November 18, 2009 | Weekly Standard Blog

Al Qaeda’s Civil Liberties Union

A look at the other terrorists embraced by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's ACLU lawyers.

“I'll talk to you guys after I get to New York and see my lawyer.”

That, according to former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, is what September 11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) said when he was captured in March 2003.

But of course the Bush administration did not grant KSM his wish. Instead, the master terrorist was seen as a potentially vital source of intelligence on al Qaeda, which had caught America sleeping less than two years earlier. If U.S. intelligence officials could get him to talk, the Bush administration and the U.S. intelligence community reasoned, then they could learn many of al Qaeda's well-guarded secrets.

And talk, KSM did. So much so, in fact, that he became the U.S. government's “preeminent source” on al Qaeda and even the “most prolific” detainee in custody. While in the CIA's detention, he identified (both wittingly and unwittingly) numerous of his fellow al Qaeda terrorists and divulged the details of much of al Qaeda's post-September 11 plotting.

If KSM were initially shipped to New York for trial, however, the outcome would most likely have been very different. As former DCI Tenet writes in his book At the Center of the Storm: “I believe none of these [counterterrorism] successes would have happened if we had to treat KSM like a white-collar criminal – read him his Miranda rights and get him a lawyer who surely would have insisted that his client simply shut up.”

Tenet is undoubtedly right in this regard. KSM's lawyers surely would have advised him to clam up. Who are KSM's lawyers, in any event?

They are members of the ACLU's John Adams Project, which is run in conjunction with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL). The John Adams Project represents Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the four other 9/11 conspirators the Obama administration has decided to move to U.S. soil for trial. Thus, it is not surprising that the ACLU has praised the controversial move, saying it was “a major victory for due process and the rule of law.”

It is nothing of the sort, but the ACLU consistently portrays itself in this light–as if it is only concerned with protecting the “rule of law.” The reality is quite different. The ACLU has worked diligently to undermine America's stance in what was formerly known as the “war on terror,” and has even been willing to disseminate propaganda on behalf of our jihadist enemies.

If you think this is hyperbole or an exaggeration, consider a video released by the ACLU earlier this month titled “Justice Denied: Voices from Guantanamo.” As you would expect, the video portrays Gitmo in the worst possible light. But it goes well beyond any semblance of rational criticism. As Sahab, al Qaeda's media arm, could very well have produced it. The short video is pure anti-American propaganda, starring men who have dedicated their lives to the jihadist cause.

The ACLU's narrator begins by explaining that the men featured in the video were merely at the “wrong place” at the wrong time when they were captured. “They had the wrong appearance and practiced the wrong religion,” the narrator says. “And for that, they were kidnapped, detained, interrogated, and tortured without trial or evidence.”

The message is simple: America is an evil, bigoted nation that randomly imprisoned and tortured Muslim men at Gitmo.

There's just one problem: The men embraced by the ACLU do not fit this mindlessly anti-American storyline.

The first former Gitmo detainee to tell his story is Moazzam Begg. Begg made news earlier this year when he agreed to be the poster boy for a video game that would have allowed users to pretend they were innocents detained at Gitmo. The game's protagonists would then blast their way out of the detention facility, killing “mercenaries” (in reality, American soldiers) in the process. The game was quickly canceled after public outcry forced the company producing it to reconsider.

That Begg would lend his name to this revenge fantasy–told from the perspective of al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists–should have exposed him once and for all.

But it has not. The former Gitmo detainee has made a career out of pretending he was innocent when he was detained in Pakistan in January 2002. He is regularly cited in the Western press as an authority on Guantanamo. And his web site,, is a prolific propaganda organ for Begg and his fellow Guantanamo detainees, who are always presented as innocents wrongly seized by the American government.

The ACLU's video embraces Begg's charade, claiming that he was in Afghanistan merely to set up a school. That is not true.

The diminutive Begg has a long history of supporting terrorist causes. The U.S. government's summary of evidence memo, which was written in conjunction with Begg's combatant status review tribunal (CSRT) hearing at Gitmo, includes a number of serious allegations. Begg “recruited individuals to attend al Qaeda run terrorist training camps in Afghanistan,” provided “money and material support” for these camps, and had himself “received extensive training at al Qaeda run terrorist training camps in 1993.” The U.S. government also alleged that Begg sheltered the families of al Qaeda members when the jihadists went off to commit “terrorist acts” and retreated to Tora Bora in late 2001 alongside his fellow Taliban and al Qaeda members.

Since being released from Gitmo, Begg has claimed that none of this is true and that he was “tortured” into confessing to these and other false allegations. But as the Department of Justice's Inspector General found, Begg is lying.

The DOJ's Office of the Inspector General completed a report in May 2008 detailing its investigation into the FBI's handling of Begg, as well as other detainees, at Guantanamo and elsewhere. The OIG found that Begg had signed a statement indicating “among other things”:

” that Begg sympathized with the cause of al Qaeda, attended terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and England so that he could assist in waging global jihad against enemies of Islam, including Russia and India; associated with and assisted several prominent terrorists and supporters of terrorists and discussed potential terrorist acts with them; recruited young operatives for the global jihad; and provided financial support for terrorist training camps.”

