[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


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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