US warplanes and drones struck supposed al-Qaeda targets in Yemen for a second straight day March 3, killing at least 12 suspected militants, according to local officials. The Pentagon said it had carried out more than 20 strikes overnight targeting al-Qaeda positions in the southern provinces of Shabwa and Abyan, and the central province of Baida. In the latest strikes, US fighter jets hit three houses in the Yashbam Valley before dawn, one of them reportedly the home of al-Qaeda's Shabwa province commander, Saad Atef, local sources said. Tribal sources said that several civilians were wounded, including women and children. One resident said it had been a "terrifying night." (Middle East Online, Al Jazeera, BBC News)
Our last annotated assessment of Barack Obama's moves in dismantling, continuing and escalating (he has done all three) the oppressive apparatus of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) must inevitably be viewed in light of the current countdown to the death of democracy and the imminent despotism of Donald Trump. The fact that the transition is happening at all is a final contradiction of Obama's legacy. He is fully cooperating in it, even as his own intelligence agencies document how the election was tainted. Following official findings that Russia meddled in the elections, the White House has slapped new sanctions on Russia—deporting 35 Russian officials suspected of being intelligence operatives and shutting down two Russian facilities in New York and Maryland, both suspected of being used for intelligence-related purposes. The latest bizarre revelation—that Russian intelligence can blackmail Trump with information about his "perverted sexual acts" involving prostitutes at a Moscow hotel—broke just hours before Obama delivered his Farewell Address in Chicago. The speech was surreally optimistic in light of the actual situation in the country, and contained only a few veiled swipes at Trump. The best of them was this: "If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves."
Ahead of the 15th anniversary of the first detainees arriving at Guantánamo Bay iJan. 11, Amnesty International issued a "final plea" to President Obama to close the facility. The open letter (PDF) especially warned that the fate of the remaining detainees must not be left in the hands of the incoming Donald Trump. There are 55 people still held at Guantánamo, 45 of them detained without charge or trial. The 10 others have faced or are facing military commission proceedings that "fail to meet international fair trial standards." Six are currently facing the possibility of the death penalty after such unlawful trials. While the Obama administration has blamed the US Congress for blocking the closure of Guantánamo, Amnesty asserted that under international law domestic legislation or politics are not legitimate excuses for a country's failure to meet its treaty obligations.
President-elect Donald Trump is reported to have named the former chief of the Pentagon's Southern Command, Gen. John Kelly, as his choice for secretary of Homeland Security. As SouthCom chief, Kelly oversaw counter-narcotics operations throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean from late 2012 until his retirement in January 2016. He was a notorious hardliner, which resulted in policy clashes with President Obama, the Washington Post tells us. As Homeland Security chief, he will oversee the 20,000-strong Border Patrol, with responsibility for drug interceptions along the 2,000-mile frontier with Mexico.
Abu Wa'el Dhiab [AKA Jihad Diyab], a Syrian former Guantánamo Bay detainee, on Oct. 22 ended his 68-day hunger strike. Dhiab was among a number of former detainees who were resettled in Uruguay in an effort to close down the detention center. He began a hunger strike in an effort to be unified with friends and family. As he was a suspected terrorist he was denied the right to return to his homeland due to fear of a security risk. His support group Vigilia por Diyab announced the end of his hunger strike due to an agreement that will allow him to resettle in an undisclosed third country in order to allow him to reunite with family.
A federal appeals court on Oct. 20 upheld (PDF) a conspiracy conviction of the former personal assistant to Osama bin Laden. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that a military tribunal had jurisdiction to convict Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al-Bahlul. Bahlul was tried and convicted by a military commission created after September 11, 2001. A three-judge panel had thrown out the conspiracy conviction last year, and the Obama administration requested that the full appeals court reconsider the case. The issue in the case was whether the constitution grants Congress the ability to determine that conspiracy to commit war crimes is an offense triable by military commissions even though conspiracy crimes are not recognized as international war crimes. The majority determined that foreign nations could not have "a de facto veto power" over Congress' determination of which war crimes may be considered by a military tribunal:
Uruguay's Foreign Minister, Rodolfo Nin Novoa, on Oct. 7 urged a former Guantánamo prisoner, Jihad Diyab, to call off his hunger strike, stating that Montevideo is attempting to transfer him to another country. Diyab is a Syrian national who was held for 12 years in Guantánamo without being formally charged and was released in 2014 along with five other prisoners. Diyab started this strike two months ago demanding that he be reunited with his family. According to rights groups, Diyab is conscious although in weak physical condition. Novoa reiterated that his government will "continue looking for a better future for him and his family" and urged Diyab to abandon his hunger strike immediately.
The US House of Representatives on Sept. 15 approved a bill (PDF) that would temporarily block the transfer of detainees from the Guantánamo Bay detention camp. The bill, which passed with a 244-174 vote, would prevent transfers until a 2017 military budget is passed or until President Barack Obama leaves office. The Obama administration has cleared 20 of the remaining 61 detainees for transfer. The bill is not expected to survive, as the White House has threatened to veto even if the bill does pass through the Senate. Proponents of the bill argue it is necessary due to threat of recidivism. To date, more than 693 detainees have been released during the Bush and Obama administrations. According to a report from the Director of National Intelligence (PDF), 122 of these have returned to militancy, while others are "suspected" of having returned to terrorist activity.