Watching the Shadows
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. This year, the stakes got much higher, with multiple foreign interventions in Syria and ISIS striking in Europe. On the night of Obama's 2016 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:
The last Kuwaiti held at Guantánamo, Faiz Mohammed Ahmed al-Kandari, has been repatriated to his home country, the US Department of Defense announced Jan. 8. The Periodic Review Board (PRB) determined in September that "continued law of war detention of Al-Kandari does not remain necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States." Al-Kandari was captured by unnamed Afghans and arrived at Guantánamo in May 2002 after being accused of serving as Osama bin Laden's "advisor and confidant." Kuwaiti authorities said the release showed progress in bilateral relations with the US. The release of all 12 Kuwaiti detainees followed strong efforts by Kuwait and high-profile Washington lawyers to secure their freedom. Al-Kandari is the third detainee to be resettled this week; 104 detainees remain at the detention center.
Two Yemeni men captured in Afghanistan and detained at Guantánamo Bay for 14 years have been released to Ghana, officials said Jan. 6. These two are among the 17 detainees scheduled for release this month. The men were suspected of training with al-Qaeda and fighting with the Taliban but were never charged. They had been cleared for release in 2009, but required a host country to accept them before actual release could be ordered.
According to an official US government document (PDF), a man who fought for the Taliban in Afghanistan and has been held without charge at Guantánamo Bay for 13 years was a victim of mistaken identity. Mustafa Abd-al Qawi Abd-al-Aziz al-Shamiri was held as a courier and trainer for al-Qaeda. The Department of Defense now believes these activities were carried out by other militants with similar names. Al-Shamiri is linked to the men who planned the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, but there is no evidence he was part of the operation. In a statement released by al-Shamiri's personal representatives, they say he feels "remorse for choosing the wrong path early in life" and "wants to make a life for himself."
The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Nov. 23 released its ruling that the US government may keep secret memoranda related to the legal justification for the use of drones for targeted killings of those in other countries believed to be involved in terrorism. Though the opinion was drafted last month, it was placed under temporary seal and not released until this week. The case was the result of Freedom of Information Act requests by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and New York Times for documents prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel of the US Department of Justice regarding the drone strikes. The court made a point of emphasizing that the legality of the strikes themselves was not the issue before the court, and that its review primarily concerned whether documents regarding their lawfulness must be disclosed. Those arguing for the release of the memos called the documents "working law," but the courts denied this argument.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) on Oct. 30 announced that the last remaining British inmate, Shaker Aamer, has been released and returned to the UK after extensive review (PDF) by the Guantánamo Review Task Force. Though he is a citizen of the UK through marriage, Aamer identifies himself as a Saudi national. In 2001, Aamer was allegedly performing charity work in Afghanistan when he was captured by bounty hunters and transferred to a US military base as an al-Qaeda suspect. Aamer was transferred to Guantanamo in 2002 and remained there for 13 years despite being approved for release in 2007 and 2009. Aamer was never charged and claims he was consistently subject to abusive treatment. He often accused the prison of unfair conditions and recently went on hunger strike to press his grievances. Now that Aamer has returned to the UK, he must undergo physical and mental health assessment. Though it is unknown if he will be monitored for security reasons, Aamer has stated he has no ill intentions.
The US government's case against five Guantánamo Bay detainees will continue to move forward after a US military judge on Oct. 29 determined that one of the defendants may not fire his defense lawyer. US military judge James Pohl ruled that Walid bin Atash did not show good cause to fire his lawyer. Judge Pohl stated to Atash, "[u]nder the law, before you may terminate the relationship with a counsel who's got an ongoing relationship with you, you must show good cause." Atash is one of the five detainees charged for planning and aiding of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2011. The presiding judge found that allowing Atash to retain new counsel would further delay trial proceedings, which yet to be assigned a trial date.
The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) on Oct. 19 filed a criminal complaint against a high-ranking CIA official for mistreatment of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen who was detained and allegedly tortured for four months in 2003. El-Masri was on vacation in Macedonia when he was mistaken for Khalid al-Masri, a suspect in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. El-Masri was then transported to Afghanistan where he was detained and questioned for four months under the direction of Alfreda Frances Bikowsky. At the time, Bikowsky was deputy chief of the Central Intelligence Agency's Bin Laden Issue Station. ECCHR asserts in the complaint that the US Senate Torture Report ties Bikowsky to el-Masri's detention, and ECCHR requests that the German federal prosecutor investigate.