President Barack Obama is currently blocking the release—or allowing the CIA to block the release—of a comprehensive Senate report on the use of torture by the George W. Bush administration CIA that is said to conclude that torture was not an effective or reliable method of interrogation and that the agency repeatedly misled the White House, the Justice Department, and Congress about its interrogation efforts.
Initiated by Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) and continued by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) when she succeeded him in 2009, the Senate torture probe entailed about six years of work and the review of 6 million pages of documents. In December 2012, the committee voted out the report on a mostly party line vote. Since that time, the report has been stuck in limbo at the CIA, with Director John Brennan refusing to state when his review will be complete, and reports indicating that the agency intends to write a rebuttal and oppose public release of the report.
Although the report validates anti-torture positions taken by Democrats, including President Obama, during the Bush years, Obama may be delaying its release over concerns about shedding negative light on his own, related, anti-terror policies that offend human rights, such as the continued use of torture at Guantánamo Bay or the predator drone assassination program. Further, the deep involvement of Obama’s hand-picked CIA Director, John Brennan, in the Bush-era torture and kidnapping programs may call Obama’s judgment about Brennan into question.
On the issue of torture at Guantánamo, the Obama White House claimed in 2009 that the President had canceled all Bush-era legal memos purporting to justify the use of “enhanced interrogation” techniques not authorized by the Army Field Manual. The President did not, however, cancel an April 13, 2006, memo regarding the 2006 revision of the Army Field Manual and its controversial Appendix M on interrogation. That memo justifies the use of isolation, sleep deprivation, and forms of sensory deprivation that have been denounced as torture or abuse by a number of human rights and legal groups—and which sparked the ongoing hunger strike at Guantánamo.
Obama may be concerned about the impact release of the report might have on his predator drone targeted assassination program. In 2009, the Obama administration successfully persuaded the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York to overrule a trial judge’s ruling ordering release of a September 17, 2001, presidential directive that established a wide range of anti-terror efforts, including the use of torture. Why Obama went to such great lengths to keep the directive secret may have been revealed by the appeals court opinion, which stated that “the withheld information pertains to intelligence activities unrelated to the discontinued [torture] program,” including targeted killings of suspected al-Qaeda operatives.
- Obama Administration Keeps Report On Secret Terms (salon.com)
- The Absurdity of Letting the CIA Vet the Torture Report (theatlantic.com)
- Criminal Government (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Russia Bars Bush-Era Torture Lawyers (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Judge Rejects Obama Administration Argument that Declassifying Guantánamo Case Documents is Too Much Work
The Obama administration has been ordered by a federal judge to declassify the government’s file on a former detainee after officials tried to claim that doing so would require too much work.
Mohammed Sulaymon Barre of Somaliland, who was held at Guantánamo until December 2009, filed a motion to compel the government to disclose the information officials had collected on him.
The government responded by saying it could not meet the request because of the time it would take to sift through the file and redact portions of it.
U.S. District Chief Judge Royce Lamberth rejected the administration’s argument, and said he was “troubled by the government’s apparent lack of urgency in issuing public versions of classified materials filed in Guantánamo proceedings.”
Lamberth added: “The government’s arguments are unavailing and largely boil down to this: ‘Declassification is complicated and time consuming and we already have a lot of work—please don’t pile on.’”
Barre (a.k.a. Mohamed Saleban Bare) was arrested and detained in November 2001 while living as a UN-designated refugee in Karachi, Pakistan. He became a suspect in the eyes of the U.S. because of his alleged ties to Al-Wafa, a Saudi foundation accused of terrorist activities, and because of his job at Dahabshiil Company, a Somali-based financial institution that allegedly sent money to and from customers in Pakistan. Sulaymon maintained that he had done nothing wrong and was picked up because U.S. forces were paying bounties for the capture of alleged enemies.
His detention included being held at military bases in Kandahar and Bagram in Afghanistan, before being transferred to Guantanamo, where he claims he was tortured. Upon his release, he told Agence France-Presse, “Guantánamo Bay is like hell on Earth…. In the cold they let you sleep without a blanket. Some of the inmates face harsher torture, including with electricity and beating…. Some of my colleagues in the prison lost their sight, some lost their limbs and others ended up mentally disturbed. I’m OK compared to them.”
- Ahmed Errachidi: ‘We shared one thing in Guantánamo Bay – pain’ | Q&A (guardian.co.uk)
- Return Guantánamo to the Cuban People (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Pentagon Requests $49 Million to Build New Gitmo Prison (rinf.com)
To restore good relations with Latin America and the Caribbean, damaged by several years of neglect, is one of many difficult tasks now facing the Obama administration. A measure that could have far-reaching consequences and notably improve the U.S.’ battered image in the continent would be to return Guantánamo to the Cuban people.
