‘I Am a Warrior’
Al Qaeda Terrorist Who Wanted Gitmo Over Federal Court Found Guilty
Charged in a deadly 2003 attack, the man known as Spin Ghul—or White Rose in Pashto—hadn’t been in the courtroom in a year, saying he wanted a military tribunal to judge him.
The White Rose of jihad was a no-show for his last day of trial.
In fact, Ibrahim Adnan Harun Hausa hadn’t been there a single day of the nearly two weeks the government presented its case to the jury. Prosecutors said Hausa—better known as Spin Ghul, or White Rose in Pashto—is an avowed al Qaeda member involved in a 2003 attack that killed two American servicemembers in Afghanistan, and that he plotted to blow up the American embassy in Nigeria.
A nearly five-year ordeal in American courts had not turned the Saudi-born Spin Ghul into a believer in civilian justice. He hadn’t been to court, physically, in nearly a year, and stopped cooperating with his defense case long ago.
The jury was told to disregard Spin Ghul’s absence, though it served as a stark reminder of his earlier demands of Brooklyn judges: Send me to Guantanamo.
Spin Ghul was arrested in Italy in 2011 and extradited to the U.S. the next year. Prosecutors alleged that he joined al Qaeda in Afghanistan shortly before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In Afghanistan, they said, Spin Ghul was involved in attacks against U.S. troops that killed Airman 1st Class Raymond Losano and Private Jerod R. Dennis. They said he then went to Pakistan for training before going to Nigeria, where he planned an attack on the U.S. embassy in the style of the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. Prosecutors said he confessed while in American custody in Italy.
And throughout, Spin Ghul told the court that he saw himself as an anti-American warrior.
At an early hearing, he demanded to be tried at a military court—just like the individuals being held in Guantanamo Bay, according to court transcripts. “In all the cases of individuals who are found fighting, they were being—they’re being handled by military courts and that military courts, even the individuals who are in Guantanamo are being—were found and are being held there,” he said. “It’s possible that you’re forgetting something. I am a warrior and the war is not over.”
Magistrate Judge Edward Korman tried in vain to explain the concept of an independent judiciary.
“The truth, yes, I was brought to America,” Spin Ghul responded. “Our terrorism is not over.”
Yet even at that meeting, despite cautions from Korman to consult with his appointed attorneys before speaking, Spin Ghul referred to “the location where I fought with the Americans,” and made other seeming admissions of guilt. He was infuriated that he had still not had a Quran returned to him, and he found the replacements available at the Metropolitan Correctional Center unsatisfactory.
“That’s why I want to remind you that I am still in battle. The way in which I am being judged I have not completely accepted yet,” Spin Ghul said, according to court transcripts. “I don’t understand everything that’s happening completely and you’re a judge, but even though you’re a judge, the country is at war with us. That is a fact. Don’t forget that.”
Judges and his attorneys continued efforts to placate Spin Ghul. But over and over again, he demanded international courts and military tribunals.
“I don’t mind if I am killed. I prefer that,” he said.
“Well, just like I don’t have any power to send you to a military court, I have no power to grant your wish to die,” Korman told him in a May 2013 hearing.
At one point, Spin Ghul demanded to be his own counsel, in the face of a life sentence. “[Y]ou’ll probably wind up in some—in Colorado where they keep the most dangerous criminals inside a mountain and [they] never see anyone,” Korman said. “So in a sense, it’s like deciding to go through major surgery in which you could lose your life and you decide to be your own surgeon. Now that doesn’t make sense.”
The case was later transferred to Judge Brian Cogan for trial. Eventually, purportedly unhappy with continuing questions over his mental health and competency to stand trial, the location of the court, and the lack of international tribunal, Spin Ghul began refusing to attend hearings. When he did show up, he’d hum loudly or talk over the judge and lawyers until he was transferred into a side room, according to court documents.
Things hit a new low when Cogan ordered marshals to use force to bring Spin Ghul to court in May 2016. Despite hand and leg restraints, he managed to shred his clothing on the way to the courthouse.
He “arrived in court wearing nothing but underwear,” the judge said, according to court transcripts.
“I talked to the marshals about whether it would be possible to dress him. The marshals said they could get a shirt on him and have him sit in his underwear,” Cogan said. “I said that’s not acceptable.”
That didn’t satisfy Spin Ghul. According to the court record, he screamed incoherently from his holding cell while the status conference went on. “I don’t know if the lawyers can hear it as well as I can, I’m sure the defense lawyers can, but it’s quite loud,” Cogan remarked.
The judge eventually decided that Spin Ghul was signifying a total lack of desire to participate in the proceedings and stopped attempting to summon him to court. But his court-appointed attorneys, who were tasked with mounting a defense without their client’s participation or cooperation, asked the government to provide them with prisoners who were held with him in Libya or Italy—people who might be able to shed light on torture or other trauma Spin Ghul may have undergone.
“We have a client who had been cooperative with us and who seems to have just fallen off the rails,” Susan G. Kellman argued before Cogan in November 2016. “So one can say that [Spin Ghul’s actions are] deliberate, which is what the government has said, or one can say that it may be a function of the treatment that he received when he was in Libya, and there are people who were there in jail with him who might be able to say this is the way we saw him be treated.”
The judge denied her request. The trial continued without Spin Ghul.
In closing statements Thursday, prosecutors recounted to jurors in detail the attack that killed Losano and Dennis while a photograph of Osama bin Laden looked over the jury box from a white board. Two interpreters took turns translating in a low hum for Spin Ghul into a microphone to accompany a video feed piped into his cell, though there’s no evidence he was watching.
Defense attorneys had no summation to present—a revelation that exasperated Assistant U.S. Attorney Shreve Ariail. But Cogan, the judge, said he had no problem with the defense’s strategy, adding that he “had not heard what a factual defense may be” for Spin Ghul.
“If they were to stand up now and say, ‘The government has the burden’ [...] that would just give the government another opportunity to stand up and say, you didn’t hear a single word showing the defendant is innocent, did you?” he said.
Cogan saw no need to give them that advantage, though Ariail instead asked the judge and defense lawyers to inform Spin Ghul of their decision.
“You could at least do that for me, can’t you?” Ariaili asked David Stern, one of the attorneys.
Not that it made a difference. The jury was sent out after lunch, and returned a verdict two hours later.
Spin Ghul was found guilty on all counts. He faces life in prison.