[Ppnews] Cheap watches trouble for Gitmo prisoners
Political Prisoner News
PPnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Mar 10 08:40:09 EST 2006
Thursday, March 9, 2006 · Last updated 2:59 p.m. PT
Cheap watches trouble for Gitmo prisoners
By BEN FOX
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Are they bomb timers, or
just time pieces? Common Casio watches, some
worth less than $30, have become part of the
often ambiguous web of evidence against detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
The U.S. military cites the digital watches worn
by prisoners when they were captured as possible
evidence of terrorist ties. Casios have been used
repeatedly in bombs, after all, including one
used by the architect of the 1993 World Trade
Center attack; the explosive device was set off
on a Philippine Airlines flight, killing a passenger.
Wearing a Casio is cited among the unclassified
evidence against at least eight of the detainees
whose transcripts were released by the Pentagon
after a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by The Associated Press.
The prisoners, who stand accused of links to
al-Qaida or to the Taliban in Afghanistan, say
they have been shocked that wearing a cheap watch
sold worldwide could be used against them.
"Millions and millions of people have these types
of Casio watches," Mazin Salih Musaid, a Saudi
detainee, told his military tribunal.
Even guards at Guantanamo wear Casios, noted
Usama Hassan Ahmend Abu Kabir, a Jordanian
accused of belonging to a group linked to
al-Qaida, the terror organization that carried
out the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
"I have a Casio watch due to the fact that they
are inexpensive and they last a long time," the
34-year-old detainee told a tribunal. "I like my
watch because it is durable. It had a calculator
and was waterproof, and before prayers we have to
wash up all the way to my elbows."
Like owning an automatic weapon or wearing olive
drab clothing - both common in Afghanistan - the
Casios have become further pieces of evidence
that the U.S. tribunals are weighing in these
"enemy combatant" hearings. The sessions are held
partly to determine whether those held at the
U.S. military prison on Cuba pose a threat to the United States.
"The problem for military intelligence in a war
like this is determining who is the enemy," said
Mark Ensalaco, an international terrorism expert
at the University of Dayton, in Ohio.
But for detainees, citing ownership of a Casio
watch as evidence amounts to profiling, a mistake that sweeps up the innocent.
"This watch is not from al-Qaida, it's not used
for a bomb," protested Abdul Matin, a prisoner
from Afghanistan. "This is just a regular watch.
All older, younger men and women use this watch everywhere."
Authorities have, however, documented the use of
the watches in several terrorist acts.
- In the 1996 trial of Ramzi Yousef, the alleged
mastermind of the first attack on the World Trade
Center, a prosecutor described how a Casio
attached to a timing device using 9-volt
batteries became the "calling card" of Yousef's Philippines-based terror cell.
Yousef, a nephew of detained terror mastermind
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, tested the method with a
bomb under a seat on Philippine Airlines Flight
434, killing one passenger. The attack was
allegedly a dry run for a plot to blow up 11
jumbo jets. Authorities foiled the plot after the
bomb-makers inadvertently set their apartment on fire.
- Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian convicted in 2001 of
plotting to bomb Los Angeles International
Airport around the millennium, bought two model
1663 Casio watches at a Canadian electronics
store to use as timers, according to court records.
- The U.S. Department of Homeland Security
advised airport screeners and law enforcement in
January 2005 to be aware that some
altimeter-equipped Casios, whose model numbers
were not disclosed, could be used in explosives,
as could another unspecified brand of watch that doubled as a butane lighter.
The advisory singled out Casio because it's
inexpensive, widely used and easy to find,
Homeland Security spokeswoman Michelle Petrovich said.
But that's precisely the problem with citing
particular models of Casios as evidence, some
bomb experts say - there's nothing unique about
their use in time bombs. In fact, many household
items with timing functions, including such
devices as microwave oven timers, can be modified
to set off bombs, said David Williams, a retired
FBI agent who worked on the first World Trade Center bombing investigation.
Yousef's terror cell used Casios that were easy
to buy and reconfigure into bomb parts, Williams
said. The terrorists found it easy to remove the
plastic buttons and frame, and relatively simple
to reconfigure the circuitry into a timer. The
cell also prized the watches for their accuracy
and long-lasting batteries, he said.
"You can have a time delay for up to three years
that's accurate to the second, as long as the
battery lasts in the watch," said Williams, who
now runs a counterterrorism consulting business.
The most widely cited model of Casio in the
Guantanamo transcripts is the F91W, which was
introduced in 1996 and "has no exclusive
technology," Casio says. It's a model popular
throughout the world simply because it has a
stopwatch and alarm, is water resistant and
inexpensive, the company added in a statement.
At least one Internet site offers the watch for
$28, and less advanced models are sold for less than half that price.
The watch maker, a division of Casio Computer
Co., Ltd. of Japan, declined interview requests,
but said in the statement that it is aware of the
concerns. "Casio continues to work closely with
all government agencies, including the Department
of Homeland Security to help limit any potential
threats and deal with security concerns," the statement said.
Even if Casios were pulled off the market
worldwide, terrorists could easily switch to
other commonly available products to make timers
for bombs, Williams said. "You give me a
half-hour in a supermarket and I can blow up your garage."
Associated Press writer Gene Johnson contributed to this story from Seattle.
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