05/23/13: Foreign Policy provides the cliff notes version of today's speech on counterterrorism: On closing Guantanamo: The president will reiterate his call to close the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and take up a number of steps to accelerate this process that were recommended this week. Those include: Designating a location in the United States to conduct military commissions to try Guantanamo detainees, lifting his self-imposed moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, and appointing a State Department and Pentagon envoy to personally oversee the transfer of detainees to other countries. On court oversight of armed drone strikes: The president will not wholly endorse the establishment of new powers for federal courts to oversee drone strikes, but he will tell the public he supports a dialogue about how to constrain the executive branch's ability in this area. On codifying drone policies: The president is expected to discuss a new policy guidance he signed limiting the use of lethal drone strikes to targets who pose a "continuing, imminent threat to Americans" and cannot otherwise be captured. A drone strike will require "near-certainty" that civilians will not be killed, and the president will convey his preference that the US military carry out drone strikes as opposed to the CIA. The end of the war on terrorism: Finally, the president will say that the so-called War on Terror "will come to an end at one point," after the administration's "focused effort" against al Qaeda and its affiliates is won. A White House official added that the president rejects the notion of a "global war on terror," noting that terrorism is a tactic that can never be completely rid from the world.
05/23/13: Phys.Org reports a new University-hosted database has tracked over 11,000 flights by more than 120 aircraft linked by past investigations to renditions. It also contains details of over 50 private companies contracted for or by the CIA in relation to rendition flights. The database is the latest addition to the Rendition Project, an online project designed to analyse the global system of rendition, secret detention and torture initiated by the US. The new database will enable users to search for, and visualise, underlying data contained within the Rendition Project via an interactive map showing rendition flights. Flight data underpinning the database is collated from over 40 separate sources. Launched in May 2012, the Rendition Project is part of wider research to collate and analyse huge amounts of data on the global rendition system. It is led by Dr Ruth Blakeley, Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Kent's School of Politics and International Relations, and Dr Sam Raphael, Lecturer in Politics at Kingston University. They work closely with Reprieve, a UK-based legal action charity which has led the way in investigating secret prisons and representing victims of rendition and torture. The Rendition Flights Database, produced in collaboration with The Information Lab, a company specialising in this type of web tool, can be viewed here.
05/01/13: The Washington Times reports President Obama Tuesday vowed to redouble his efforts to close the US detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. “I don’t want these individuals to die,” the President said of detainees currently on a hunger strike. “Obviously, the Pentagon is trying to manage the situation as best as they can. All of us should reflect on why exactly are we doing this. Why are we doing this?” He decried the US policy of holding the suspects without trial “in a no-man’s land” in perpetuity. “That is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop.” Congress has blocked efforts to move detainees to the United States, even though the Government has tried and convicted other terrorism suspects on US soil without incident.
04/15/13: The Hill reports prison guards at Guantanamo Bay clashed with detained terrorist suspects on Saturday, leading to shots being fired. The commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo ordered the transfer of detainees from “communal to single-cell living” at Camp 6 “to ensure the health and security of those detainees,” according to a statement. The transfer was ordered after detainees covered surveillance cameras, windows and glass partitions, restricting the guards’ ability to observe them. Some detainees, however, resisted the move, and guards fired shots. The military’s statement said there were no “serious injuries” to guards or detainees.
03/28/13: The New York Times reports a CIA officer directly involved in the 2005 decision to destroy interrogation videotapes and who once ran one of the agency’s secret prisons has ascended to the top position within the CIA’s clandestine service, according to current and former intelligence officials. The officer, who has been serving in the position in an acting role for several weeks since the retirement of her direct boss, is one of a small group of candidates being considered to take over the job permanently. The decision about whether to keep the officer in the job presents a dilemma for the new CIA director, who said that he was opposed to the brutal interrogation methods used by the spy agency in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks. The promotion of the officer, who spent years working inside the agency’s Counterterrorist Center and once was in charge of a so-called black site, played a role in developing the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, was first reported by The Washington Post. Because the officer remains undercover, The New York Times is not disclosing her identity. The officer served as the CIA station chief in London and New York, and the branch of the agency she now leads, the National Clandestine Service, is responsible for all CIA espionage operations and covert action programs. The head of the clandestine service is one of the most coveted jobs in the CIA, and has never before been run by a woman. The destruction of dozens of CIA interrogation tapes, documenting the interrogations of Qaeda operatives Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri in a secret CIA detention facility in Thailand, was one of the most controversial episodes of the past decade. The Justice Department undertook an investigation into the matter after the destruction of the tapes was disclosed in late 2007, but no CIA officers were criminally charged.
