Watching the Shadows
US President Barack Obama delivered a speech May 23 on US counterterrorism policy and efforts, outlining plans to restrict the use of unmanned drone strikes and to renew efforts to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay. In Obama's first major speech on counterterrorism since his re-election, he said: "Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue, but this war, like all wars, must end. That's what history advises. That's what our democracy demands." But rather than introduce new sweeping policies, Obama's speech reaffirmed his national security priorities.
Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Mauritanian detained at Guantánamo since August 2002, had portions of his handwritten prison-camp memoir published in Slate on April 30. Slahi wrote the 466-page journal from 2005-2006, and it has just become unclassified, although many sections are redacted. Slahi mostly grew up in Germany and went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet-backed regime in 1990, where he apparently fell in with al-Qaeda. He repudiated al-Qaeda in 1992 and returned to Germany to study, later moving to Canada. In 2001 back in Mauritania, he was detained "for questioning" by police at US behest—and promptly renditioned to Jordan. There, he was tortured for months on suspicion of involvement in the 2000 "Millennium Plot"—on the specious grounds that a member of his Montreal mosque was caught with plot-related explosives. The Jordanians concluded he wasn't involved, but the US sent him to Bagram and then to Guantánamo. That's when the nightmare really began.
US President Barack Obama on April 30 renewed his pledge to make an effort to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay. At a news conference, Obama was asked about the ongoing hunger strike, now involving 100 of the 166 detainees. He responded, "Well, it is not a surprise to me that we've got problems in Guantánamo, which is why when I was campaigning in 2007 and 2008, and when I was elected in 2008, I said we need to close Guantánamo. I continue to believe that we've got to close Guantánamo." He went on to say:
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) on April 24 called for the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to be repealed. "I'm convinced that if we do not repeal this authorization to use force that I voted against in 2001, we are going to see this state of perpetual war forever," she told Current TV. Congress approved the AUMF just days after the 9-11 attacks, giving the president authority to wage war "against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks." Lee was the only member of Congress to vote against it, calling it a "blank check" for war. The Obama administration has used the AUMF as a legal justification for its targeted drone strike program in Pakistan and Yemen. "The use of drones in many instances creates more hatred, more anger, more hostility toward our country," Lee added, citing the recent congressional testimony of a young Yemeni activist. (Raw Story, April 24)
US authorities have engaged in the torture of detainees, and the nation's "highest officials" bear some of the responsibility, according to a report (PDF) released on April 16 by the Constitution Project, a bipartisan legal advocacy and watchdog group. The Project's Task Force on Detainee Treatment was established after US President Barack Obama announced in 2009 that he opposed a proposal by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy to set up a "truth commission" to investigate controversial actions of the Bush administration, including justifications for the Iraq war, warrantless wiretapping and detainee treatment. The task force members reached their conclusions after a two-year process, which included examination of public records and interviews with former detainees, military and intelligence officers, interrogators, and policymakers.
Military guards at Guantanámo Bay fired four "non-lethal" rounds at hunger-striking detainees the morning of April 13, as the facility commander forced them from a communal area into single cells. Some of the detainees used "improvised weapons" to resist being moved, according to a Department of Defense news release. No guards or detainees were reported to be seriously injured. Currently, 43 detainees are on hunger strike; 13 of those are being force-fed. Yet the military denies that it is attempting to break the strike. "Detainees may continue to hunger strike," but medical staff will now be able to monitor their condition, said Navy Capt. Robert Durand of Joint Task Force Guantanamo. He said the move to single cells was taken "to ensure that detainees are not being coerced by other detainees to participate in the hunger strike." (NYT, Huffington Post, WP, April 13)
Italian president Giorgio Napolitano on April 5 pardoned US Air Force Colonel Joseph Romano of his conviction related to the US Central Intelligence Agency's abduction and "extraordinary rendition" of Egyptian cleric and terror suspect Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr AKA Abu Omar. Joseph Romano was security chief of northern Italy's Aviano air base where Nasr was abducted prior to being flown to Egypt. Nasr was seized on the streets of Milan in 2003 by CIA agents with the help of Italian operatives, then allegedly transferred to Egypt and tortured by Egypt's State Security Intelligence before being released in February 2007. The US Department of Defense welcomed the news of Napolitano's pardon.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on April 5 called for US authorities to close down the Guantánamo Bay prison camp, emphasizing the continued indefinite incarcerations of many detainees as a clear violation of international law. Of the 166 detainees in Guantánamo, about half have been cleared for transfer, either to home countries or third countries for resettlement, while only nine of them have actually been charged or convicted of crimes. Pillay stressed that those who have been cleared for release must be released immediately, claiming the US government's continued detention of these individuals is a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (PDF). The High Commissioner also expressed concern about the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, which she says has created obstacles for the closure of Guantánamo as well as for the trials of detainees in civilian courts.