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:
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.
Dozens of activists on Dec. 26 demonstrated outside the Israeli magistrate court in the central city of Rishon Lezion in support of a Palestinian member of the Knesset, Basal Ghattas, after the court extended his detention another day. Ghattas, a member of Joint List which represents parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel in the Knesset, was arrested on suspicions of smuggling cellphones to "Palestinian terrorists" serving time in Israeli prisons, and is being charged with "conspiring to commit...violations of Israel Prisons Service orders." Protesters raised photos of Ghattas and posters criticizing the Israeli government in both Hebrew and Arabic. Palestinian members of Knesset Haneen Zoabi and Jamal Zahaika attended the protest before they entered the court hall to attend the hearing.
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.
The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled (PDF) Oct. 21 that former detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison may continue their torture lawsuit against civilian military contractors. Four former prisoners allege that they were subjected to various forms of torture at the hands of CACI Premier Technology contractors. The case had previously been dismissed under the "political question doctrine," but the court held the doctrine does not prevent the judiciary from deciding the case.
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: