9/11 Judge: "Why Is This So Hard?"

Saturday's arraignment of the alleged 9/11 conspirators at Guantanamo's war court wheezed along like an old man with a two-pack-a-day habit, with the accused boycotting the proceedings and their defense attorneys seeking to shift the focus of the proceeding to their clients' abuse in American custody. 

"He is not participating because of the torture that was imposed upon him," said David Nevin, the attorney representing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Nevin said that Mohammed, who appeared in white attire with his beard dyed reddish-brown, was "deeply concerned about the fairness of the proceeding." 

All five detainees opted to silently protest the arraignment, where it took about an hour and a half merely to establish legal representation for the defendants as Judge Captain James L. Pohl struggled to control the courtroom at times. The hearing was a stark contrast from four years earlier, when Mohammed had gone on an six-minute rant claiming responsibility for everything from the 9/11 attacks to the gruesome murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Where Mohammed had once sought to be tried by military commission, comparing himself to George Washington battling the British, Saturday he showed no evidence of his previous taste for theatrics and bombast. The Obama administration had initially intended to try Mohammed and his alleged co-conspirators in a federal court in New York but reversed course after a fierce bipartisan backlash. While opponents of a criminal trial argued that it would be both a security risk and a spectacle, the scene at Gitmo's war court could only be described as a mess.

"I think a federal judge would have said, 'Sit down, counsel!' about 90 minutes ago," said Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel with Human Rights Watch, who was observing the arraignment from Fort Meade, Maryland. On the other hand, Prasow said, Pohl may be concerned about how bringing the hammer down on the defense might impact the legitimacy of the proceedings, since military commissions are more favorably disposed toward the prosecution than federal courts. "Pohl is obviously aware that the world is watching," Prasow said.

Mohammed and the other detainees removed or failed to use their earphones, forcing Judge Pohl to bring in translators to simultaneously relay the proceedings in Arabic to the stoic defendants. The video feed for the war court, which is delayed in order to prevent accidental disclosure of classified information, cut out for a few moments. When it returned, Nevin accused the court of cutting the feed to block any reference to Mohammed's alleged torture. At one point, Ramzi bin al-Shibh halted the proceedings by rising to pray. Two of the detainees, Ammar al-Baluchi and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al-Hawsawi, passed around a copy of The Economist. Cheryl Bormann, an attorney for Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin' Attash, appeared in a black cloak and head scarf, advising the judge that other women in the courtroom should dress more conservatively because the defendants were worried about "committing a sin under their faith." Bin' Attash had been restrained to his chair because he had reportedly refused to come willingly to the court—painfully, his attorney said. Nevertheless, he refused to speak directly to Judge Pohl to assure him he would "behave" if the restraints were removed. Following a lengthy exchange, Bin' Attash promised his attorney he would not disturb the proceedings, and Judge Pohl directed the guards to undo his restraints. 

Around 90 minutes into the proceedings, Pohl finally managed to ask each detainee whether he accepted the legal representation assigned to him. The detainees refused to respond—some staring at their laps, others flipping through The Economist—as Pohl repeated over and over, "The accused refuses to answer."

Ramzi bin al-Shibh was the only defendant to speak directly to Judge Pohl during the proceeding.  "Maybe they are going to kill us at the camp and say we have committed suicide," the detainee said. 

About two hours into the proceedings, Judge Pohl finally expressed frustration at the pace of the arraignment. "Why is this so hard?" he asked. And we haven't even gotten to the trial yet.

This Week in Dark Money

A quick look at the week that was in the world of political dark money.

Can Obama be swift boated? That's the idea behind this attack ad from Veterans for a Strong America, which slams the president for taking too much credit for Osama bin Laden's death. The group's founder tells Mother Jones' Adam Weinstein that he's recruiting Navy SEALs to openly criticize Obama: "We're gonna be rolling some of those folks out soon." Want to know who's funding the group? Sorry, it's a 501(c)4, so it doesn't have to reveal its donors or how much money it has.

Wall Street donors are bearish on Obama: In the New York Times Magazine, Nicholas Confessore reports on President Obama's uneasy relationship with lords of finance who don't think he's been friendly enough to their industry. "This administration has a more contemptuous view of big money and of Wall Street than any administration in 40 years," one Obama donor explains. Also in the magazine, Adam Davidson profiles Edward Conard, one of Romney's former partners at Bain Capital and a major (and once semi-secret) donor to the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future. Conard is putting the finishing touches on his book, Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You've Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong, which argues that the wealth and influence of the superrich are signs of economic strength. 

