Watching the Shadows
The US Court of Military Commission Review on Feb. 18 set aside the terrorism convictions (PDF) of former Guantánamo detainee David Hicks. Hicks pleaded guilty in 2007 to providing material support to terrorism, which was one of the few cases of successful prosecution of a Guantánamo detainee. In 2014, an appeals court decided that material support was not a valid war crime, but Hicks had previously agreed not to make any appeals as part of his plea bargain. The US military court rejected this condition, however, allowing Hicks' appeal. One of Hicks' lawyers said last month that the US government had admitted his conviction was incorrect and did not dispute Hicks' innocence.
Adel Abdel Bary, a member of al-Qaeda and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) was sentenced to 25 years in prison Feb. 6 by Us District Judge Lewis Kaplan. The Egyptian national pleaded guilty last September to threatening to kill, injure, intimidate, and damage and destroy property by means of an explosive; conspiracy to make the threat; and conspiring to kill US nationals. The US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York said that Bary "facilitated communications" for al-Qaeda leaders, including claims of responsibility and threats for the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which killed 224 people. The 25-year sentence was the maximum allowed under his plea agreement, and Bary will likely serve about eight more years to complete his sentence, as he has been incarcerated since 1999. Along with prison time, Bary was also sentenced to pay over $7.5 million dollars in restitution to victims' families, and over $26.3 million in restitution to the US. Khalid al-Fawwaz, one of Bary's co-defendants, is currently still on trial.
World War 4 Report has been keeping a dispassionate record 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) established by the Bush White House. On the day of his 2015 State of the Union address, we offer the following annotated assessment of which moves over the past year have been on balance positive, neutral and negative, and arrive at an overall score:
A group of US senators on Jan. 13 proposed legislation (PDF) that would place a moratorium on the release or transfer of prisoners from Guantánamo Bay. Republican Senators Kelly Ayotte (NH), John McCain (AZ), Lindsey Graham (SC) and Richard Burr (NC) touted the new bill as the best course of action to protect US national security. The act, titled "The Detaining Terrorists to Protect America Act of 2015," would halt all releases of Guantánamo detainees with high or medium risk ratings, issue more prohibitions ontransfers and provide more transparency on how detainees' risk levels are determined. Ayotte stated, "It's clear that we need a 'time out' so that we do not re-confront the terrorists that we had captured and are currently in Guantánamo." The new legislation will place pressure on the White House as the Obama administration released 28 prisoners from Guantánamo in 2014.
The US District Court for the Southern District of New York on Jan. 9 sentenced Egyptian-born Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri (BBC profile) to life in prison for supporting terrorism. Hamza was convicted and found guilty of 11 criminal charges in May. The charges included planning to establish a jihad training camp in Oregon, conspiring to kidnap Americans in Yemen by enabling hostage-takers to speak on a satellite phone, and supplying the Taliban with goods and services. Judge Katherine B. Forrest characterized al-Masri's actions as "barbaric," and said she could not imagine a time in which his release would be safe.
The convening authority for the Office of Military Commissions, retired Marine Major General Vaughn A. Ary, on Jan. 9 overturned the terror conviction against Sudanese national Noor Uthman Muhammed (charge sheet, PDF) and dismissed the charges against him. Muhammed was accused of working as a weapons instructor and logistician in Afghanistan, and pled guilty to charges of providing material support for terrorism and conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism in February 2011. The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit [official website] ruled in two subsequent, unrelated cases that trials for terrorist detainees should not be conducted by military commission (Bahlul v. US; Hamdan v. Rumsfeld) unless the crime was recognized as a war crime at the time it was committed. The DC Circuit decisions, binding on military commissions, required the convening authority to dismiss the findings and sentence against Muhammed.
On Dec. 31 the US Department of Defense said five prisoners at Guantánamo Bay will be released to the government of Kazakhstan as part of an effort by the Obama administration to expedite the closing of the facility. An interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force conducted a comprehensive review of the cases of Asim Thabit Abdullah al-Khalaqi, Muhammad Ali Husayn Khanayna, Sabri Muhammad Ibrahim al-Qurashi, Adel al-Hakeemy and Abdullah Bin Ali al-Lufti. The men were unanimously approved for transfer. After the transfer, 127 detainees will remain at Guantánamo Bay.
The US Department of Defense on Dec. 27 announced the repatriation of four Guantánamo Bay detainees to Afghanistan. The prisoners—Shawali Khan, Khi Ali Gul, Abdul Ghani and Mohammed Zahir—were released after a review of their cases. Although originally detained on suspicion of being associated with groups such as the Taliban and other terrorist organizations, they had been cleared for transfer for quite some time. They were considered "low-level detainees" and not security risks in their home country. With the release, the population of Guantánamo has been reduced to 132 prisoners. The release of the four men is part of an effort by the Obama administration to close Guantánamo Bay, despite restrictions in the latest defense spending bill, which President Obama signed Dec. 19 with a statement that expressed dissatisfaction over the provisions.