UPDATE: As our cautionary update warned, this report from Pakistan proved to be FALSE — the latest in a series of false reports from the War on Terror front. We are leaving the original report below as it ran and putting a new report on top. JG
The U.S. and Pakistan and the often tense and questionable relationship between the two in the war against terror seemingly scored a major victory today with thews that Al Qaeda’s American Spokesman Abu Yahya Mujahdeen was captured and arrested by Pakstani intelligence officers.
(UPDATE: CBS News and some other reports note that Pakistan officials have confirmed the arrest but U.S. officials have not at this point. Keep in mind some past cases where it was announced that an Al Qaeda bigwig was captured or killed and it didn’t pan out. However, news reports out now appear to be solid and definitive. But the fact remains: U.S. officials have not confirmed it at this writing.)
Details via MSNBC:
Adam Yahiye Gadahn, a U.S.-born spokesman for al-Qaida, has been captured in Pakistan, government sources said Sunday.
Gadahn was arrested in recent days, two officers who took part in the operation told The Associated Press. A senior government official also confirmed the arrest. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
An intelligence source confirmed the report to NBC News, adding that Gadahn was detained in Sohrab Goth, a suburb of Karachi, and was later moved to the capital Islamabad.
The arrest is a major victory in the U.S.-led battle against al-Qaida and will be taken as a sign that Pakistan is cooperating more fully with Washington. It follows the recent detentions of several Afghan Taliban commanders in Karachi.
Gadahn moved to Pakistan in 1998, according to the FBI, and is said to have attended an al-Qaida training camp six years later, serving as a translator and consultant for the group.
A U.S. court charged Gadahn with treason in 2006, making him the first American to face such a charge in more than 50 years. He could face the death penalty if convicted. He was also charged with two counts of providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.
Gadahn, 31, grew up on a goat farm in Riverside County, Calif., and converted to Islam at a mosque in nearby Orange County.
Gadahn has been wanted by the FBI since 2004. There is a $1 million reward for information leading to his arrest or conviction.
Gadahn has been the face and voice of Al Qaeda in a series of highly threatening warnings and statements — including one that went up on the Internet hours before his arrest urging Muslims in the military to murder other American military and to go after other “high value targets” (in other words: places where innocent people can be butchered to drive up Al Qaeda’s body count). Here’s a report on his video posted earlier:
The Pakistan newspaper Dawn has a short report on the arrest and this photo that it indicates shows Gadahn being taken into custody:
Why is this important? It’s significant on several fronts:
HERE IS A CROSS SECTION OF MAINSTREAM MEDIA AND BLOG REACTION:
Indeed, but whose custody is Gadahn being held? If ours, that’s super good. If Pakistan’s, not so good. We have no extradition treaty with Pakistan and the thought of the government doing any favors for the US would send thousands into the streets protesting. That’s the main reason Pakistan won’t turn over the Afghan Taliban leaders to us – at least, that’s the story they’re sticking to.
…So NBC’s ridiculous claim that Gadahn’s capture should be “taken as a sign that Pakistan is cooperating more fully with Washington,” is blowing smoke. A Leopard can’t change its spots and the ISI will not change its nature. While there are some high ranking ISI officers who are friendly with the CIA and cooperate, the organization itself is a fiercely nationalistic arm of the government and sees helping the Americans in any way as a betrayal of Pakistani values. There were almost mass resignations in the military when the Pakistani government was considering accepting the American aid package that contained caveats for where the money must be spent. Congress ordered the cash be used to bolster anti-terrorism capability while the military wanted to use the money to kill Indians by improving their abilities in the Kashmir. The heart of the dispute was that the Pakistani military did not wish to be seen as an American puppet force. A political crisis ensued that threatened the government at one point.
How this capture of another high value target will play out remains to be seen. The fact that Gadahn is an American national might make a difference. But given the sensitivity with which the government has shown toward these situations, I wouldn’t bet on it.
The current reports of Gadahn’s capture come as six top leaders of the Afghan Taliban’s Quetta Shura, or executive leadership council, have been detained in Pakistan. The Pakistani military and government have previously denied that the Quetta Shura existed and said no senior Afghan Taliban leaders were present in Pakistan.
Gadahn, who is better known as Azzam the American or Azzam al Amriki, was born Adam Pearlman and converted to Islam in 1997. It is believed that he joined al Qaeda in 2003 and was recruited by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks on America. In October 2004, Gadahn appeared in his first al Qaeda video, and he has been featured in several videos since. In a video released in 2008 and titled “An Invitation to Reflection and Repentance,” Gadahn tore up his US passport and called for Americans to join al Qaeda.
In October 2006, he was indicted in a US federal court under charges of treason and providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization for making al Qaeda propaganda videos. “By aligning himself with al Qaeda, by moving overseas to be closer to al Qaeda’s base and leadership, and by joining in advocating al Qaeda’s terrorist agenda, an agenda that includes the overthrow of the United States government and the murder of American citizens, Adam Gadahn has committed treason against the United States of America,” said US Attorney Debra Wong Yang. He is the first American to be indicted for treason since 1952.
Gahdan was rumored to have been killed in a US airstrike in North Waziristan in January 2008, but he later resurfaced and released several videotapes.
The White House will apparently reverse Eric Holder’s decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other 9/11 conspirators in federal court, but can they also try Gadahn by military commission? And should they, if so?
It depends at least in part on what charges the US levies against Gadahn. Theoretically, they could charge him with terrorist activity abroad, charges that a military commission could adjudicate. However, the evidence that Gadahn himself committed or facilitated actual terrorist acts may not be terribly convincing, nor is that what made Gadahn notorious in the first place. He’s been more of a Lord Haw Haw, a propagandist reportedly not terribly well liked or trusted by his own side. CNN talked a bit about that today in its reporting, wondering if the Taliban secretly arranged to have the ISI take him off their hands.
Besides, the US already has an indictment against Gadahn for treason, from 2006. That indictment would require a federal trial to adjudicate, putting aside the enormously dangerous precedent of using military commissions to try American citizens. The path of least resistance in this case would appear to also be the appropriate path — and it won’t take much effort to prove treason in this case. Gadahn’s latest missive in urging Muslim soldiers in America to attack troops was released just as news of his capture hit the wires, and his years-long track record of giving aid, comfort, and more to the American enemy al-Qaeda should make this a rather easy win for the Obama administration in federal court. Gadahn will be the first American tried for treason in almost 60 years, but all that means is that the winning percentage will improve.
So American-born Al Qaeda member Adam Gadahn has been caught by Pakistani authorities. He was indicted in the United States a few years back for treason — the first time that charge had been brought against any American citizen in a half-century.
The treason charge, of course, carries with it the possible penalty of death. But does Gadahn deserve the death penalty?
Gadahn has also already been charged with treason, an extremely rare charge in American law. I believe he’s the first American to be charged with treason since the cases that emerged from World War II. Remember, the definition of treason is actually written into the US Constitution. And it’s a very high bar — though one Gadahn seems to meet pretty handily.
Aside from the good news of his capture, Gadahn’s arrest will likely spawn another round in the on-going civilian v. military trial debate. What his arrest particularly interesting in terms of this debate it though is that Gadahn was indicted for treason and other civilian crimes back in 2006. And no one has raised any objections to those charges. (For what it’s worth, the same is true of bin Laden.) What’s more, it’s not entirely clear to me that he could be charged with treason in any but a real, civilian court.
As noted above, the terms of conviction for treason are written into the US constitution. On that count it says, “No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.” Now, I confess I’m out of my element on this count in terms of the jurisprudence. But I would think the reference to a trial “in open Court” would rule out at least a lot of Star Chamber type proceedings.
In any case, it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.
News of Gadahn’s arrest came just hours after he appeared in a new internet video urging American Muslims to go on shooting sprees like Maj. Nidal Hasan’s at Fort Hood last year.
In the video he called the murderous major “a trailblazer and a role-model who has opened a door, lit a path and shown the way forward for every Muslim who finds himself among the unbelievers.
Gadahn’s arrest was the latest in a series of successes in the new partnership between Pakistan’s once-balky intelligence services and the CIA.
Known in Al Qaeda videos as “Azzam the American” or Azzam al-Amereeki, Gadahn was born in Oregon to a Jewish family.
His hippie father converted to Christianity before his son was born, changing the family name from Pearlman to Gadahn.
Adam Gadhan was homeschooled in southern California. He converted to Islam at 17 and moved to Pakistan in 1998 at 20.
Intelligence officials say he joined up with al Qaeda after 9/11 and attended terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.
By 2004, he was a senior Al Qaeda operative and became bin Laden’s top propagandist, appearing in numerous internet videos calling for the destruction of America.
In a 2008 video he tore up his US passport on camera and urged Americans to launch domestic terrorist attacks.
He is believed to report directly to bin Laden’s right-hand man, Ayman al Zawahri.
In another recent success by the Obama administration and the government in Pakistan both had just captured Adam Gadahan, the American Al Qaeda operative, who just this morning called for American Muslims to imitate Nidal Hasan in the Fort Hood shooting.
…..This is a significant victory by the Obama administration. Gadahan was indicted by the Bush Administration in 2006 and had a One million dollar bounty on his head. He was Al Qaeda’s top propagandist and used quite often to try to appeal to American muslims on Al Qaeda. Suffice to say, he’s not going to be doing that anymore. Al Qaeda and the Taliban are FINALLY on the run.
You know, it’s a crying shame we’ve outlawed cruel and unusual punishment. If there’s ever been a man who deserved to be drawn and quartered, it’s him.
Gadahn is the first American since WWII to be charged with Treason. Will Obama follow through on this? If he’s smart, yes. This would be the biggest political win for him in ages. He needs one. Plus, it would actually be the right thing to do….Here’s hoping the President kicks ass.
You can read a lot more blog reaction HERE.
Now you can follow Joe Gandelman on Twitter.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.