Occupiers want to get back on the airwaves: The group behind a series of Occupy Wall Street ads that aired last fall is trying to raise $150,000 to revitalize the movement and counteract the influence of super-PACs with a new ad campaign. "You have ten billionaires controlling all the political messaging in this country," Occupy Spots organizer Gina Levy explained to TechPresident. The relaunched campaign is encouraging supporters to submit their spots for consideration by May 21.

Romney winning fans in the owners' box: Romney may have "some great friends who are NASCAR team owners," but Businessweek reports that he also has the support of a number of sports bigwigs, from New York Knicks owner James Dolan to the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones. But Obama remains popular with athletes, who tend to support Democrats.

TV stations must post political ad info: As Mother Jones' Andy Kroll reports, the Federal Communications Commission has ruled that TV stations must post online information about the political ads they air. The catch? The ruling only applies to the top 50 TV markets, exempting some battleground states entirely. To see if your local stations are covered by the decision, see this handy map by the Sunlight Foundation. (Green means yes, red means no.)

Lawmakers' super-PAC deal under scrutiny: Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) could be in hot water for setting up a deal in which $50,000 in PAC money was funneled to a super-PAC backing Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) in his tight primary in March. As iWatch News' Michael Beckel reports, Schock's move suggests that candidates could use super-PACs to get around limits on campaign donations. (Candidates may not take more than $5,000 from a regular PAC, but super-PACs can spend unlimited money to promote—or attack—a candidate.)

Mitt Romney

Richard Grenell, Mitt Romney's newly christened foreign policy spokesman, stepped down from the campaign on Tuesday. Grenell, who is gay, had come under fire from social conservative activists who viewed his hiring as a slap in the face. Although a Romney spokesman claimed the campaign had wanted Grenell to stay on, Romney staffers had already begun to shut him out before his resignation, counseling the gay foreign policy spokesman to stay silent during a recent campaign press call on foreign policy. 

The episode is reminiscent of a controversy that occurred when Romney was governor of Massachusetts: The 2004 dismissal of Ardith Wieworka, longtime head of the state's Office of Child Care Services, who alleged that she had been terminated because of her decision to marry her partner.

In May of that year, the same month same-sex marriage was legalized in the Bay State, the Northeastern University press office published a story announcing that Wieworka intended to marry her longtime partner, Carol Lyons, who worked at the school as the dean of career services.

The next month, Romney traveled to Washington, DC, to testify in support of a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. "Marriage is…a fundamental and universal social institution that bears a real and substantial relation to the public health, safety, morals, and general welfare of all the people of Massachusetts," he told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Two weeks later, the Boston Globe reported that Ronald Preston, Romney's state health and human services commissioner, asked Wieworka to resign.

A veteran of three previous Republican administrations, Wieworka was at a loss about why she was fired. (She declined to comment for this story.) She told the Boston Globe later that month that, absent any clear motive, she suspected her ouster may have been a result of marriage:

Earlier this week, Wieworka strongly suggested that her firing was connected to her recent marriage to her lesbian partner. She said yesterday that she was not saying that was the reason, but that she wanted to raise the question in the absence of other credible explanations.

"When you accuse someone of something, you've reached a conclusion," Wieworka said yesterday. "I want to look into the motivation."

Wieworka noted that Preston's explanation for the move changed considerably over time. He initially said it was due to restructuring, but later suggested that Wieworka had also been uncooperative. He never offered a clear, specific reason for the termination. Romney and Preston vehemently denied Wieworka's firing had anything to do with her marriage, however. The governor told the Globe that Wieworka's sexual orientation was something he only learned about after she had been fired. Preston called the idea that Wieworka was fired for her marriage "an outrageous allegation with no foundation whatsoever." (Preston now teaches medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.)

Whatever the explanation, the move was divisive. "[T]hose who have worked with Wieworka express shock and dismay at her departure," Boston Magazine reported. The Boston Globe editorial board—making no mention of Wieworka's charge of discrimination—panned the firing, writing "It is unfortunate that Preston could not work out a way to make use of Wieworka's considerable experience and talent."

In the eyes of Massachusetts's LGBT community, the firing had a certain resonance. The state's LGBT monthly, Bay Windows, noted the firing in a January 2012 piece detailing Romney's record on gay issues as governor. Whether or not Wieworka's marriage played a part in her termination, the timing of her departure was fitting: The episode came as Romney was in the midst of his political evolution from a gay-friendly, pro-choice moderate into someone culture warriors could believe in—an evolution, as Grenell's resignation shows, that is far from finished.

Yonas Fikre

Last month, Mother Jones broke the story of Yonas Fikre. An American Muslim now living in Sweden, Fikre claims he was tortured in the United Arab Emirates at the US government's request after refusing to become an informant for the FBI. On Tuesday, less than three weeks after Fikre's allegations were made public, the Justice Department charged Fikre, his brother Dawit Woldehawariat, and a third man, Abrehaile Haile, with conspiring to hide $75,000 worth of money transfers to the UAE and Sudan from the government, all in violation of federal reporting requirements for large international financial transactions. Woldehawariat, Fikre's brother, was also charged with failing to file a tax return in 2009 and 2010.

