Journalism in the Public Interest

A Public Indictment Could Shed Light on CIA’s Secret Program

Human rights researchers years ago identified a man who may have been held secretly by the CIA, and whose whereabouts were unknown. It appears than man is now in custody in New York.


Ibrahim Suleiman Adnan Adam Harun, also known as Spin Ghul, is scheduled to appear in federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y., today after being charged with six terrorism-related counts. (Chip East/Reuters)

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn unsealed an indictment Wednesday charging Ibrahim Suleiman Adnan Adam Harun with six terrorism-related counts.

The announcement that Harun is in U.S. custody in New York may also shed light on a small part one of the most secretive aspects of U.S. counterterrorism operations during the Bush administration: What became of terror suspects held by the CIA in its network of “black-site” prisons around the world? Or disappeared into foreign cells in extraordinary renditions?

With their indictment of Harun, prosecutors offered a basic account of how the 43-year-old Nigerian – described as “a prototype Al Qaeda Operative” – spent the last decade. He fought U.S. forces in Afghanistan, prosecutors said, before leaving for Africa, where he allegedly conspired to bomb U.S. diplomatic facilities. Harun, also known by his alias Spin Ghul, eventually wound up in Libyan prison for six years before he was released amid the turmoil of the uprising against Muammar Qaddafi.

Did the U.S. know that he was in Libya, and did they play a role in his detention? Did the CIA work with the Libyans to then obtain information from him?

Testimony from an alleged former CIA detainee, a leaked document from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, and evidence from cases of others rendered to Libya suggest that might be so.

A spokesman for the CIA said that the agency “does not, as a rule, comment on matters before the courts.” The U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York declined to provide information beyond what was announced with the indictment. A lawyer for Harun, David Stern, also declined to comment.

The CIA has steadfastly refused to comment on the fates of most former detainees, publicly accounting for only 16 people of the roughly 100 the agency has said it once held. The U.S. has successfully dismissed lawsuits over rendition and asserted that much about the CIA program is still classified.

President Obama, for his part, ordered the CIA black-site prisons closed when he took office. (He allowed renditions to continue, with pledges of greater oversight of the countries where suspects were sent.) But still, little about the program has been officially disclosed.

Human Rights Watch and other organizations, as a consequence, have been trying to piece together the details of the CIA’s detention and rendition programs for years. In 2009, ProPublica published a list of more than thirty people believed to have been held by the CIA whose whereabouts were still unknown—including a Spin Ghul.

Now and then, the fates of these detainees have emerged in the press or through rights groups, particularly since the upheaval caused by the Arab Spring.

Joanne Mariner, a senior researcher with Amnesty International who worked on identifying former detainees for Human Rights Watch, said that the information in the indictment of Harun lines up with what she knew about Spin Ghul. Operating in an arena of such secrecy, “when all this was going on, we'd get these little clues and bits of information. It's really quite interesting to see confirmation that these people did exist,” she said.

Marwan Jabour, who alleges he was held in Afghanistan by the CIA (“Ghost Prisoner,”) told Human Rights Watch that he was shown photos of Harun (whom he called Ghul) during interrogations, and was led to believe he was in U.S. custody. Jabour had met Harun in Pakistan in 2003, and described him as an African who spoke Arabic. Jabour was held from 2004 to 2006, during which time, according to this week’s indictment, Harun was arrested in Libya.

A 2007 document from Guantanamo, released by Wikileaks, cites detailed information provided by Harun. For example: “Ghul also noted that Saudi authorities had detained Saudi Al Qaeda members…Ghul remarked that these two individuals were Al Qaeda members since approximately 1995.” In the document he is identified as both Harun and Ghul, and described as a “Nigerian [sic] national and Al Qaeda operative.” The citations refer to CIA intelligence reports, but don’t specify where Harun was or when he provided the information.

Since Qaddafi’s fall, evidence has emerged of close communication between the CIA and Libyan officials during the Bush administration, despite the Qaddafi regime’s reputation for torture and brutal prison conditions. Documents found in the abandoned office of Libya’s former top intelligence official refer to the rendition of several people to Libya and the sharing of information. Other “missing prisoners” believed to have been held by the CIA turned up in Libyan prisons. Some of them have given detailed accounts of detention in U.S. custody before being sent there.

“The U.S. delegated a lot of its detention capacity to abusive governments like Libya— they were perfectly happy to have Libya holding these people,” says Mariner.

If the U.S. did know he was in Libya, it took authorities some time to catch up with him after he gained his freedom in June 2011.

After his release, Harun told prosecutors, he was placed on a ship full of Libyan refugees bound for Italy, where he was arrested for assaulting officials onboard. Italian authorities agreed to extradite him to the U.S. last fall.