Guantánamo has a convoluted history. Initially, the U.S. government obtained a 99-year lease on the 45 square mile area beginning in 1903. The resulting Cuban-American Treaty established, among other things, that for the purposes of operating naval and coaling stations in Guantánamo, the U.S. had “complete jurisdiction and control” of the area. However, it was also recognized that the Republic of Cuba retained ultimate sovereignty.
In 1934, a new treaty reaffirmed most of the lease conditions, increased the lease payment to the equivalent of $3,085 in U.S. dollars per year, and made the lease permanent unless both governments agreed to end it or the U.S. decided to abandon the area.
In the confusion of the early days of the Cuban revolution, Castro’s government cashed the first check but left the remaining checks un-cashed. Since these checks were made out to the ‘Treasurer General of the Republic’, a position that ceased to exist after the revolution, they are technically invalid.
The U.S. has maintained that the cashing of the first check indicates acceptance of the lease conditions. However, at the time of the new treaty, the U.S. sent a fleet of warships to Cuba to strengthen its position. Thus, a counter argument is that the lease conditions were imposed on Cuba under duress and are rendered void under modern international law.
The U.S. has used the argument of Cuban sovereignty over Guantánamo when denying basic guarantees of the U.S. Constitution to the detainees at that facility by indicating that federal jurisdiction doesn’t apply to them. If the Cuban government indeed has sovereignty over Guantánamo, then its claims over the area are legally binding and the U.S. is obligated to return Guantánamo to Cuba.
Since 1959, the Cuban government has informed the U.S. government that it wants to terminate the lease on Guantánamo. The U.S. has consistently refused this request on the grounds that it requires agreement by both parties.
Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, an American lawyer and professor of international law at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations, has noted that article 52 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties states, “A treaty is void if its conclusion has been procured by the threat or use of force in violation of the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations.”
He also believes that the conditions under which the treaty was imposed on the Cuban National Assembly, particularly as a pre-condition to limited Cuban independence, left Cuba no other choice than to yield to pressure.
A treaty can also be void by virtue of material breach of its provisions, as indicated in article 60 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. According to the original terms of the lease agreement, the Guantánamo Bay territory could only be used for coaling and naval purposes.
However, the use of the Guantánamo facility as an internment camp for Haitian and Cuban refugees — or, even more ominously, as a demonstrated torture center by the U.S. military — indicates a significant breach of that agreement, fully justifying its immediate termination.
President Jimmy Carter courageously returned the Panama Canal to the Panamanians, thus setting an important precedent in international relations. President Carter did what was legally right, and lifted U.S. prestige not only among Panamanians but throughout the hemisphere.
It can be said that the proposal of returning Guantánamo to Cuba is hopelessly naïve, since it would give an unnecessary boost to the Castro brothers. However, this would be balanced by a wave of goodwill and respect towards the U.S. throughout Latin America. In addition, returning Guantánamo to Cuba will allow the U.S. to close one of the most tragic chapters of its legal and moral history, and it will compensate Cubans for the miseries they have had to endure due to the U.S. embargo and the stubbornness of the Cuban leaders.
Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.
- Guantanamo exposes reality of US fascism (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Activists join Guantanamo hunger strike in week of fast (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Guantanamo Bay has become money pit – former prison official (theinternetpost.net)
When President Barack Obama was campaigning for president in 2008 he condemned the assaults on constitutional rights and military operations that marked the George W. Bush administration’s “war on terror.” On his second day in office, Obama issued several executive orders as a symbol of the new administration’s break with the past and pledged to “restore the standards of due process and … core constitutional values.”
But over the last three and a half years Obama has in fact deepened the assault, strengthening the executive powers of his office and establishing new legal precedents to legitimatize major aspects of it—from indefinite detentions and military tribunals to presidential-ordered assassinations of U.S. citizens. Unlike his predecessor, Obama has intimately involved himself in directing hunter-killer operations carried out by aerial drone pilots and commando hit squads from Pakistan to Yemen to Somalia—which have mushroomed under his watch.
Among Obama’s inaugural executive decrees was a pledge to close the Pentagon’s notorious military prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, within a year. Today it’s still open with 169 prisoners. The administration’s policy has been to send no new prisoners there, but instead to expand its prison at the U.S. airbase in Bagram, Afghanistan, where some 2,000 languish further from public attention and without a pretense of any rights.
The order’s fine print made clear the president was not challenging the indefinite detention of detainees without charges. Inmates “not approved for release or transfer,” the order said, “shall be evaluated to determine … whether it is feasible to prosecute” them.
