Watching the Shadows
The so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" employed during the Bush administration were "ineffective," according to a long-awaited report (PDF) released Dec. 9 by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. According to the report, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) deliberately misled Congress and the White House about information obtained using "enhanced interrogation techniques" between 2002 and 2007, which were more brutal than the public was led to believe. The more than 600 pages of materials (PDF; PDF) that were released to the public are based on millions of internal CIA documents and took over five years to produce. The full report, totaling more than 6,700 pages, remains classified but has been shared with the White House.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) on Dec. 8 announced the transfer of six detainees from the Guantánamo Bay detention center to Uruguay. This move is the result of a 2009 Executive Order issued by President Obama instructing the Guantánamo Bay Review Force to review these cases. The decision to transfer the detainees was unanimous amongst all parties constituting the inter-agency task force (PDF): the DoD, Department of Justice, State Department, Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Director of National Intelligence and Joint Chiefs of Staff. The six detainees are Ahmed Adnan Ahjam, Ali Hussain Shaabaan, Omar Mahmoud Faraj, Jihad Diyab, Abdul Bin Mohammed Abis Ourgy and Mohammed Tahanmatan. The men comprise four Syrians, a Tunisian and a Palestinian, and they will be granted refugee status by the Uruguayan government. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel informed Congress of the US' intent to transfer and its accordance with statutory requirement. After this transfer, there will be 136 detainees left at Guantánamo Bay.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) announced Nov. 20 the transfer of five detainees from the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. Three are being transferred to the country of Georgia, while Slovakia has accepted the transfer of two more detainees. In 2009 the Guantanamo Review Task Force, composed of six agencies, approved the transfers after considering factors such as security issues. Congress imposed restrictions on dozens of approved releases, including prohibiting any detainees from being sent to the US, but many restrictions were relaxed last December. A total of 143 prisoners remain at Guantanamo, and 74 of these have also been cleared for a future transfer.
A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia on Oct. 3 ordered (PDF) the public release of 28 videos showing the forced feeding of Guantánamo Bay detainee Wa'el Dhiab. Dhiab, a Syrian citizen, has been held at Guantánamo since 2002 and has been on a long term hunger strike in protest of his detention. US District Court Judge Gladys Kessler rejected the US Navy's arguments that releasing the tapes would aid detainees in thwarting security measures, produce propaganda, and violate the Geneva convention. She found instead that the decision to disclose classified information lies with the judiciary rather than the executive branch stating that:
Australian citizen David Hicks filed a motion (PDF) to dismiss his conviction in the US Court of Military Commission Review on Aug. 20 after pleading guilty in 2007 for war crimes that took place before 2001 in exchange for his release. Hicks was captured in Afghanistan shortly after Sept. 11, 2011, and brought to the detention facility in Guantánamo Bay the day that it opened. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel Joseph Margulies filed a motion asking the military commission to vacate Hicks' conviction for "material support for terrorism," following the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit's 2012 decision in Hamdan v. United States (PDF), which held that material support for terrorism is not a war crime and, thus, is beyond the jurisdiction of military commissions. Hicks' original appeal in November was stayed pending the ruling in Al-Bahlul v. United States (PDF), which similarly held last month that material support is not a war crime and cannot be tried by military commission. Hicks was the first person to be convicted in a military commission. After his release from Guantánamo, Hicks returned to Australia under a one-year gag order that prohibited him from speaking to the media. As part of his plea, he was also prevented from taking legal action against the US and required to withdraw allegations that the US military abused him.
A nurse at the Guantánamo detention center has refused to participate in the force-feeding of hunger-striking inmates, UK human rights group Reprieve reported July 15. Word of the unidentified nurse's refusal came via a phone call from detainee Abu Wael Dhiab to his lawyer at Reprieve and was confirmed to the Miami Herald by a Department of Defense (DoD) spokesperson, who declined to provide further details. According to Reprieve, this is the first instance of a conscientious objecting to the force-feeding of prisoners since a mass hunger strike began last year. As for the nurse, the DoD spokesperson said "the matter is now in the hands of the individual's leadership."
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on July 14 overturned two out of three convictions of Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al-Bahlul, media secretary of Osama Bin Laden. The court vacated Bahlul's convictions for providing material support for terrorism and solicitation of others to commit war crimes but did not overturn his conviction for conspiracy to commit terrorism, remanding that issue to the Court of Military Commission Review (CMCR). A three-judge panel of the appeals court had ruled last year that the military tribunal that convicted Bahlul of conspiracy in 2007 erred because a Guantánamo prisoner could not be convicted of conspiracy unless his crime took place after 2006. The court said the Military Commissions Act (MCA) of 2006 codified conspiracy as a war crime, but did not apply to crimes committed before the MCA was passed. The en banc court disagreed, ruling "that the 2006 MCA is unambiguous in its intent to authorize retroactive prosecution for the crimes enumerated in the statute—regardless of their pre-existing law-of-war status." Nonetheless, the court vacated the other two convictions, concluding that trying Bahlul by military commission for providing material support was "a plain ex post facto violation," and that "solicitation of others to commit war crimes is plainly not an offense traditionally triable by military commission." The new ruling could result in a reduction of Bahlul's life sentence.
Lawyers for Guantánamo Bay detainees on July 2 filed an emergency application (PDF) in the US District Court for the District of Columbia for a temporary restraining order prohibiting the government from depriving the inmates of the right to pray communally during the month of Ramadan. Lawyers for petitioner Imad Abdullah Hassan have already applied (PDF) for a preliminary injunction, now pending, that alleges that prohibiting the detainees from prayer violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The emergency application was filed following the US Supreme Court's recent decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. Hassan argues that the decision in Hobby Lobby, which held that for-profit corporations can deny coverage of contraception costs because of their religious beliefs, overrules the district court's prior decision in Rasul v. Myers. In that case the court held that the Guantánamo Bay detainees are not protected "persons" within the meaning of the RFRA. Thus, the motion argues that "a nonresident alien Guantanamo Bay detainee, who inarguably has constitutional rights in what is de facto sovereign US territory...must also enjoy the protections extended by the RFRA."