Harun is the latest in a recent string of terror suspects brought to federal court from overseas by the Obama administration – including Osama Bin Laden’s son-in-law Abu Gaith, who pleaded not guilty in federal court in Manhattan to conspiring to kill Americans earlier this month.

Some Congressional Republicans have insisted that such cases are better prosecuted in military commissions like the one at Guantanamo. Senator Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said of Harun: “the administration has once again decided to forgo an extensive intelligence interrogation and instead bring an enemy combatant immediately into the federal court system.”

According to court documents, Harun was interviewed by U.S. officials last September in Italy, with his Italian counsel present. He waived his Miranda Rights before those sessions. The indictment against him remained sealed because the government believed “he may be in a position to provide information…relevant to the national security of the United States.”

Harun is scheduled to appear in court in Brooklyn this afternoon, and could face life in prison. Whether or not his trial reveals more about the CIA’s role, at the very least, Harun can be crossed off the list of the missing.

Errr…I realize I’m about to focus on a very minor part of the article, but I feel like the main point has a fairly obvious reaction:  Nothing changed except that the CIA went further underground.

That said…Spin Ghul?  Was he “the demon DJ” or something?  Or is “Spin” the transliteration of an Arabic word?

Ghul, I recognize from my astronomy (cough—and comic books) as demon/ghoul.  But “spin” isn’t a remarkably scary name.

I ask because I’m trying to get a sense of what sort of person we’re talking about.  It’s no secret, obviously, that the CIA’s dragnet for terrorists has turned up more than a couple of false positives.  And “Spin Ghul” doesn’t sound like a very good terrorist, at any rate.

The CIA got to my family as well—they are missing. We are victims of terrorism.

Now the real terrorist, noted in the website gets a lot of love, support and help from the government and the American people—strangely.

Spin Ghul sounds like a completely phony name made up to try to create an “entity” to assign the Spin of the Higgs boson to

“Harun, also known by his alias Spin Ghul” did make me laugh; al Qaeda hires Spin Ghuls while, here at home, Fox hires spin ghouls.

Senator Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said of Harun: “the administration has once again decided to forgo an extensive intelligence interrogation and instead bring an enemy combatant immediately into the federal court system.”

On the other hand, there seems to be a compelling lack of evidence to support the hypothesis that previous “extensive intelligence interrogation[s]” - to include “enhanced” interrogations (a.k.a. torture) - have yielded actionable intelligence sufficient to outweigh either the consequential stain upon America’s honor or the equally enhanced recruiting tool that stain provides to al Qaeda.

My personal beliefs parallel what was supposed to have happened in Afghanistan.  Before Republican dereliction transformed Afghanistan into a costly occupation, the mission was to get in, get UBL, and get out; that is, the swift delivery of justice.  So it should go with all al Qaeda operatives: Preferably, we kill them - but if we do capture them, then we deliver justice swiftly rather than create a festering sore for al Qaeda and the rest of America’s enemies to poke at for years on end.

The Republican objections cause me to suspect that they or somebody they represent see a path to more political power and wealth (while noting that the Republicans excel at increasing their wealth by increasing their political power) in the long-term incarceration - and national embarrassment - of justice delayed; certainly denying justice to prisoners will serve to keep the flames of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism burning brightly. 

It is all too possible that the Republicans seek not justice but endless war…beyond profit, war offers opportunities for expediencies that peace does not; e.g., over the last decade civil rights and liberties have been shredded at a pace previously unmatched in American history.  And there is the far from insignificant point that the cost of war provides leverage for the cutting or elimination of “entitlement spending”: I don’t doubt that the Republicans will/do delight in the irony of insisting that American lives be sacrificed so that we might better afford the cost of protecting American lives.  (All in all, the Republicans appear to like the American people slightly less than they like al Qaeda.)

In short, it is better that justice be swift on many, many levels.

James M. Fitzsimmons

March 23, 2013, 11:14 p.m.

How much more light needs to be “shed” for those who follow terrorism/counter-terrorism in newspapers, magazines, books or in the electronic media? We pretty much know all the relevant details already and we can make judgements about the propriety of Bush’s tactics and what is acceptable, or not, in the future.

What needs to be brought out from darkness are the facts and circumstances of the 9/11/12 Benghazi terrorist attack. What happened before, during and after the incident does make a difference to many of us who serve, have family that serve, or simply care about those who serve. It also makes a difference from a counter-terrorism standpoint because we appeared weak in a region that has no mercy on weakness. Weakness invites further boldness from our enemies. This should not be an ideological issue.  The media has largely failed to do its job in this matter.

Quote:  “This should not be an ideological issue.”

Rather an odd observation when included in a comment designed to both divert attention from the failings/betrayals of one ideology and foster attacks upon another ideology.

