Watching the Shadows
President Donald Trump has given the CIA "secret new authority" to conduct drone strikes against suspected terrorists, the Wall Street Journal reported March 13, citing US officials. This is said to depart from the Obama administration policy of a "cooperative approach" to drone strikes, in which the CIA used surveillance drones to locate suspected terrorists and the Pentagon then conducted the actual strike. The drone strike that killed Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in May 2016 in Pakistan was named as an example of that "hybrid approach." The report asserts that the Obama administration had the Pentagon carry out the strikes "to promote transparency and accountability." The CIA, operating under covert authority, wasn't required to report its drone strikes. The Pentagon, in most cases, was required to do so.
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:
US President Barack Obama granted 64 pardons and 209 commutations Jan. 17, including commuting the sentence of Chelsea Manning. Manning worked as a low-level intelligence analyst where she leaked documents regarding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in 2010 to WikiLeaks which exposed abuses of detainees and civilian deaths. The commutation will release Chelsea Manning on May 17. Several Republican leaders have criticized the commutation, including Rep. Mac Thornberry, Sen. John McCain, and Speaker Paul D. Ryan, stating that Manning's actions risked national security. Manning's lawyers stated that "Her 35-year sentence for disclosing information that served the public interest and never caused harm to the United States was always excessive, and we're delighted that justice is being served in the form of this commutation." A White House Petition received more than 100,000 signatures in December to commute Manning's sentence.
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 Jan. 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.
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.