16 Words: New Court Filing Suggests Manufactured Terror Threat in Bush’s 2002 State of the Union

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A new court filing by the lawyers for Lakhdar Boumediene and five other Guantanamo detainees suggests that the Bush administration ordered the Bosnian government to arrest and hold the men after an exhaustive Bosnian investigation had found them innocent of any terrorism related activity and had ordered their release, in order to use them as props in Bush’s January 2002 State of the Union speech.

The filing–“Lakhdar Boumediene, et al., Petitioners, v. George W. Bush, President of the United States, et al., Respondents, Petitioners’ Public Traverse to the Government’s Return to the Petition for Habeas Corpus”–lays out the case that the Bush administration threatened at the highest levels to withdraw diplomatic and military aid to the Balkan nation if Bosnia released the men, which its own three-month investigation had found innocent of any terrorism charges in the days leading up to Bush’s January 2002 State of the Union.

Faced with the threats of the withdrawal of aid and that if it released the men, the White House would order NATO troops to detain them, Bosnia transferred the men under duress to the custody of the US government in January 2002, and the US transferred them to Guantanamo. Ten days later, in his 2002 State of the Union address, Bush used sixteen words to warn Americans that, in “cooperation” with the Bosnian government, it had captured terrorists who had planned to bomb the US embassy in Sarajevo: “Our soldiers, working with the Bosnian government, seized terrorists who were plotting to bomb our embassy,” Bush told the nation.

But, six years later, the detainees’ new petition says, after the US Supreme Court has sided with the detainees and ordered the US to give the detainees habeas corpus rights, the Bush administration has failed to repeat the embassy plot charges that Bush used in his State of the Union address, or to produce credible evidence of why the men should be held as enemy combatants.

(Bush also used 16 words to falsely claim in his 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had sought yellowcake uranium from the African nation of Niger — a claim the White House had been previously repeatedly warned by the CIA was unfounded and which the White House later admitted Bush should not have said, months after the US invasion of Iraq).

The 58-page traverse petition was filed today in the US District Court for the District of Columbia (.pdf). Some key excerpts from its preliminary statement below the fold:

…Now that the Government at last faces a merits hearing before an Article III Court, the thinness of its basis for detaining Petitioners is plain. … The Government nowhere acknowledges—and indeed, has done its utmost to avoid—the thorough investigation performed on the ground by Bosnian authorities in 2001. … By mid-January 2002, both the prosecutor and the investigating judge had concluded that no basis had been established to hold Petitioners even for further investigation. …

Now that the Court has finally ordered the Government to provide reasons for its
continued military detention of Petitioners, its assertions in 2008 bear very little relation to its reasons for Petitioners’ initial extrajudicial rendition from Bosnia in 2002. The United States’ original claim was that Petitioners were supposedly plotting a terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo.

Indeed, in the 2002 State of the Union Address, delivered fewer than ten days after Petitioners were flown by plane to Guantanamo, President Bush stated: “Our soldiers, working with the Bosnian government, seized terrorists who were plotting to bomb our

Notably omitted from the President’s account was the fact that the three-month investigation carried out by Bosnian authorities failed to unearth any evidence to warrant further investigation, let alone sufficient evidence to charge Petitioners with any terrorism-related crime. … The Government’s unclassified Return makes no mention of the claim that Petitioners “were plotting to bomb our embassy.”

“But rather than acknowledge its errors,” the filing says, “the Government has compounded them through vague allegations.”

The petition indicates it was filed to the court accompanied by more than 150 exhibits in support of its claims, including sealed statements from former US official Philip Zelikow, former CIA officer Paul Pillar and Harvard University Bosnia expert Andras Riedlmayer.

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