Watching the Shadows
The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Nov. 23 released its ruling that the US government may keep secret memoranda related to the legal justification for the use of drones for targeted killings of those in other countries believed to be involved in terrorism. Though the opinion was drafted last month, it was placed under temporary seal and not released until this week. The case was the result of Freedom of Information Act requests by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and New York Times for documents prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel of the US Department of Justice regarding the drone strikes. The court made a point of emphasizing that the legality of the strikes themselves was not the issue before the court, and that its review primarily concerned whether documents regarding their lawfulness must be disclosed. Those arguing for the release of the memos called the documents "working law," but the courts denied this argument.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) on Oct. 30 announced that the last remaining British inmate, Shaker Aamer, has been released and returned to the UK after extensive review (PDF) by the Guantánamo Review Task Force. Though he is a citizen of the UK through marriage, Aamer identifies himself as a Saudi national. In 2001, Aamer was allegedly performing charity work in Afghanistan when he was captured by bounty hunters and transferred to a US military base as an al-Qaeda suspect. Aamer was transferred to Guantanamo in 2002 and remained there for 13 years despite being approved for release in 2007 and 2009. Aamer was never charged and claims he was consistently subject to abusive treatment. He often accused the prison of unfair conditions and recently went on hunger strike to press his grievances. Now that Aamer has returned to the UK, he must undergo physical and mental health assessment. Though it is unknown if he will be monitored for security reasons, Aamer has stated he has no ill intentions.
The US government's case against five Guantánamo Bay detainees will continue to move forward after a US military judge on Oct. 29 determined that one of the defendants may not fire his defense lawyer. US military judge James Pohl ruled that Walid bin Atash did not show good cause to fire his lawyer. Judge Pohl stated to Atash, "[u]nder the law, before you may terminate the relationship with a counsel who's got an ongoing relationship with you, you must show good cause." Atash is one of the five detainees charged for planning and aiding of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2011. The presiding judge found that allowing Atash to retain new counsel would further delay trial proceedings, which yet to be assigned a trial date.
The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) on Oct. 19 filed a criminal complaint against a high-ranking CIA official for mistreatment of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen who was detained and allegedly tortured for four months in 2003. El-Masri was on vacation in Macedonia when he was mistaken for Khalid al-Masri, a suspect in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. El-Masri was then transported to Afghanistan where he was detained and questioned for four months under the direction of Alfreda Frances Bikowsky. At the time, Bikowsky was deputy chief of the Central Intelligence Agency's Bin Laden Issue Station. ECCHR asserts in the complaint that the US Senate Torture Report ties Bikowsky to el-Masri's detention, and ECCHR requests that the German federal prosecutor investigate.
Former Guantánamo Bay prisoner Djamel Ameziane filed a petition (PDF) with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) seeking reparations from the US government for human rights violations he alleges that he endured while in custody. Ameziane was forcibly returned to his home country of Algeria in December 2013, despite his protests that he would be subjected to persecution based on his ethnic minority status and in violation of IACHR precautionary measures. Ameziane was held for 12 years in Guantánamo Bay without charge and claims he was subjected to physical and psychological abuse there in violation of articles of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is representing Ameziane's case against the government. This filing marks the first time the IACHR will consider a case against US arising from Guantánamo Bay. Ameziane is seeking compensation for the rights violations, the return of money seized from him upon his arrest, and to require the US to "adopt all measures necessary to guarantee the safety and integrity of all men remaining" at Guantánamo.
The Obama administration on Sept. 25 notified Congress of its plan to release Guantánamo Bay inmate Shaker Aamer to the United Kingdom next month. Aamer, who was captured in Afghanistan in 2001, is the final British resident held in the United States' military prison. Although he denies association, Aamer allegedly held close ties to Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and fought in the battle of Tora Bora. Now the Saudi national, who married a British citizen in 1990, will be sent back to the UK in mid-October, following a long run of lobbying by British politicians and celebrities to have Aamer released.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) announced Sept. 22 that it had transferred Guantánamo Bay detainee Abdul Shalabi. Shalabi, who likely was a bodyguard for Osama Bin Laden, was transferred to the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia after a Periodic Review Board determined in June that, although he may still sympathize with extremists, his continued detention did "not remain necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States." Today 114 detainees remain at Guantánamo Bay.
Moroccan-born Younis Abdurrahman Chekkouri, who spent 13 years in the Guantánamo Bay prison, was released Sept. 17 as part of the Obama administration's effort to wind down and eventually close the detention center. The US never formally charged Chekkouri with a crime, but according to military documents he was believed to have been an associate of Osama bin Laden and to have run al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. Chekkouri was cleared for release by the Guantanamo Review Task Force (PDF) in January 2010. Rights group Reprieve after his release reported that he was still being held by local authorities in his native Morocco. The prisoner release is the first since June, when six Guantanamo detainees were transferred to Oman. The prison's population is now reduced to to 115.