Indefinite Detention

Judge Kessler to President Obama: Will You Save Gitmo Detainees from “Painful, Humiliating, and Degrading” Treatment?

In my post describing the emergency suit to stop force-feeding at Gitmo before Ramadan, I suggested it might be unlikely for the DC District Court judges to accept a challenge about prison conditions. That is exactly what happened: Judge Gladys Kessler rejected the request on jurisdictional grounds.

But along the way, she made it clear she doesn’t buy government claims that force-feeding people is really the best medical care.

Despite the statements contained in the Declaration submitted by the Government in support of its Opposition to the Application claiming that “[t]he health care provided to the detainees being held at JTF-GTMO rivals that provided in any community in the United States and is comparable to that afforded to our active duty service members. Detainees receive timely, compassionate, quality healthcare and have regular access to primary care and specialist physicians,” it is perfectly clear from the statements of detainees, as well as the statements from the organizations just cited, that force-feeding is a painful, humiliating, and degrading process. [my emphasis]

At which point she made clear who really bears responsibility for this continued treatment.

Even though this Court is obligated to dismiss the Application for lack of jurisdiction, and therefore lacks any authority to rule on Petitioner’s request, there is an individual who does have the authority to address the issue. In a speech on May 23,2013, President Barack Obama stated “Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. . . Is that who we are? Is that something that our founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children? Our sense of justice is stronger than that.” Text of President Obama’s May 23 Speech on National Security (Full Transcript), Wash. Post, May 23, 2013, available at 2013 WLNR 12700673.

Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution provides that “[t]he President shall be the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States … ” It would seem to follow, therefore, that the President of the United States, as Commander-in-Chief, has the authority–and power–to directly address the issue of force-feeding of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. [my emphasis]

Kessler’s use of the term “degrading” is particularly notable. Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture reads, in part,

Each State Party shall undertake to prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture

A federal judge has just determined that force-feeding Gitmo detainees amounts to degrading treatment.

Will the President act to end this degrading treatment, or will he publicly fail to meet our obligations under the Convention Against Torture?

FBI Retirees Warn against Jim Comey, Torture, and Indefinite Detention

When one of the unions that represent FBI Agents floated a trial balloon supporting Mike Rogers to be FBI Director, it got a lot more press attention than the unlikelihood of their request merited.

Let’s see whether this letter — from 5 retired FBI Agents — gets similar press attention. It raises concerns about two parts of Jim Comey’s past: his concurrence with a May 10, 2005 memo authorizing (among other things) torture — which I wrote about here — and his support for the indefinite detention of Jose Padilla.

However, the public record also shows that Mr. Comey concurred with a May 10, 2005 Office of Legal Counsel opinion that justified those same enhanced interrogation techniques for use individually. These techniques include cramped confinement, wallstanding, water dousing, extended sleep deprivation, and waterboarding, all of which constitute torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in contravention of domestic and international law. Further, Mr. Comey vigorously defended the Bush administration’s decision to hold Jose Padilla, a United States citizen apprehended on U.S. soil, indefinitely without charge or trial for years in a military brig in Charleston, South Carolina.

Among the signatories is Jack Cloonan, a former member of the Osama bin Laden team who watched as CIA started interrupting successful interrogations to subject the detainee to torture instead. I’d be surprised, too, if he didn’t know Comey from the Southern District of NY days.

The letter suggests that Comey might not guard the FBI’s legacy as nobly as Robert Mueller (!) did.

The FBI, while not a perfect institution, has a proud history of dealing with terrorism suspects in accordance with the law. When other agencies and departments resorted to “enhanced interrogation” techniques, FBI Director Mueller directed FBI agents not to participate and in many cases FBI agents were pulled from the field where there were concerns about complicity with unlawful interrogation approaches. To date, the FBI has played a role in prosecuting within the civilian criminal justice system nearly 500 international terrorism cases–often leading to substantial periods of incarceration—

without having to resort to indefinite detention. Even Jose Padilla was ultimately given a trial in a civilian court, despite claims by Mr. Comey that prosecuting Padilla or otherwise affording him traditional due process protections would compromise national security.

They also tied Comey’s confirmation process to the declassification of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report.

The Agents ask only that Comey “reject” the May 10, 2005 OLC memo. Me, I’d like the Senate to demand a full explanation for the circumstances of it. The memo was retroactive to cover someone who had already been tortured (though of course probably served to authorize Abu Faraj al-Libi’s torture, among others). At the very least the Senate Judiciary Committee could demand that Comey explain the circumstances of that retroactive approval.

Gitmo Detainees Try to Force End to Force-Feeding in Time for Ramadan

According to Carol Rosenberg’s count, 44 of the 106 Gitmo detainees currently on hunger strike are being tube-fed. Which suggests there are too many men to carry out the tube feeding after sunset and sunset, which is what the camp has done in past years when there were fewer detainees hunger striking during Ramadan.

That is just one of the issues cited in the emergency motion filed by the lawyer for Shaker Aamer and three other detainees, Cori Crider, plus John Eisenberg (of al-Haramain fame) to end the practice.

Petitioners have been detained at Guantánamo Bay for up to 11 years. At this point, their detention without trial or military commission proceedings has become indefinite. To force-feed a noncriminal detainee in order to prolong his indefinite detention violates the law of human rights and thus serves no legitimate penological interest.

Petitioners’ force-feeding also violates medical ethics and is inhumane. For that reason, too, it serves no legitimate penological interest. The only theory advanced to justify petitioners’ detention is that, more than a decade ago, they were enemy belligerents. Their detention, it is said, is necessary to ward off some putative “return” to the battlefield. They dispute that claim, but even if one accepts it, a noncriminal enemy belligerent is still entitled, under the Geneva Conventions and basic standards of human decency, to be treated honorably and humanely. Being strapped to a chair and having a tube forcibly inserted through one’s nostrils and into one’s stomach is dishonorable and degrading. It falls within the ambit of torture or other forms of inhumane treatment. In the long history of American detention of the enemy, bodily invasions of this character have never been the routine business of the prisoner of war camp.

The motion has individual descriptions from each of the four detainees explaining why they are striking.

[Nabil] Hadjarab is an Algerian citizen and former French resident. His living relatives are French citizens and have requested that the French government accept him in honor of his family’s history of French military service. He was also cleared by the Bush administration ARB in 2007 and by the Obama-era GRTF in 2009.

[snip]

Mr. Hadjarab was among the first prisoners to be force-fed, on March 22, 2013. Crider Decl. Ex. A, at 11. He also finds the process degrading and painful, stating that the feeding chair “ ‘reminds [him] of an execution chair.’ ” Id. at 11. He, too, has sought to raise concerns with medical staff and has been rebuffed.

The big question will be whether the courts accept a challenge on prison conditions.

The judges in these detainees’ habeas cases, Rosemary Collyer and Gladys Kessler, have given the government until Wednesday to respond.

Ramadan starts Monday.

Obama’s Headlong Rush to Counterterrorism Transparency

By my count, Thursday will be the 100th day since Obama promised, in his State of the Union Adress delivered February 12, “to engage Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.”

Back then there were, officially at least, just a handful of Gitmo detainees on hunger strike. And it’s possible — if DOJ used the two 45-day gags on subpoenas they permit themselves — a subpoena seizing the phone records for 21 AP phone lines had already been issued.

After Obama promised more transparency on drones and other counterterrorism programs, Members of Congress continued to have to demand minimal transparency. On February 20, Rand Paul sent his third request for that information. On February 27, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte repeated that Committee’s request to see OLC’s drone targeting memos; he also expressed anger that the Administration had refused to send a witness to the hearing.

On March 7, Eric Holder hinted that we would “will hear from the President in a relatively short period of time” on drones and transparency and counterterrorism.  On March 8, guards at Gitmo shot non-lethal bullets at detainees. The following day US conducted a drone strike in Pakistan, one of two strikes that month.

On March 11, Progressive Members of Congress sent a letter asking for information on drone targeting.

On April 9, McClatchy reported that most drone strikes had hit low level militants, contrary to public claims; it also revealed the intelligence reports themselves were false.

On April 10, the House Judiciary Committee finally threatened to subpoena the OLC memos authorizing the killing of an American citizen; that was at least the 23rd request for such information from Congress. A week later the Committee would finally get a promise to see just those memos, memos squarely within the Committee’s oversight jurisdiction.