03/25/13: The Washington Times reports the United States has ceded control of its last prison in Afghanistan, the informally dubbed Bagram facility, bringing an end to two years of strained relations and disputes over which country controls prisoners. The facility, which was initially located on the NATO-controlled Bagram air base, about twenty-five miles outside Kabul, was rebuilt a few miles away and renamed as the Afghan National Detention Facility at Parwan. US authorities agreed to the transfer a year ago. But the sticking point was the fate of the facility’s most dangerous detainees. US military forces stayed on to guard about fifty of the prison’s most dangerous inmates. Afghan President Hamid Karzai and US officials talked over the weekend and struck a final agreement on the prisoners’ transfers.
03/11/13: SCOTUSBlog reports the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Friday afternoon asked lawyers for a foreign national convicted of war crimes at Guantánamo Bay to answer the Obama Administration’s plea for a new look by that court at the powers of the military commissions to try terrorist suspects. The order does not assure that the court will pursue that issue further, but at least it raises the prospect that it could, as a prelude to a likely Supreme Court appeal. On Tuesday, the Administration asked for en banc review the validity of the convictions of Yemeni national Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al Bahlul. At the center of the controversy is a ruling by the court last October in a different case that military commissions cannot try offenses that took place before they were designated as war crimes by the Military Commissions Act of 2006. The DC Circuit held the Act didn’t reach such offenses, concluding that otherwise a serious issue would arise under the Constitution’s Ex Post Facto Clause. The government counters the offenses previously existed and were simply codified by Congress, and has asked the DC Circuit en banc to revisit its previous ruling. In 2006, four members of the Supreme Court held in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that the crime at issue - conspiracy - was not an internationally accepted war crime, but there was no majority holding on the issue.
03/10/13: The Hill reports the Obama Administration’s decision to try former al-Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a relative of Osama bin Laden, in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York has sparked criticism from Republicans, who say he should be held at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp and tried by a military tribunal, not an Article III court. “Gitmo, a naval vessel, Guam, anywhere other than New York, and anything other than a civilian trial,” said Congressman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). Gowdy said a military tribunal would offer distinct advantages over a civilian jury trial, namely that military courts are made up of military officers and don’t require unanimous jury verdicts for conviction, although trials of terrorists have had much more success in regular federal courts than military ones.
03/04/13: Reuters reports a United Nations investigator called on the United States on Monday to publish its findings on the CIA’s program of rendition and secret detention of terrorism suspects during the Bush Administration. Ben Emmerson voiced concern that while President Obama has rejected practices conducted under his predecessor, there have been no prosecutions. “Despite this clear repudiation of the unlawful actions carried out by the Bush-era CIA, many of the facts remain classified, and no public official has so far been brought to justice in the United States,” Emmerson said in a report to the UN Human Rights Council, which he will address on Tuesday. Emmerson has served since August 2011 in the independent post set up by the Council in 2005 to probe human rights violations committed in counterterrorism operations worldwide.
03/04/13: BBC News reports a Libyan man suing the British government for its alleged role in his 2004 rendition to Libya has offered to settle the case. Abdul Hakim Belhaj is also suing former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and a retired MI6 officer. Belhaj says he wants an apology, an admission of guilt, and nominal damages of one pound ($1.50) from each. The British government has said it is cooperating with investigations into UK involvement in ex-Libyan detainees’ mistreatment. Belhaj, who began legal action last year, says he and his wife were detained by US intelligence officers at Bangkok Airport in March 2004. He was allegedly tortured for several days while his wife Fatima Bouchar, who was five months pregnant, was chained to a wall at a secret prison at the airport.
02/25/13: The New York Times reports Israel’s Health Ministry said Sunday night that preliminary autopsy findings could not determine the cause of death of 30-year-old Palestinian prisoner Arafat Jaradat, which Israeli officials had at first attributed to a heart attack. But Palestinian officials said the lack of heart damage coupled with bruising on the man’s chest, back, and neck suggested that he was tortured during interrogation. “The signs that appeared during the autopsy show clearly that he was subjected to severe torture that led immediately to his death,” said Issa Qaraka, the Palestinian minister of prisoner affairs, at a news conference in Ramallah. The 4,500 Palestinians in Israeli jails refused meals on Sunday to protest Jaradat’s death, and hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated in several cities and villages in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
02/19/13: The BBC reports Pakistani police say they have arrested 170 suspects after a bomb attack on Saturday which targeted a Shia Muslim area in the western city of Quetta. Security sources said police killed four people, including a bomb-maker accused of anti-Shia attacks. Saturday's bomb ripped through a busy market district, killing almost 90 people and injuring some 169 more. Relatives of the dead are refusing to bury the bodies in protest at what they say is a lack of official action. The authorities have previously been accused of turning a blind eye to the killing of members of the Shia minority. Now both the security forces and the political leadership appear to be cracking down. But some wonder if there will be sustained action against hard-line Sunni militant groups which were supported by Pakistan's intelligence agencies in the past, our correspondent reports.
02/16/13: The New York Times reports American Special Operations Forces stopped a tribal leader as he was driving with his brother and 6-year-old son in an area rife with Taliban in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday. A quick examination of his identity documents confirmed that he was a wanted man. The troops took the man, Mirza M. Khan, and his brother to a nearby base for questioning. According to both the brother and a district official who heard the Special Forces’ account of the episode, the two men were let go — but Mr. Khan was fatally shot as he returned to his car. A spokesman for the American-led coalition, e-mailed a statement to The New York Times on Friday saying that the episode was under investigation.
02/13/13: The Miami Herald reports a senior official for the Guantánamo Bay prison admitted Tuesday that the Government had placed a hidden microphone inside a meeting room but that he was assured it was not used to monitor the private conversations that prisoners have with their lawyers. Navy Captain Thomas Welsh, the senior legal adviser to Guantánamo’s commander, conceded the microphone appeared to be intended to resemble a smoke detector in the ceiling of a meeting room for men labeled “high-value"” detainees by the Pentagon and held in a special top security camp. “I agree with your point that it was not recognizable, it was not readily identifiable,” Welsh said on cross-examination by a detainee’s lawyer. The admission came during a pretrial hearing.
02/11/13: The Miami Herald reports lawyers for the five Guantánamo Bay prisoners charged in the September 11 attacks want to know if government officials have been eavesdropping on their private conversations with the defendants. The evidence for any such listening, the subject of a hearing scheduled to start Monday, is circumstantial. At a hearing January 28, the sound system in the Guantánamo courtroom was suddenly cut. The judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, later revealed that a government official following the proceedings from outside the courtroom intervened to prevent the potential release of classified information. Pohl later said the information was not classified; he ordered the government to disconnect any equipment that could unilaterally cut the sound and released a transcript of the censored remarks. But the incident has made defense counsel concerned about possible monitoring.
02/11/13: The Miami Herald reports soldiers, sailors and Homeland Security officials came to Guantánamo Bay this weekend to simulate a humanitarian-relief crisis inspired by the tens of thousands of Haitians and Cubans who overwhelmed the base in the 1990’s. The exact nature of the scenario is classified, and only Pentagon-approved photos of the exercise will be released. That’s because nobody wants news about it to touch off a real, live Caribbean exodus. The intent, say organizers, is not to encourage anyone in the Caribbean to get on rafts to reach this Navy base in southeast Cuba, but to be ready in case it happens. One thing they’ll rehearse is registering 1,000 migrants in a single day, and if history is any guide, the actors should cram inside the processing tent, desperate, undocumented and disorganized.
02/06/13: CNN reports a human rights watchdog group claims as many as fifty-four countries participated in the overseas detention and rendition programs overseen by the CIA in the years following the September 11 attacks. The Open Society Justice Initiative’s report says 136 people were subjected to the process of rendition – the transfer of a terror suspect by the United States to a third country for interrogation – or held in so-called “black site” prisons in third countries run by the CIA. The CIA secretly held detainees in Lithuania, Morocco, Poland, Romania, and Thailand in addition to Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay. The findings were derived from public sources, including documents from US and foreign governments, inquiries from the European Parliament and Council of Europe, findings from human rights investigations and news reports.
February 06, 2013 at 10:29 AM in Executive Branch, Terrorism / Counterterrorism, Diplomacy / Foreign Assistance, International Law / Law of War / Human Rights, Detainees / Guantanamo, Secrecy / Transparency / FOIA, Afghanistan / Pakistan, Asia, Europe / Eurasia, Middle East / Northern Africa | Permalink
02/04/13: Reuters reports Leon Panetta, who as CIA director oversaw the US operation that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, said Sunday the job could have been done without resorting to torture. The outgoing Defense Secretary said there had been many pieces to the “puzzle” solved to find bin Laden, who was responsible for the September 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon. “Yes, some of it came from some of the tactics that were used at that time – interrogation tactics that were used,” said Panetta, who headed the CIA from 2009 until he became Defense Secretary on July 1, 2011. “I think we could have gotten Bin Laden without that.” Panetta did not elaborate on how this might have been done, but said most of the intelligence had been obtained without “enhanced interrogation.”
01/30/13: The New York Times reports defense lawyers for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others accused of involvement in the September 11 attacks asked a military judge in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on Tuesday to let them stay in prison with their clients for 48-hour periods every six months. Military said the defense should be allowed only a single two-hour visit. The requested visit was one of several issues raised at a pretrial hearing that focused on information that could become a central focus if the defendants are eventually convicted and face the possibility of a death sentence. Defense lawyers urged the judge overseeing the case, Army Colonel James Pohl, to allow them to document their clients’ lives and behavior in custody. Such information could help them develop mitigating arguments against execution.
01/27/13: The New York Times today features this piece by Charlie Savage discussing Brigadier General Mark S. Martins, the chief prosecutor of the military commissions system who is leading the case against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Guantánamo Bay detainees accused of aiding the September 11 attacks. General Martins is currently involved in a dispute with the Justice Department as to whether to defend a past conviction by those tribunals on a charge of conspiracy after that charge was invalidated by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in a separate case. The dispute involves the thorny question, which has vexed national security law going back to the decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld in 2006, as to whether conspiracy to commit a war crime is a standalone offense under the laws of war. On the other hand, Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare argues the dispute between General Martins and DOJ has less to do with substantive questions about the laws of war and as more about tactical legal positions. Both pieces are worth a read.
January 27, 2013 at 11:42 AM in Judiciary / Cases, Executive Branch, Law Enforcement / Criminal Law, Military, Terrorism / Counterterrorism, International Law / Law of War / Human Rights, Constitutional Law, Detainees / Guantanamo, Terrorist Finance / Material Support, Commentary / Opinion, Analysis | Permalink
01/11/13: The New York Times published an article by Jennifer Daskal arguing that we should keep Guantánamo open. Guantánamo in 2013 is a far cry from Guantánamo in 2002. Thanks to the spotlight placed on the facility by human rights groups, international observers and detainees’ lawyers, there has been a significant, if not uniform, improvement in conditions. The political reality is that closure of Guantánamo is unlikely to happen anytime soon, and if it did, it would do more harm than good. We should instead focus on finding places to transfer those cleared to leave the facility and, more important, on defining the end to the war.