Watching the Shadows

Appeals court: military judge biased in 9-11 case

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled (PDF) Aug. 16 that Judge Scott Silliman should have recused himself in a case concerning multiple defendants who were charged with aiding in the 9-11 attacks. The petitioner, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, argued that Silliman was biased in the matter and cited a 2010 comment in which Silliman called Mohammad and his co-defendants the major conspirators in th attacks. The court found that because Silliman "expressed an opinion that Petitioner is guilty of the very crimes of which he is accused," he manifested an "apparent bias" and thus should have recused himself. The court granted the petition seeking recusal of Silliman and vacated a decision (PDF) by the US Court of Military Commission to reinstate charges for "attacking civilians and destroying property in violation of the law of war" against Mohammad and his co-defendants.

Canada issues formal apology to Omar Khadr

The Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale issued a joint statement on July 7 apologizing to former Guantánamo detainee Omar Khadr for violating his rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Freeland and Goodale's statement read:

Supreme Court limits suits by post 9-11 detainees

The US Supreme Court ruled (PDF)  4-2 on June 19 in Ziglar v. Abbasi that Muslim men detained in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks cannot sue top US officials. The three consolidated cases center on the arrest and detention of men illegally present in the US at the time of 2001 terror attacks. The men claimed that former US attorney general John Ashcroft, former FBI director Robert Mueller and a former Immigration & Naturalization Services commissioner confined them despite knowing they had no ties to terrorism. In an opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court noted that the men were mistreated:

Gitmo detainee files suit against psychologists

Attorneys for Guantánamo detainee Abu Zubaydah have filed a lawsuit against the two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who developed the harsh interrogation techniques used by the CIA, including waterboarding and sleep deprivation. The UK human rights group Reprieve announced the case on June 7. The attorneys are seeking to subpoena the psychologists in order to uncover evidence about the torture that allegedly went on in Poland. According to US law, a federal district court may "order discovery of documents and testimony for use in a foreign proceeding from any person who resides or is found in the court's district." The case will be heard in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. The CIA had detained the plaintiff in a secret Polish prison from 2002 to 2003 on suspicions that he was a "facilitator" for al Qaeda. Zubaydah has been held at Guantanamo since 2006. In April 2016 a federal judge ruled that another lawsuit against the same psychologists with different plaintiffs could proceed.

Families of 9-11 victims sue Saudi Arabia

More than 850 family members of victims of the 9-11 attacks filed a lawsuit (PDF) March 20 against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, alleging that the Saudi state provided support to al-Qaeda in multiple ways. First, it alleges that Saudi Arabian charities ran terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, working hand-in-hand with Osama bin Laden. The suit also claims that the Saudi government directly aided al-Qaeda by providing passports and transportation across the globe. Finally, the suit contends that certain Saudi officials worked with the hijackers in the US for the 18 months leading up to the attacks. The suit seeks unspecified damages, with the primary motive to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the attacks.

Trump restores CIA authority for drone strikes

President Donald Trump has given the CIA "secret new authority" to conduct drone strikes against suspected terrorists, the Wall Street Journal reported March 13, citing US officials. This is said to depart from the Obama administration policy of a "cooperative approach" to drone strikes, in which the CIA used surveillance drones to locate suspected terrorists and the Pentagon then conducted the actual strike. The drone strike that killed Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in May 2016 in Pakistan was named as an example of that "hybrid approach." The report asserts that the Obama administration had the Pentagon carry out the strikes "to promote transparency and accountability." The CIA, operating under covert authority, wasn't required to report its drone strikes. The Pentagon, in most cases, was required to do so.

UN urges Trump not to reinstate torture policies

Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, on Jan. 30 urged US President Donald Trump not to reinstate torture policies. Melzer referenced the 2014 US Senate Intelligence Committee Report (PDF), which stated that the Central Intelligence Agency's use of "enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence" and "rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness." Melzer criticized Trump's pledge to reinstate torture by asserting that "waterboarding" is a form of torture, that the use of torture is not legally or morally acceptable, and that the use of torture is prohibited by the Convention against Torture, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Geneva Conventions. Melzer concluded:

Obama commutes Chelsea Manning's sentence

US President Barack Obama granted 64 pardons and 209 commutations Jan. 17, including commuting the sentence of Chelsea Manning. Manning worked as a low-level intelligence analyst where she leaked documents regarding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in 2010 to WikiLeaks which exposed abuses of detainees and civilian deaths. The commutation will release Chelsea Manning on May 17. Several Republican leaders have criticized the commutation, including Rep. Mac Thornberry, Sen. John McCain, and Speaker Paul D. Ryan, stating that Manning's actions risked national security. Manning's lawyers stated that "Her 35-year sentence for disclosing information that served the public interest and never caused harm to the United States was always excessive, and we're delighted that justice is being served in the form of this commutation." A White House Petition received more than 100,000 signatures in December to commute Manning's sentence.

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