Two months later the administration was filing its first court brief defending indefinite military detention for Guantánamo detainees under executive wartime powers. In May of that year Obama defended his prerogative to indefinitely hold those “who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger.” His administration has designated 46 prisoners for detention without trial.
Another executive order signed on Obama’s second day announced the closure of secret CIA “detention facilities,” commonly referred to as “black sites.” The order included a clause stating that “detention facilities … do not refer to facilities used only to hold people on a short term, transitory basis.”
The undefined “short term” and “transitory basis” allowed the CIA to continue its practice of “extraordinary renditions” to other countries for “enhanced interrogation,” with a new air of legitimacy. In September 2010, a U.S. appeals court ruled in favor of the Obama administration, dismissing a suit by five victims of torture under the CIA’s renditions program based on the government’s “state secrets” privilege.
In his first week in office President Obama suspended military commissions at Guantánamo. In March 2011 Obama issued an executive order resuming them with some minor tweaks. Some three dozen have been designated by the current administration to face military “justice” in which the Pentagon assigns military officers to serve as judge and jury and the use of secret evidence and hearsay is permitted.
Another presidential order in March 2011 further validated indefinite detention by establishing a periodic government review of Guantánamo prisoners slated for military prosecution or considered neither fit for trial nor release.
Since assuming office the Obama administration has conducted nearly 300 drone strikes—255 of which have taken place in Pakistan, according to the Long War Journal website. This is roughly six times more than were carried out during the entire Bush administration.
The current president has taken a peculiar interest in the remote assassination campaign. “Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret ‘nominations’ process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical,” said a May 29 article in the New York Times titled “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will.”
The president approves every name on the kill list and every strike in Yemen and Somalia, as well as many of the “more complex and risky strikes in Pakistan,” the Times said. “Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die,” reported the paper. The president’s strikes have included some that were certain to result in what the administration counts as civilian casualties. The official civilian body count is kept low by recording all men in a strike zone as combatants, unnamed officials told the Times.
Obama’s first strike in Yemen in December 2009 killed more than 40 civilians, including women and children, and left behind a number of deadly cluster bombs to kill more. More recently a May 6 airstrike reportedly killed Fahd al-Quso, an alleged al-Qaeda leader, and 19-year-old Nasser Salim, who was tending to his farm when al-Quso drove into the area.
The latest U.S. drone assault June 4 in Pakistan’s tribal agency of North Waziristan killed 15 “suspected militants,” according to the Long War Journal. It was the eighth strike in Pakistan in 12 days. Since April, Washington has conducted 14 airstrikes in Yemen.
The Obama administration has established a protocol in Pakistan and Yemen that targets unidentified people based on “patterns of behavior” and “gathering places,” according to numerous press reports.
Last September a U.S. drone strike killed U.S.-born citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen after Obama publicly announced he put him on the hit list. That decision was “an easy one” Obama told associates, according to the Times.
Following the killing, the administration declared the president’s authority to assassinate citizens who pose an “imminent threat” if “capture is not feasible,” as Attorney General Eric Holder put it in a speech March 5 at Northwestern University School of Law. Referring to the Fifth Constitutional Amendment’s prohibition on taking life without due process, Holder said “‘due process’ and ‘judicial process’ are not one and the same.” In other words, as long as the administration has really mulled it over and Congress is not complaining, don’t worry, it’s all good.
- Obama and Drone Warfare (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- CIA gets nod to step up drone strikes in Pakistan (nation.com.pk)
- Obama regime surpasses Bush in deadliness of war on al-Qaeda – Irish Times (irishtimes.com)
The hundreds of lawyers, reporters and observers headed to Guantanamo Bay for Saturday’s arraignment of five defendants at the 9/11 military commission better check their calendars: Suddenly, it feels a lot like 1984.
The government wants to censor any statements the defendants have made about how they’ve been treated while in U.S. custody. If they were tortured or abused by CIA or Department of Defense personnel, that’s information the government wants to keep classified.
If it sounds Orwellian for a government to claim it can classify statements made by a defendant about their own experiences with illegal government conduct such as torture, that’s because it is. Such a move also has no basis in law, which is why the ACLU filed a motion yesterday with the military commission that asks it to deny the government’s request to suppress the defendants’ statements.
As Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project notes: “The most important terrorism trial of our time should not be an exception to the rule of public access because its legitimacy depends in part on its transparency.”
The ACLU is also asking the commission to bar a delayed audio feed of the proceedings. Right now, observers can see the hearing live behind a glass, but the audio they hear is on a 40-second delay to give censors the ability to cut off any mentions of purportedly classified information.
The truth may be ugly, but better to get it out in the open than keep it under wraps. Those seeking justice for the victims of the 9/11 attacks should want nothing less.