There are no allegations of terrorism associated with the charges. 

Gadeir Abbas, a lawyer with the Council on American-Islamic Relations who has been working with Fikre, told Mother Jones on Wednesday that the federal charges were retaliation for Fikre's refusal to cooperate with the FBI. "It is disappointing but not surprising that the FBI is retaliating against Yonas by filing specious charges against him after they promised to make his life difficult after he refused to become their informant," Abbas wrote in an email. "While FBI agents lied to Yonas about many things, in this case, it seems that they have kept their word."

Thomas Nelson, Fikre's Portland, Oregon-based lawyer, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on Tuesday that he was unaware of the charges against his client. But Abbas said he's been in touch with Nelson since then and the two are working together to decide what to do next.

Here's the charging document:


And here's the detention request:


Obama Wants to Send Our Guns Overseas

(Yeah, yeah, we know it's a Glock.)

Barack Obama's stealth war on guns continues apace: The White House is currently working to ease restrictions on exports of guns and other American-made weaponry, a move that could be a boon for domestic gunmakers.

The Department of Homeland Security has reservations about the rule changes, stating in a memo that they could make it harder "to prevent or deter the illegal export/transfer of lethal items such as advanced firearms to criminal groups, terrorist organizations or enemy combatants." Gunmakers, however, are pleased as punch. "Our industry supports the White House Export Control Reform Initiative," a lawyer for the firearms manufacturers' lobby group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, told the Washington Post.

How is the National Rifle Association going to spin this? The 4-million-member pro-gun group has put an electoral target on Obama's back, but it also needs to do right by arms manufacturers like Colt, Smith & Wesson, and Ruger, which have given the NRA as much as $39 million since 2005, according to the Violence Policy Center (PDF).

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Gov. Scott Walker and his conservative allies have spent nearly $17 million to boost his candidacy in Wisconsin's looming recall election. What have they got to show for it?

Nothing, according to a new Marquette University Law School poll.

Despite all the TV ads attacking Democrat Tom Barrett and touting Walker's supposedly job-centric agenda in Wisconsin, all the mailers, websites, and other campaign messaging, Walker trails Barrett by a single percentage point, 47-46, in the new Marquette poll. (The margin of error for the recall election is ±4 percentage points.) What's more, as the Washington Post's Greg Sargent notes, the Marquette poll shows that Walker's approval rating remains frozen at around 50 percent. All that spending and the people of Wisconsin are just as divided as ever on the performance of their governor.

There's more good news in the poll for Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee who lost to Walker in Wisconsin's 2010 gubernatorial election. He leads former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk, the other top Democrat in the May 8 recall primary, by a healthy 17 point margin, 38-21. Barrett, it seems, has all but sewn up Democratic nomination, even after labor unions dropped millions to boost Falk.

Should Falk somehow pull off a last-ditch, she'd face an uphill battle against Walker. In the Marquette poll, she trails the governor 49 percent to 43 percent.

More good news for Democrats: President Obama leads presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney 51 percent to 42 percent in the Marquette poll.

Osama bin Laden

On Thursday, the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at West Point released 17 declassified documents from the raid that killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, along with a report on the records. Thousands of documents were reportedly discovered at bin Laden's Pakistan hideout, so the handful of communications released reflect purely what the government wants you to see. Here are some highlights:

Does this Anwar al-Awlaki guy have a résumé? Despite Awlaki's infamous reputation in the United States, Osama bin Laden had his doubts about whether the New Mexico-born cleric was qualified to take over as the leader of Al Qaeda's Yemen affiliate, in part due to his lack of battlefield experience. "[O]ver here we are generally assured after people go to the battlefield and are tested there," bin Laden wrote in a message. Like the head of any organization interviewing candidates for a key post, bin Laden demanded "the resume, in detail and lengthy, of brother Anwar al-Awlaki." Aside from appreciating the propaganda value of showing bin Laden belittling Awlaki, the government likely sees this document as proof of the cleric's Al Qaeda membership, therefore justifying the September drone strike that took his life

Can you believe our fanatical internet commenters? Terrorism analysts often keep abreast of trends in jihadist ideology by following online extremist forums. And Al Qaeda propagandist Adam Gadahn thought these Al Qaeda-inspired chat rooms were too extreme and were "characterized by religious fanaticism," in the words of the CTC report. He complained: "[The forums are] repulsive to most of the Muslims" and "distorts the face of al Qaeda." And you thought the comments section at Politico sucked.

