Watching the Shadows
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.
The human rights agency of the Organization of American States (OAS) has joined other international rights groups in calling for the US government to act on a report that the US Senate Intelligence Committee released on Dec. 9 about the use of torture by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). According to its Dec. 12 press release, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish) called for the US "carry out a full investigation in order to clarify the facts, and prosecute and punish all persons within its jurisdiction responsible for acts of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and to provide integral reparations to the victims, including restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and measures of non-repetition, pursuant to international standards." The commission added that "the lack of punishment encourages practices that erode respect for integrity and human dignity."
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 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.