Watching the Shadows
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.
The US government, on order from federal judge Gladys Kessler, has released eight redacted videos showing forced feedings at Guantánamo Bay prison. The videos, released to the US District Court for the District of Columbia as part of former prisoner Abu Wa'el Dhiab's suit against the federal government, depict tube-feeding conducted by medical and security personnel. Although the exact details are unknown, the videos are thought to show Dhiab being fed through a tube in his nose while in a restraining chair. Dhiab initially filed suit challenging his 12-year detention at Guantánamo, during which he was never charged, and has since alleged that the forced feedings were punitive rather than life-sustaining measures. Thus far, only eight of the 32 existing force-feeding videos have been provided, and those were released after being censored for anything used to identify those involved. Next month, lawyers for each side are expected to discuss releasing the remaining videos.
A federal judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia on July 30 rejected a legal challenge from a Guantánamo Bay detainee who claimed that his detention at the naval base was illegal. Muktar Yahya Najee al-Warafi from Yemen was captured in Afghanistan and has been held at Guantánamo since 2002. In his challenge, he claimed that his imprisonment was unlawful due to recent statement by President Barack Obama that hostilities between the US and the Taliban have ended. Warafi brought the action under the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), arguing that the stated end of hostilities made it unlawful to continue holding him. However, Judge Royce C. Lamberth wrote that the government had presented "convincing evidence that US involvement in the fighting in Afghanistan, against al-Qaida and Taliban forces alike, has not stopped... A court cannot look to political speeches alone to determine factual and legal realities merely because doing so would be easier than looking at all the relevant evidence." Warafi has yet to decide if he will appeal.
The US State Department on June 19 released its "Country Reports on Terrorism 2014," finding that the number of terrorist attacks around the world rose by a third in 2014 compared with the previous year. The number of people killed in such attacks rose by 80%, to nearly 33,000. The sharp increase was largely due to the "unprecedented" seizure of territory in Iraq and Syria by ISIS, and the growith of Boko Haram in Nigeria. Terrorist groups used more aggressive tactics in 2014 than in previous years, such as beheadings and crucifixions. ISIS attacks on religious minorities like Christians and Yazidis are cited. Islamic State was particularly lethal. The reports says the June 2014 massacre at a prison in Mosul, Iraq, in which ISIS killed 670 Shi'ite prisoners "was the deadliest attack worldwide since September 11, 2001." The report notes the "central al-Qaeda leadership" has been weakened, but the network's regional affiliates have gained ground in places like Yemen and the Horn of Africa. (BBC News, Reuters, State Department, June 19)
Six Guantánamo detainees were transferred to Oman June 13, marking the first transfer of detainees from the prison in five months. The Pentagon reports that the six Yemeni men transferred include Emad Abdullah Hassan, held without charge since 2002, Idris Ahmad 'Abd Al Qadir Idris and Jalal Salam Awad Awad, all accused of being one of many bodyguards to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, as well as Sharaf Ahmad Muhammad Mas'ud, whom the US said fought American soldiers at Tora Bora, Afghanistan, before his capture in Pakistan, Saa'd Nasser Moqbil Al Azani, a religious teacher whom the US believes had ties to bin Laden's religious adviser, and Muhammad Ali Salem al-Zarnuki, who allegedly arrived in Afghanistan as early as 1998 to fight and support the Taliban. President Barack Obama's administration has transferred more than half of the 242 detainees who were at the facility when he took office in 2009, but lawmakers have sought new restrictions on transfers that may lead to further challenges to the president's initiative.
Key provisions of the USA Patriot Act expired June 1 after a late Senate vote failed to establish an extension. The provisions that expired were in Section 215 of the act and included: the "Bulk Data Collection" provision, which allowed the government to collect data, the "Lone Wolf" provision, which allowed surveillance on individuals not directly tied to terrorist groups, and the "Roving Wiretaps" provision, which allowed the government to surveil all of a suspected terrorist's communications. The Senate gathered to vote on the bill late May 31, but fierce debate pushed the vote into the early hours of the next morning. Although the Senate failed to establish an extension for the Patriot Act, they are set to vote on the USA Freedom Act which is supposed to serve as a limit on government surveillance.