Watching the Shadows
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.
A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Washington on Oct. 4 ruled (PDF) that four former high-ranking Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials must testify in depositions in a lawsuit against two psychologists who designed the CIA torture program. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed the lawsuit last year against James Mitchell and John "Bruce" Jessen, who allegedly designed torture techniques and persuaded the CIA to adopt these techniques as official practice. According to the lawsuit, they personally took part in many of the torture sessions and oversaw the entire program's implementation. The court order also requires the government to furnish documents requested by the psychologists. Although the federal government is not a party in the case, it filed motions to prevent the depositions, arguing that it could lead to an accidental disclosure of classified information. The court denied the request, and stated counsel for the parties must agree on scheduling the depositions and the best manner to conduct them efficiently.
The US Congress on Sept. 28 overrode President Barrack Obama's veto of a bill that will allow the families of 9-11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia. Obama had vetoed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), stating that it violates international standards of sovereign immunity, and may set a dangerous precedent for the US to be held liable by foreign courts. Obama stated that the decision was necessary to uphold US national interests. Congress voted overwhelmingly to override Obama's veto, with the Senate voting 97-1 and the House 348-77. This is the first veto overridden during Obama's presidency.
US President Barack Obama on Sept. 23 vetoed a bill that would have allowed 9-11 victims and their families to sue Saudi Arabia, citing concerns that it would open US diplomats and servicemen to suit abroad. Congress overwhelmingly approved the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) earlier this year, with support from both parties for the bill that would allow federal suits against foreign nations determined to have had a hand in terror acts. In rejecting the law, Obama stated: