Watching the Shadows
The US Department of Defense on Aug. 15 announced the transfer of 15 Guantánamo detainees to the United Arab Emirates. Twelve of the detainees were from Yemen, and the other three were from Afghanistan. Six of the detainees had been approved for release since 2009, and the others were cleared for release more recently. Thirteen of the detainees had never faced any charges, and two of the Afghan detainees had their military commission charges drops. This marks the largest single detainee transfer so far, as the Obama administration works toward its goal of shuttering the detention center. After these transfers, there are 61 detainees remaining at Guantánamo.
The House Intelligence Committee on July 15 released a declassified "28-pages" (PDF) detailing possible connections between Saudi Arabia and the 9-11 hijackers. Whether the "28-pages" should be released was a hotly debated matter, spanning years as victims' families and lawmakers pressed for the report to be issued. Some calling for the release of the report believed that the US had been attempting to cover up Saudi Arabia's involvement in the attacks. The document acknowledges that "some of the September 11 hijackers were in contact with, and received support or assistance from, individuals who may be connected to the Saudi Government." But other sources, including the 9-11 Commission report, have held that the Saudi government was in no way involved in the attacks. Despite containing only leads to possible Saudi ties to the hijackers, former Sen. Bob Graham applauded the release, saying it would lead to further questioning of the Saudi government's potential involvement. He stated: "I think of this almost as the 28 pages are sort of the cork in the wine bottle. And once it's out, hopefully the rest of the wine itself will start to pour out."
The White House said July 1 that between 64 and 116 civilians have been killed by drone and other US strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya since Barack Obama took office in 2009. But this first public assessment by the administration put the civilian death toll significantly lower than estimates by various human rights groups, which range as high as 1,000 killed. Obama also signed an executive order outlining US policies to limit civilian casualties, and ostensibly making protection of civilians a central element in US military operations planning. The order requires an annual release of casualty estimates, and says the government should include "credible reporting" by non-government groups when it reviews strikes to determine if civilians were killed.
Former US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative Sabrina de Sousa will be extradited to Italy to serve a four-year prison sentence following a ruling by Portugal's Constitutional Court on June 8. De Sousa filed an appeal in April, a last attempt to prevent her extradition to Italy to serve a sentence for her involvement in a US extraordinary renditions program. De Sousa was arrested at a Portuguese airport after she had been convicted in absentia by an Italian court for her part in the 2003 kidnapping and "rendition" of Egyptian terror suspect Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr (AKA Abu Omar). The Portugal Supreme Court rejected her appeal of an extradition order, leaving de Sousa no choice but to argue that her extradition order is unconstitutional. De Sousa was one of 26 Americans convicted in the kidnapping.
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on April 21 upheld a district court's dismissal of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information about the US government's use of drones for "targeted killings." The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sought to obtain legal memoranda on drone use as well as compilations of data on government strikes that can detail who intended targets were, locations of strikes, and how many people have been killed, among other information. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) argued that the documents are exempt from disclosure, and the lower court granted summary judgment in their favor. The appeals court agreed with the CIA that the requested documents were properly classified and exempt from FOIA requests because they pertain to intelligence activities and/or foreign activities of the US. The court also agreed with the CIA that there we no "segregable portions" of the documents which could be disclosed.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) announced the transfer of nine Yemeni Guantánamo Bay detainees to Saudi Arabia on April 16 as it continues efforts to close the facility. The prisoners would have been sent back to their home country but were instead transfer to Saudi Arabia due to the instability in Yemen. Eight of the detainees had been cleared for release since 2009, after an extensive review, and 26 more are also cleared and expected to be released this summer. At the end of March, a US government official said the DoD told Congress that it plans to transfer as many as 12 prisoners from Guantánamo in the coming weeks. Eighty detainees remain at the facility.
Former head of the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, US Army Major General Geoffrey Miller, failed to appear before a French court on March 1 to answer a subpoena (PDF) to appear for questioning on his involvement in the torture of two French detainees. French citizens Mourad Benchellali and Nizar Sassi brought the case, challenging their treatment during their detention from 2001-2004 and 2001-2005, respectively. A French court overturned their terrorism convictions in 2009. While acknowledging that the general will most likely never appear before the French court, Benchelli and his lawyer agree that the issuance of the subpoena is a victory in itself.
US President Barack Obama delivered his plan to close Guantánamo Bay (PDF) to Congress on Feb. 23. This plan comes seven years after Obama first announced he planned to shut down the prison by the end of his presidency. Under the proposed plan, detainees not fit for US prosecution or deportation would be transferred to a yet-undisclosed detention facility in the US. The plan also prioritizes transferring detainees to their home countries when possible, or resettlement in third countries. The plan states that "closing the Guantánamo Bay detention facility is a national security imperative. Its continued operation weakens our national security by furthering the recruiting propaganda of violent extremists, hindering relations with key allies and partners, and draining Department of Defense resources."