On April 13, the military locked down Gitmo, effectively depriving most detainees of the human company they had enjoyed for years. On that day, 43 men were hunger striking.

On April 14, Samir Haji al Hasan Moqbel described, in a NYT op-ed, “I’ve been on a hunger strike since Feb. 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds. I will not eat until they restore my dignity.” That same day, the US launched one of two drone strikes in Pakistan that month.

On April 15, the Tsarnaev brothers attacked the Boston Marathon, reportedly in retaliation for treatment of Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq.

April 17, a US drone struck the Yemeni village of a Yemeni, Farea al-Muslimi, already scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about how drones turn Yemenis against the US.

On April 21, the number of hunger strikes at Gitmo reached 84 — over half the men there. Six days later, on April 27, that number reached 100. Three more men have since joined the hunger strike.

As those numbers were growing, on April 25, Dianne Feinstein called on Obama to transfer those detainees who have been cleared. On April 30, Obama renewed his promise to close Gitmo. The next day, the White House made clear that the moratorium preventing almost half the detainees, men who have been cleared for transfer, to return home to Yemen, remained in place.

On May 10, the AP learned that DOJ had seized phone records from 21 phone lines with no notice, potentially exposing the sources of up to 100 journalists.

On May 16, in a hearing querying whether Congress should eliminate or expand the September 18, 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, Assistant Defense Secretary Michael Sheehan testified the war on terror would last at least 10-20 more years. He also said DOD won’t be taking over CIA’s side of the drone war anytime soon.

Saturday, a drone strike killed at least 4 thus far unidentified men in Yemen.

Which brings us to Thursday when, the WaPo details, Obama will give a speech telling us once again the drone strikes are legal, his desire to close Gitmo is real, and leaks his new CIA Director exacerbated are serious. He will, apparently, also tell us how he plans to make his counterterrorism plan look more like what he promised it would look like 4 years ago.

President Obama will deliver a speech Thursday at the National Defense University in which he will address how he intends to bring his counterterrorism policies, including the drone program and the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in line with the legal framework he promised after taking office.

In the interim between when he promised this transparency and when he’ll start to sort of deliver it (but not, apparently, any actions to close Gitmo), about 7% of his second term will have passed.

Some of the delay, apparently, comes from the need to address the issues that have been festering during the delay.

Obama was prepared to deliver the speech earlier this month, but it was put off amid mounting concerns over a prisoner hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay and more recently the Justice Department leaks investigation — both of which the revised speech may address.

But otherwise, it appears it has taken 100 days to be able to craft a speech good enough to make his paranoia about secrecy and lip service to human rights in counterterrorism look like something else.

Ah well, at least they’ve sharply curtailed drone strikes while they’ve been writing a speech.

Hillary Said Appoint a Gitmo Champion; The Opposite Happened

There’s a weird detail in this Daniel Klaidman piece on Obama’s claimed newfound commitment to closing Gitmo.

One of the new details in it describes a memo Hillary Clinton wrote just before she left the State Department.

One recent plea, two sources told Newsweek, came from Hillary Clinton, who, just before she left office in January 2013, sent a two-page confidential memo to Obama about Guantánamo.

[snip]

Now, in one of her last moves as secretary of State, she was making a final effort to prod her boss to do more. Her memo was replete with practical suggestions for moving ahead on Gitmo. Chief among them: Obama needed to appoint a high-level official to be in charge of the effort, someone who had clout and proximity to the Oval Office. Further, Clinton argued that Obama could start transferring the 86 detainees who’d already been cleared for release. (Congress has imposed onerous restrictions on the administration’s ability to transfer Gitmo detainees—including a stipulation that the secretary of Defense certify that detainees sent to other countries would not engage in acts of terrorism. In her memo, Clinton pointed out that the administration could use “national-security waivers” to circumvent the restriction.)

The Clinton missive perturbed White House aides, who viewed it as an attempt to put them on the spot, according to a senior administration official. It’s unclear how Obama himself reacted to the memo; there’s no evidence that it spurred him to action.

I thought to myself as I read this, “but Clinton’s departure is precisely when the Administration moved backwards on this front, by reassigning Daniel Fried, who had been in charge of resettling detainees.” Fried’s reassignment was reported January 29. That was technically while Hillary was still at State — Kerry took over on February 1.

