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Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri
Arabic: عبد الرحيم النشيري
Born (1965-01-05) January 5, 1965
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;     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]


  • Background 1
  • Allegedly joined al-Qaeda 2
  • Arrest 3
  • Combatant Status Review 4
  • Interrogation 5
    • Order overruled 5.1
    • Charges dropped 5.2
    • Charges re-instated 5.3
    • Death penalty 5.4
    • Request to end the prosecution 5.5
    • Questioning whether Al Nashiri will continue to be detained if he is acquitted 5.6
    • Defense motions filed in April 2012 5.7
    • Jose Rodriguez's dispute over al Nashiri's role 5.8
  • Mental health examination 6
  • Military Commission 7
  • European Court of Human Rights decision 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


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 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]

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.[50][51]


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  4. ^ "U.S.: Top al Qaeda operative arrested". CNN. Retrieved May 16, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b "Detainee Biographies" (PDF).  
  6. ^ Price, Caitlin. "CIA chief confirms use of waterboarding on 3 terror detainees". Jurist Legal News & Research. 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".  
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  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. ^ a b  
  13. ^, "Goodbye to Guantanamo?", December 23, 2008
  14. ^ "U.S. drops Guantanamo charges per Obama order".  
  15. ^ "Executive Order -- Review and Disposition of Individuals Detained at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base and Closure of Detention Facilities".  
  16. ^ "Guantanamo court can't free bomb suspect, U.S. says". Reuters. November 2, 2011. 
  17. ^ a b c d e 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. 
  19. ^ Neil MacFarquhar, David Johnston (September 30, 2004). "Death Sentences in Attack on Cole".  
  20. ^ Goldman, Adam, "The hidden history of the CIA’s prison in Poland", Washington Post, January 23, 2014
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  24. ^  
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  27. ^ "CSRT censorship".  
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  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".  
  32. ^ "Judge rejects Obama bid to stall trial". NZ Herald - AP. January 29, 2009. Retrieved February 7, 2009. 
  33. ^ Media related to at Wikimedia Commons
  34. ^ "U.S. drops Guantanamo charges per Obama order".  
  35. ^  
  36. ^  
  37. ^ Peter Finn (September 29, 2011). "USS Cole Suspect Referred For Trial: Military commission at Guantanamo Bay to hear death penalty case".  
  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".   mirror
  40. ^ "USS Cole bombing suspect seeks release if acquitted".  
  41. ^ Media related to at Wikimedia Commons
  42. ^ Media related to at Wikimedia Commons
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  44. ^ Jim Garamone (April 13, 2012). (PDF).   Works related to More motions filed in al Nashiri case at Wikisource
  45. ^ a b   mirror
  46. ^ Jane Sutton (February 8, 2013). "Doctors to review USS Cole suspect's CIA detention records".  
  47. ^ Donna Miles (February 7, 2013). "Mental Health Test Delays Cole Bombing Suspect Hearings".  
  48. ^  
  49. ^ [2]
  50. ^ Poland 'helped in CIA rendition', European Court rules
  51. ^

External links

  • Al-Nashiri case may be dismissed over torture claims April 22, 2011
  • Polish prosecutors to investigate CIA black site torture allegations Deutsche Welle, October 8, 2010
  • Poland nudged to investigate acts in CIA prison September 22, 2010
  • AP Sources: Former FBI Man Implicated In CIA Abuse September 7, 2010
  • CIA interrogated al-Qaeda suspect in Poland, claims UN The News, January 28, 2010
  • The Final 9/11 Commission Report
  • al-Nashiri says torture prompted confession to USS Cole bombing March 30, 2007
  • Probe of USS Cole Bombing Unravels Washington Post May 4, 2008
  • Riz Khan - Secret CIA prisons- Al Jazeera English report about the case of al-Nashiri (video, 22 mins)
  • Works related to CSRT Summary of Evidence memo for Abd Al Rahim Hussein Mohammed Al Nashiri at Wikisource
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