James M. Fitzsimmons

March 24, 2013, 10:41 a.m.

Divert attention from failings/betrayals? That is the point of my comment. Reporting the facts and circumstances on the 9/11/2012 terrorist attack and subsequent events at Benghazi is investigative journalism. What the previous administration did 5-10 years ago is important but not necessarily a good allocation of ProPublica’s investigative resources considering existential threats that we face in that region currently. Counter-terrorism and security of our personnel overseas is not an ideological issue except to ideologues.

“President Obama, for his part, ordered the CIA black-site prisons closed when he took office”

But opened another one in Benghazi.

Heres a letter from My Democratic Senator regarding the issue of drone strikes in the USA against US Citizens .......

Thank you for contacting me about the nomination of John O. Brennan to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency.  I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.

As you know, in January 2013 President Obama nominated Mr. Brennan to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  The Senate confirmed Mr. Brennan in March by a vote of 63 to 34.  My decision to ultimately vote to confirm him came after a hard-fought battle to shine more light on actions that the executive branch has taken in the course of national security operations.

Soon after the president nominated Mr. Brennan to be Director of the CIA, I sent him a letter asking that he provide Congress with the secret legal opinions outlining the government’s ability to deliberately kill Americans when conducting counterterrorism operations.  Despite many previous requests, the Administration had not been adequately forthcoming to Congress about the legal justifications for targeting and potentially killing U.S. citizens believed to be involved in terrorism.  I sent this letter because it is critically important for Congress and the American people to have full knowledge of how the executive branch understands the limits and boundaries of this authority. I also spoke on the Senate floor during Senator Paul’s filibuster of Mr. Brennan’s nomination because I believed it was important for the Administration to clarify that these authorities cannot be used inside the United States. 

In my view, if American citizens choose to join al-Qa’ida and take up arms against the United States, there are absolutely some circumstances in which the President has the authority to use lethal force against those Americans, just as President Lincoln had the authority to take military action against Confederate forces during the Civil War. It’s important for the president to have the authority to deal with this threat. However, it’s also important for the American people to be able to understand the limits of the president’s authority. And it’s especially important for the American people to know when the president can kill an American citizen and when he can’t.

After seven separate requests over the last two years, I was finally able to obtain access to these secret memos in the course of the Brennan confirmation process.  I am closely reading through these memos and I will be working to get a significant portion declassified.  And I am pleased that the Attorney General has now acknowledged that these authorities cannot be used inside the United States.  It is vitally important for every American to know when their government believes it is allowed to kill them.  Congress has a responsibility to conduct oversight, especially on issues of life and death.  That’s the job that you and other constituents hired me to do.  Please know that I will continue to fight for transparency so long as I have the honor to serve as your Senator.

Thank you for keeping me apprised on the issues of importance to you.  If I may be of assistance to you in the future, please do not hesitate to contact me.

                Ron Wyden
                United States Senator

@Bill Jones, who invented But opened another one in Benghazi.

Not really “invented”...but getting your news from The Daily Caller requires that you pay careful attention when The Daily Caller story itself admits that it is all speculation and the CIA has already had a good laugh at somebody’s imagination.

Good way to keep the word “Benghazi” floating in the public’s conscious, though - even if that, too, is a just another lame attempt by the right to diminish the Bush Administration’s/Republicans’ criminality in the mind of the public by creating distractions…by inventing propaganda myths to use against other Presidents.

Susan, I can’t figure out whether you’re delusional, paranoid or just a skittles rainbow of full-blown Schizophrenia on Axis 1 - What on earth is the website link that you provided exactly about!? First I got lead into a Mary Kay Cosmetics venture, then an elaborate marketing scheme for a series of novels about bizarre terrorism-crime???! If you’re under some sort of “federal protection” by any your American government agency, here’s my advice: YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG! Very wrong… Although you do look much more credible as a redhead, blonde is not your color!...;)

God/G-d bless America and may you get exactly what you’re pushing for: Civil War. I get that China has effectively cut you off America (GOOD!) because they can no longer afford to fund your wars for economic uplift (like the rest of the world et al.) and invented terrorism but America you’re going to have to get it together and pull your damn pants up.

Stop back funding Israeli-Zionists but also stop back-funding invented Jihadists/*insert whatever you’ve invented here*. Stay out of the Middle East, and yes we*, the rest of world know that you deliberately brought Libya (among many other Middle Eastern and African nations) down because they wanted a gold backed currency.  Start worrying about your extremely profound issues in your own nation.

Iran, Pakistan and North Korea really don’t give a plop about you, and they are doing their very best to ignore America because they understand how very dangerous your government has become. Keep it up, and you’ll see the firepower of Russian forces standing behind them too. Work this out.

Oh and PS. I’m not Anti-American I’m just Pro-Human ;)

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