Still, whoever transferred Fried, she must have written that memo (which pissed off Obama’s minders) at almost precisely the moment State eliminated the person most focused on working towards Gitmo closure.

Klaidman doesn’t entirely ignore this detail. Six paragraphs later he mentions the transfer.

For much of the past few years, without any signal that Obama was going to fight on Gitmo, the policy drifted. Daniel Fried, the veteran State Department official in charge of resettling detainees, was transferred to a different position.

Still, there must be a story explaining why Fried got transferred at precisely the moment Hillary, technically still his boss, was calling to redouble the effort to close Gitmo.

What Are the Secrets that Will Remain Hidden in Benghazi?

Things are becoming clearer day by day in Libya. groups and brigades are polarizing along Islamist-jihadist-secular lines

US drones are not only hovering all the time over eastern Libya, they also bombed a training camp run by Abdulbasit  Azuz, a commander from Dernah.

Yes, you heard that right, US drones are bombing Libya already

The above June 8, 2012 quote, apparently from a extremist discussion board, is among the materials (see PDF 119) the State Department used to investigate the Benghazi attack (Darrell Issa released them after last year’s Benghazi hearing). While the screen cap of the discussion entry comes with no explanation, it appears to show someone at State was tracking the rise of extremists in real time, particularly the day after an earlier IED attack on the US mission in Benghazi claimed by the Imprisoned Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman Brigades (see PDF 110 for State’s description of that).

But it wouldn’t take reading Jihadist sites to understand what they were saying the summer before the September 11 attack on Benghazi. CNN’s June 7 coverage of the attack on the mission included many of the same details.

A senior Libyan official told CNN that the U.S. is flying surveillance missions with drones over suspected jihadist training camps in eastern Libya because of concerns over rising activity by al Qaeda and like-minded groups in the region but said that to the best of his knowledge, they had not been used to fire missiles at militant training camps in the area.

The revelation follows a failed attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi on Tuesday night, which a shadowy jihadist group claimed was to avenge the death of al Qaeda No. 2 Abu Yahya al-Libi.

The official said that one militant commander operating in Derna, Abdulbasit Azuz, had complained that a drone strike had targeted his training camp in the east of Libya.  Last month, there were reports of explosions outside the Derna area in the vicinity of the camps, according to a different source.

[snip]

The senior Libyan official said it would be bad if such a strike had occurred. He added that the Americans’ use of drones in a surveillance capacity had been discussed at the top level of the transitional Libyan government.

As CNN has reported, Azuz is a senior al Qaeda operative and longtime close associate of the group’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was dispatched to Libya from the tribal areas of Pakistan in spring 2011, according to several sources.  There, he subsequently recruited fighters.

[snip]

The jihadist group that claimed responsibility for the failed attack on the U.S. Mission in leaflets left at the scene called itself the Imprisoned Omar Abdul Rahman Brigades. It promised more attacks against American interests.

It was first heard from late last month, when it claimed responsibility for an attack on a Red Cross office in Benghazi. A purported video of the attack was apparently posted on jihadist websites that regularly feature statements by al Qaeda. The video showed several rockets being fired into a building at night.

While CNN doesn’t make an explicit connection between the bombing of the Benghazi mission and US surveillance (and claimed drone attack) in Derna, the implication is they’re related, particularly as they track Libyans with ties to core al Qaeda (CNN also discusses former Gitmo detainee Sufian bin Qumu’s presence in Derna) responding to the drone killing in Pakistan of Abu Yahya al-Libi on June 5.

So on June 5 we killed Abu Yahya in Pakistan, on June 6 an unknown militia attacks the compound in Benghazi in retaliation and promises more attacks, on June 7 discussions of the attack tie back to claims we launched a drone strike in Derna.

On September 10, 2012, the day before the Benghazi attack, Ayman al Zawahiri, who had sent Azuz to Derna to set up an al Qaeda presence the year before, confirmed the death of Abu Yahya.

I lay all this out because, even as State and CIA continue to bicker over who is responsible for the bureaucratic failures that led to Ambassador Stevens’ death in Benghazi, there seems to be larger underlying issues that remain unspoken.

Continue reading

Harold Koh Relitigates the Argument He Already Lost

The NYT thinks the takeaway “news” of Harold Koh’s speech on Forever War is his call for more transparency on drone killing. Yet that Koh supports more transparency on drones is not news. Daniel Klaidman has been reporting that since January 2012.

