Watching the Shadows
Uruguayan President Jose Mujica announced on March 20 that his country has agreed with US President Barack Obama to take five inmates at Guantánamo Bay, reportedly stating that they would be "welcome to work and stay with their families in Uruguay." Obama is attempting to live up to his promise to release the remaining prisoners at the camp and to close the facility, but there are still 154 remaining detainees. The five prisoners will be granted refugee status in Uruguay, and though Mujica reportedly agreed to the proposal for humanitarian reasons, he has also acknowledged the possibility of some reciprocal action from the United States, reportedly stating, "I don't do favors for free." Mujica has some personal connection to the prisoners' scenario, having been detained for fourteen years as a guerrilla fighter by the 1973-1985 Uruguayan dictatorship.
The US Department of Defense on March 12 announced the transfer of Guantánamo detainee Ahmed Belbacha to Algeria. Belbacha, a native Algerian who was detained in Pakistan in 2002, had been held at Guantánamo for 12 years without a trial or formal charges. Algeria tried Belbacha in absentia in 2009, convicting him of belonging to an "overseas terrorist group," and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. Belbacha has resisted repatriation until recently after beiong cleared for transfer by the Guantánamo Review Task Force. After the transfer, 154 detainees remain at Guantánamo Bay.
Emad Abdullah Hassan filed a federal lawsuit on March 11 in the US District Court for the District of Columbia that challenges the force-feeding procedures at the Guantánamo Bay military prison. Hassan, who has been held in Guantanamo since 2002, alleges that he has been force-fed more than 5,000 times since 2007 in an effort to end his hunger strike. Hassan's case will be the first time at a court will review the force-feeding procedures used at Guantanamo since the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled (PDF) last month that federal judges have jurisdiction to hear such cases. Hassan's attorney argues that the force-feeding procedures amount to torture and says that he hopes the lawsuit will force the military to hand over documents regarding detainee policies and procedures.
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 2014 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 US Department of Defense announced Jan. 1 that three Uighur Muslim detainees were transferred to Slovakia from the Guantánamo Bay military prison. The detainees, Yusef Abbas, Saidullah Khalik and Hajiakbar Abdul Ghuper, were the last three members of the Chinese ethnic minority being held at the facility since their 2001 capture in Pakistan. US District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina declared in 2008 that the detention of the Uighurs was unlawful, though the US has delayed their release to find a country that would accept them. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby called the transfer "a significant milestone in our effort to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay."
On Dec. 31, US Judge John G. Koeltl granted the Bureau of Prisons' request for the compassionate release of Lynne Stewart. Now 74 years old and struggling with terminal cancer, Stewart is said to have a life expectancy of less than 18 months. She has been serving a 10-year sentence at the Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth, Tex., in connection with her defense of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. As her condition has deteriorated, the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) has repeatedly called on Attorney General Eric Holder to direct the BoP to grant compassionate release. Said NLG executive director Heidi Boghosian: "From arrest to sentencing, Lynne Stewart's case was used by the Department of Justice to send a chilling message to attorneys: think twice about who you represent! For speaking to a Reuters reporter about her client’s viewpoints—in violation of an administrative order—an ailing Ms. Stewart was sentenced to a decade in prison. Today's small measure of justice does little to repair the damage wrought by the government’s unjust prosecution of an advocate whose service to society has been widely documented." (NLG, Dec. 31)
The US Department of Defense announced Dec. 16 that two Guantánamo Bay detainees have been transferred to Saudi Arabia. Saad Muhammad Husayn Qahtani and Hamood Abdulla Hamood had been held since 2002, but neither had been charged with a crime. The two men were recommended for transfer in 2009 after a review by the the interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force. According to a statement:
Lawyers for two Guantánamo detainees, arguing before the European Court of Human Rights on Dec. 3, accused Poland of providing a secret torture site for the Central Intelligence Agency's "extraordinary rendition" program. The case involves 48-year-old Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi national facing terror charges in connection with the al-Qaeda attack on the USS Cole in 2000, and 42-year-old Zain Abidin Mohammed Husain Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian who has never been charged with a crime. According to their lawyers, Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah were victims of the CIA's "enhanced interrogation" and waterboarding techniques, as well as mock executions. Crofton Black, a researcher with the human rights organization Reprieve and witness to the closed trial, called the Polish government's investigation into the matter nothing more than a smoke-screen.