farce: “Abu Qatada has described himself as ‘a simple teacher of Islam’ with ‘a big mouth and a big belly,” writes Simcox in the Wall Street Journal. “A Spanish judge called him Osama bin Laden’s ‘right-hand man in Europe.’ To the British government, he is now simply a huge embarrassment....The Westminster political class has largely bought into the notion that adhering to the European Convention on Human Rights makes us better than the terrorists. They must also then accept the consequences of that notion: Continuing to house a man who persuaded citizens of a country he should never have been allowed into to fight and die abroad; an erosion of sovereignty; and an exasperated and increasingly disenfranchised electorate. Mr. Qatada’s sermons often spoke of the need to undermine confidence in nation states. In more ways than one, he appears to be succeeding.”

The Economist on why al Qaeda is down, but not out: One reason the U.S. has slowed drone strikes against al Qaeda in recent months “is success: high-value targets have become rare,” writes The Economist. “Even as the core shrinks, however, the periphery is growing. Many al-Qaeda recruits who originally travelled to Pakistan now reckon they should carry on the fight elsewhere, in loosely affiliated groups such as AQAP in Yemen, Somalia’s al-Shabab or north Africa’s al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). For these often fractious groupings al-Qaeda may provide practical expertise, cash, weapons and communications skills.”

Reed Brody on the lack of justice at Guantanamo: The tribunal of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the accused USS Cole mastermind, “before the Guantanamo military commission raises problems that go far beyond the fact that he was tortured,” writes Brody in the LA Times. “Despite changes made to the commissions since President Obama was elected, they do not meet international fair trial standards. The Defense Department, for instance, handpicks the military judges and juror pool. And there is a massive inequality between the prosecution and the defense in terms of resources.”