Begg signed the statement on February 13, 2003. The statement included eight single-spaced pages of admissions. The OIG further found:

“Notations that appear to be Begg's hand-written initials appear at the beginning and end of each paragraph of the statement. The statement also has additions and deletions that are also initialed. These include both minor and substantive changes. For example, on the first page Begg apparently corrected the spelling of one of his aliases, changed 'handguns' to 'handgun,' and deleted 'hand' in front of 'grenades.' On page 3, Begg apparently changed the statement 'I am unsure of the exact amount of money sent to terrorist training camps of the many years I helped fund the camps,' by replacing the word 'many' with the words 'couple of.' On page 4, he added the following sentence apparently for purposes of explanation for his conduct: 'This was to help the Kurds in Iraq.' “

Begg's admissions, which he initialed and edited only to provide additional clarity, are incredibly damning. This is likely the chief reason that the American national security establishment (including the DOD, CIA, and FBI) all recommended that he remain at Gitmo instead of being released.

There is no evidence that Begg was forced to confess to these troubling allegations. The OIG “concluded that the evidence did not support the allegation that [FBI agents] coerced Begg into signing the statement.” The Department of Defense also performed three investigations into Begg's claims of abuse while in military custody and “found no evidence to substantiate his claims.” The OIG reported that Begg even helped U.S. officials in their investigations.

Thus, Begg is an admitted terrorist whose claims of “torture” and “abuse” are almost certainly fabricated in order to smear the American war effort. Yet, the ACLU has no qualms about trumpeting this jihadist's claims in an online video.

Another former detainee featured in the short film is Bisher al Rawi. The ACLU's narrator tells us he was detained in Gambia for no good reason and he just wanted to “open a peanut factory.” That's not true. Al Rawi was detained because of his close relationship with Abu Qatada–a known al Qaeda cleric who has inspired jihadists for years and has accurately been described as “Osama bin Laden's ambassador in Europe.”

In a memo prepared for al Rawi's combatant status review tribunal (CSRT), the U.S. government alleged that al Rawi helped Abu Qatada remain on the lam while British authorities searched for him. During his CSRT hearing, al Rawi conceded that Qatada is his “friend,” that he helped find an apartment for Qatada, that he helped translate for him, and even that he transferred money from Qatada to the al Qaeda cleric's father. This money, U.S. intelligence officials alleged, may have been used to fund Palestinian suicide bombings.

There can be no doubt that al Rawi revered Qatada. During his CSRT hearing, he had the following back and forth with a member of his tribunal:

[Tribunal Member] Did you consider Abu Qatada to have any Islamic authority or any authority to issue a Fatwa?

[Al Rawi] Yes. People would come and ask him all the time. I would translate for him.

[Tribunal Member] Did he ever issue a Fatwa or Jihad against the United States, the United Kingdom, or any of its coalition partners?

[Al Rawi] I don't believe he has. He approves and encourages people to go to Jihad (holy war). He has worse things to say about a country like Jordon or our part of the world, than he does about the West. However, he doesn't say good things about the West either.

Naturally, al Rawi tried to portray his close working relationship with Qatada in a benign light. Al Rawi claimed that the al Qaeda cleric did not approve of the September 11 attacks and that he did not know of Qatada's al Qaeda ties.

But al Rawi's denials ring hollow. Qatada's extremist connections have long been known, even if the British were slow to act on them. And during his interrogations and debriefings, al Rawi was apparently more forthcoming about his relationship with Qatada. One memo prepared at Gitmo notes that al Rawi “was aware that [Qatada] traveled to Afghanistan and speculated that he met with Osama bin Laden.” Al Rawi also “considers himself a fundamentalist” and “felt at war with the United States” even while he lived in London, U.S. intelligence officials alleged. U.S. officials also concluded that al Rawi was part of Qatada's jihadist indoctrination and recruitment program. At the end of the day, al Rawi's fealty to Abu Qatada cannot be denied. Al Rawi has conceded as much.

There is something especially twisted about the ACLU's promotion of Abu Qatada's protégé. Just recently it came to light that British officials are worried about Qatada's enduring, malicious influence even from behind bars. But while UK officials are attempting to limit Qatada's ability to disseminate his propaganda, the ACLU has decided to broadcast his protégé's anti-American claims all over the Internet.

Begg and al Rawi are not the only conspicuous former Gitmo detainees shown in the ACLU's video.

At the beginning of the production, several men are standing together as the narrator proclaims them all innocent. One of the men is Binyam Mohamed, who has admitted to training in an al Qaeda terrorist camp. U.S. intelligence believes Mohamed was en route to America to take part in an al Qaeda operation in 2002 when he was captured. Mohamed was most likely going to assist al Qaeda operative Jose Padilla in attempting to bring down apartment buildings using natural gas lines. The plot was conceived by senior al Qaeda leaders, including KSM.

Binyam Mohamed has become something of a false martyr in the UK, where every one of his claims of abuse is amplified repeatedly by the press. Yet, his al Qaeda ties have consistently been downplayed. This pattern is repeated by the ACLU, which includes Mohamed among its count of Gitmo detainees who were wrongly imprisoned and tortured but says nothing of his known al Qaeda associations or putative desire to kill Americans.

For years, the ACLU and like-minded organizations have pushed for federal trials of al Qaeda terrorists. That wish, which was also Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's, was granted (in part) by the Obama administration last week. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the ACLU's five clients, all 9/11 conspirators, would be tried in New York.

“For over 200 years our nation has relied upon a faithful adherence to the rule of law,” Holder said, implying that the trials were necessary in order to keep America true to her legal heritage. This is nonsense, of course, as the Obama administration could have easily tried the five in lawful military commissions. In fact, the administration decided to do just that in the cases of five other Guantanamo detainees.

There must be another reason for the announcement. Holder's words were likely intended to echo those that have been repeated time and again by far-leftist organizations such as the ACLU.

But the ACLU cannot tell the difference between us and our enemies–as its own propaganda shows.

Therefore, it does not bode well for America's counterterrorism efforts that the Obama administration is in agreement with al Qaeda's useful idiots.

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.