Watching the Shadows
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on April 21 upheld a district court's dismissal of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information about the US government's use of drones for "targeted killings." The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sought to obtain legal memoranda on drone use as well as compilations of data on government strikes that can detail who intended targets were, locations of strikes, and how many people have been killed, among other information. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) argued that the documents are exempt from disclosure, and the lower court granted summary judgment in their favor. The appeals court agreed with the CIA that the requested documents were properly classified and exempt from FOIA requests because they pertain to intelligence activities and/or foreign activities of the US. The court also agreed with the CIA that there we no "segregable portions" of the documents which could be disclosed.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) announced the transfer of nine Yemeni Guantánamo Bay detainees to Saudi Arabia on April 16 as it continues efforts to close the facility. The prisoners would have been sent back to their home country but were instead transfer to Saudi Arabia due to the instability in Yemen. Eight of the detainees had been cleared for release since 2009, after an extensive review, and 26 more are also cleared and expected to be released this summer. At the end of March, a US government official said the DoD told Congress that it plans to transfer as many as 12 prisoners from Guantánamo in the coming weeks. Eighty detainees remain at the facility.
Former head of the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, US Army Major General Geoffrey Miller, failed to appear before a French court on March 1 to answer a subpoena (PDF) to appear for questioning on his involvement in the torture of two French detainees. French citizens Mourad Benchellali and Nizar Sassi brought the case, challenging their treatment during their detention from 2001-2004 and 2001-2005, respectively. A French court overturned their terrorism convictions in 2009. While acknowledging that the general will most likely never appear before the French court, Benchelli and his lawyer agree that the issuance of the subpoena is a victory in itself.
US President Barack Obama delivered his plan to close Guantánamo Bay (PDF) to Congress on Feb. 23. This plan comes seven years after Obama first announced he planned to shut down the prison by the end of his presidency. Under the proposed plan, detainees not fit for US prosecution or deportation would be transferred to a yet-undisclosed detention facility in the US. The plan also prioritizes transferring detainees to their home countries when possible, or resettlement in third countries. The plan states that "closing the Guantánamo Bay detention facility is a national security imperative. Its continued operation weakens our national security by furthering the recruiting propaganda of violent extremists, hindering relations with key allies and partners, and draining Department of Defense resources."
Amnesty International USA alleges that Mustafa al-Hawsawi, one of the accused 9-11 ring-leaders, is in desperate need of medical care in a letter (PDF) to the Pentagon that was made public on Feb. 10. In the letter, AI-USA states that Hawsawi is in severe rectal distress due to interrogation methods that amount to torture and that he has yet to receive adequate medical care. The letter further urges the Pentagon to look into the treatment of all current Guantánamo detainees due to ongoing complaints. A government spokesperson declined to comment on the letter other than to say that all detainees receive medical care equal to that of service members.
Two of three Guantánamo Bay detainees scheduled for release boarded a plane for transfer on Jan. 20 while the third detainee turned down the opportunity. Though the two released detainees were natives of Egypt and Yemen, they were resettled in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. The third detainee, Yemeni national Mohammed Bawazir, has gained a reputation for hunger striking as a protest against his 14 years of captivity without trial. Though Bawazir originally agreed to resettle in an unidentified country, he changed his mind reportedly upon realizing that he would not be returning to any family. Currently, 91 detainees remain in Guantánamo Bay, and 34 await resettlement in foreign countries.
A court in Lisbon ruled on Jan. 15 that a former CIA operative will be extradited to Italy to serve a seven-year sentence for her involvement in the 2003 kidnapping and "rendition" of Egyptian terror suspect Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr (AKA Abu Omar). Operative Sabrina De Sousa was one of 26 former agents convicted in absentia for the infamous event, and she recently filmed a documentary regarding her long struggle to clear her name. In October officials detained De Sousa in a Portuguese airport without warning and seized her passports pending the court's decision. De Sousa's lawyer expressed his intention to appeal the case to the Supreme Court and move to the Constitutional Court if necessary. De Sousa hopes to receive a pardon from Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who recently pardoned another CIA operative involved in the matter. Mattarella is scheduled to speak with US President Barack Obama in March about various issues, which may include De Sousa's case.
The Foreign Ministry of Oman on Jan. 14 reported that 10 Yemeni detainees from Guantánamo Bay arrived temporarily to Oman. The US Department of Defense later confirmed the move. Three days earlier, human rights experts from the UN and the Organization for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) jointly sent an open letter urging the US government to shut down the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay on its fourteenth anniversary. The letter mentioned the recent steps taken by the Obama administration to close the facility, but noted that many prisoners still remain at Guantánamo without trial outside the reach of US law. With this week's transfers, that number now stands at 93.