President Biden will destroy America. Osama bin Laden had an pretty low opinion of Vice President Joe Biden, almost as if he had been reading too many Biden-themed Onion articles. He wanted Al Qaeda to down planes carrying President Obama or then-General David Petraeus, believing that a Biden presidency would place America on a short path to oblivion. "Obama is the head of infidelity and killing him automatically will make Biden take over the presidency for the remainder of the term," bin Laden wrote. "Biden is totally unprepared for that post, which will lead the US into a crisis."

Seriously, guys, stop killing (Muslim) civilians! The CTC report concludes that while bin Laden "enjoyed little control" over Al Qaeda's regional affiliates, he was constantly worried that the Muslim civilian deaths caused by his foot soldiers had "led to the loss of the Muslims sympathetic approach towards the mujehadin." Indeed, Pew released a study this week that showed that a year after his death, bin Laden's personal popularity in Muslim countries had significantly declined over the last decade. 

Sheesh, give us at least some credit for collapsing your economy, America. Gadahn was happy to see Americans suffering from a faltering economy, but he was angry the media wasn't giving Al Qaeda more credit. "[A]ll the political talk in America is about the economy, forgetting or ignoring the war and its role in weakening the economy," Gadahn wrote. Describing a press conference held shortly after the 2010 midterm elections, Gadahn vented: "not one of the journalists dared to embarrass Obama by questioning him about the influence on the American budget and the national economy of spending the billions yearly on the two wars of Afghanistan and Iraq."

American history, Al Qaeda-style. Gadahn cautions against identifying American Founding Father Benjamin Franklin as a US president, because doing so could make Al Qaeda leaders look stupid. "[P]lenty of the Americans may also think that (Franklin) a president, because of his picture on the currency that usually carries the photos of the presidents," Gadahn writes. "But such a mistake may be used to slander the Shaykh [bin Laden or his second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri], and accuse him of talking about something he does not master (politics)."

MSNBC, CBS, ABC are okay; FOX and CNN are wack. In what is sure to be powerful catnip for right-wing media, the documents show Gadahn referring to Fox News as "lacking neutrality" and expresses the hope that it will "die in anger." By contrast, he describes ABC as "all right" and says MSNBC "may be good and neutral a bit," but complains that it recently fired Keith Olbermann and Octavia Nasr (Nasr was actually with CNN). Bin Laden refers to CBS as "neutral." Gadahn says "CNN seems to be in cooperation with the government more than the others (except Fox News of course)" and complains that most networks just steal wire copy from Reuters and the Associated Press.


A paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, pulls security during a combined US–Afghan clearing operation on April 28, 2012, in Ghazni province, Afghanistan. He is set up in the ruins of an old kalat, or mud-wall building. US Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod.

Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.)

Rep. Allen West, a tea party congressman who believes the House Progressive Caucus is filled with communists, may be the most polarizing of the 93 GOP freshmen, but he's revered by conservatives—some of whom have floated him as an (implausible) vice presidential choice. His status as the right wing's national security guru makes West's comments in Robert Draper's new profile of the 112th Congress, Do Not Ask What Good We Do, kind of damning. West, a 22-year-military veteran, was concerned about Mitt Romney's basic grasp of foreign policy:

It amazed him how some of his fellow Republicans remained clueless when it came to the basics of foreign policy—including Afghanistan, where America had spent the past decade at war. He had winced when he heard presidential candidate Mitt Romney referring to "the Afghanis." Afghanis were the country's currency! "Hugely embarrassing," West said. (Months later, when GOP presidential contender Herman Cain dismissed his own ignorance of the country he referred to as "Uz-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan," a disgusted West muttered, "Not funny at all."

Draper's sketch of West focuses on the congressman's complicated relationship with the Congressional Black Caucus (he's the only GOP member), and his unflinching military ethos (West analogizes his arrival in Washington to Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon). West does not suffer fools—or at least people he considers to be fools, whatever the basis in fact—gladly. The entire book is worth a read.

Former speaker of the house Newt Gingrich, in happier times.

Newt Gingrich thanked all of the usual suspects at his campaign sendoff in a crowded room in the second floor of the Ballston, Virginia, Hilton on Tuesday. He thanked his two debate coaches, grandson Robert and granddaughter Maggie. He thanked his wife, Callista. He thanked Bill O'Brien, the speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives. He thanked Texas Gov. Rick Perry, satirist Herman Cain*, and former Alaska First Dude Todd Palin.

Then he threw in two more names. "And of course, while they weren't directly associated with the campaign, it would be impossible for me to be here without Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who single-handedly came very, very close to matching Romney's super-PAC," he said. "I'm very, very grateful."