Watching the Shadows
A federal judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia on July 30 rejected a legal challenge from a Guantánamo Bay detainee who claimed that his detention at the naval base was illegal. Muktar Yahya Najee al-Warafi from Yemen was captured in Afghanistan and has been held at Guantánamo since 2002. In his challenge, he claimed that his imprisonment was unlawful due to recent statement by President Barack Obama that hostilities between the US and the Taliban have ended. Warafi brought the action under the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), arguing that the stated end of hostilities made it unlawful to continue holding him. However, Judge Royce C. Lamberth wrote that the government had presented "convincing evidence that US involvement in the fighting in Afghanistan, against al-Qaida and Taliban forces alike, has not stopped... A court cannot look to political speeches alone to determine factual and legal realities merely because doing so would be easier than looking at all the relevant evidence." Warafi has yet to decide if he will appeal.
The US State Department on June 19 released its "Country Reports on Terrorism 2014," finding that the number of terrorist attacks around the world rose by a third in 2014 compared with the previous year. The number of people killed in such attacks rose by 80%, to nearly 33,000. The sharp increase was largely due to the "unprecedented" seizure of territory in Iraq and Syria by ISIS, and the growith of Boko Haram in Nigeria. Terrorist groups used more aggressive tactics in 2014 than in previous years, such as beheadings and crucifixions. ISIS attacks on religious minorities like Christians and Yazidis are cited. Islamic State was particularly lethal. The reports says the June 2014 massacre at a prison in Mosul, Iraq, in which ISIS killed 670 Shi'ite prisoners "was the deadliest attack worldwide since September 11, 2001." The report notes the "central al-Qaeda leadership" has been weakened, but the network's regional affiliates have gained ground in places like Yemen and the Horn of Africa. (BBC News, Reuters, State Department, June 19)
Six Guantánamo detainees were transferred to Oman June 13, marking the first transfer of detainees from the prison in five months. The Pentagon reports that the six Yemeni men transferred include Emad Abdullah Hassan, held without charge since 2002, Idris Ahmad 'Abd Al Qadir Idris and Jalal Salam Awad Awad, all accused of being one of many bodyguards to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, as well as Sharaf Ahmad Muhammad Mas'ud, whom the US said fought American soldiers at Tora Bora, Afghanistan, before his capture in Pakistan, Saa'd Nasser Moqbil Al Azani, a religious teacher whom the US believes had ties to bin Laden's religious adviser, and Muhammad Ali Salem al-Zarnuki, who allegedly arrived in Afghanistan as early as 1998 to fight and support the Taliban. President Barack Obama's administration has transferred more than half of the 242 detainees who were at the facility when he took office in 2009, but lawmakers have sought new restrictions on transfers that may lead to further challenges to the president's initiative.
Key provisions of the USA Patriot Act expired June 1 after a late Senate vote failed to establish an extension. The provisions that expired were in Section 215 of the act and included: the "Bulk Data Collection" provision, which allowed the government to collect data, the "Lone Wolf" provision, which allowed surveillance on individuals not directly tied to terrorist groups, and the "Roving Wiretaps" provision, which allowed the government to surveil all of a suspected terrorist's communications. The Senate gathered to vote on the bill late May 31, but fierce debate pushed the vote into the early hours of the next morning. Although the Senate failed to establish an extension for the Patriot Act, they are set to vote on the USA Freedom Act which is supposed to serve as a limit on government surveillance.
The Polish government on May 15 processed payments to two terror suspects currently held by the US at Guantánamo Bay. The European Court of Human Rights had imposed a deadline of the following day on Poland to make the reparations. Last July Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were awarded $147,000 and $113,000, respectively, in a lawsuit against Poland for allowing the CIA to detain them and for not preventing torture and inhumane treatment. The court also ordered Poland to urge the US not to execute the suspects. Many people in Poland are upset with the penalty, feeling they must pay for US actions, and many Americans are upset at the idea that possible terror suspects could receive this money. The detainees' lawyer, however, claims there rights were violated, they were subjected to torture, and they have never been found guilty of a crime in court.
A judge for the Alberta Court of Appeal on May 7 ruled that former Guantánamo detainee Omar Khadr can be released on bail while he appeals his US war crimes conviction. According to Justice Myra Bielby, the ruling was based on her belief that there was "no clear evidence there would be irreparable harm if he was released." The judge also rejected arguments made by government lawyers that Khadr's release would damage Canada's foreign relations. He will be required under the terms of his bail to live with his attorney and submit to electronic monitoring and a curfew.
A former aide of Osama bin Laden was found guilty on Feb. 26 of plotting the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224. Extradited from the UK in 2012, Saudi national Khalid al-Fawwaz was convicted on four counts of conspiracy by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York after three days of jury deliberations, and faces a possible life sentence. US Attorney Preet Bharara said al-Fawwaz "played a critical role for al-Qaeda in its murderous conspiracy against America." He described al-Fawwaz as one of bin Laden's "original and most trusted lieutenants" who was leader of an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, and later acted as bin Laden's spokesperson in London. Al-Fawwaz was arrested in the UK in 1998, the same year as the bombings. His trial lasted a month under heavy security in Manhattan. Al-Fawwaz did not testify.
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.