What’s newsworthy about this call for transparency, though, is how shrill it is.

But since then, to be candid, this Administration has not done enough to be transparent about legal standards and the decisionmaking process that it has been applying. It had not been sufficiently transparent to the media, to Congress, and to our allies. Because the Administration has been so opaque, a left-right coalition running from Code Pink to Rand Paul has now spoken out against the drone program, fostering a growing perception that the program is not lawful and necessary, but illegal, unnecessary and out of control. The Administration must take responsibility for this failure, because its persistent and counterproductive lack of transparency has led to the release of necessary pieces of its public legal defense too little and too late.

As a result, the public has increasingly lost track of the real issue, which is not drone technology per se, but the need for transparent, agreedupon domestic and international legal process and standards.

Perhaps this shrillness is why Koh ends the speech with a grandiose invocation of our “better angels.”

Because I am an American who loves his country, I have served it for ten years of my professional career. My former professor and former Legal Adviser Abram Chayes once said, after he had sued the United States government from the academy, “I have always thought there is nothing wrong with an American lawyer holding the United States to its own best standards.” It is in that spirit that tonight, from this important podium, I call my country to its own best values and principles. As President Lincoln famously said, there is still time–indeed, it is high time– for Americans once again to answer to the “better angels” of our national nature.

Though it should be noted that Attorney Abe Lincoln appealed for us to answer to our better angels at the beginning of his service in the Executive Branch, not after he had left that position of influence (something John Wilkes Booth prevented in any case). Why is Harold Koh saying this now?

After all, this battle, the battles for transparency, for “discipline” in the drone program, and for closing Gitmo, are all battles he fought and lost while he was still in government.

It’s how Koh relitigates the last of those battles, closing Gitmo, I find most interesting. He calls for the appointment of a Greg Craig type to implement the plan Craig tried to implement himself in the first year of the Obama Administration.

First, and foremost, he must appoint a senior White House official with the clout and commitment to actually make Guantanamo closure happen. There has not been such a person at the White House since Greg Craig left as White House Counsel in early 2010. There must be someone close to the President, with a broad enough mandate and directly answerable to him, who wakes up each morning thinking about how to shrink the Guantanamo population and close the camp.

Second, this White House Envoy need not develop a new paradigm for closing Guantanamo. He or she merely needs to implement the National Archives framework that the President announced three years ago. The White House Envoy should lead the Administration’s efforts to implement the three-part framework for closure of the Guantanamo detention facility specified in the President’s 2010 speech at the National Archives. That speech described a framework for how this closure could happen: through diplomatic transfers of those individuals who could be safely transferred, prosecution of those who can be tried before civilian courts when possible and military commissions where that is the only option, and third, by commencing the long-overdue legally mandated periodic review of so-called Law of War Detainees to see if any can be released, because of changes either in their attitude or in the conditions of the country to which they could be transferred.

Now, I’m all in favor of closing Gitmo and this might be one way to do it. Koh actually improves on the prior plan by admitting the indefinite detainees will have to be released as the war is over, which is legally correct but misapprehends why they’re not being released and why we have to have a Forever War to justify keeping them silent and imprisoned forever.

But Koh’s map for closing Gitmo also misrepresents why appointing Greg Craig himself to carry out the Gitmo task didn’t work. Continue reading

If 40 Months of Drone Strikes in Yemen Haven’t Made Transfers Safe …

When on January 5, 2010 President Obama announced a halt to all transfers of Yemeni Gitmo detainees, he reiterated his intent to close the prison, even noting that AQAP formed, in part, in response to Gitmo (recall that Said al-Shihri, one of AQAP’s actual operational leaders, had been a Gitmo detainee).

Finally, some have suggested that the events on Christmas Day should cause us to revisit the decision to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. So let me be clear. It was always our intent to transfer detainees to other countries only under conditions that provide assurances that our security is being protected.

With respect to Yemen in particular, there’s an ongoing security situation which we have been confronting for some time, along with our Yemeni partner. Given the unsettled situation, I’ve spoken to the Attorney General and we’ve agreed that we will not be transferring additional detainees back to Yemen at this time.

But make no mistake: We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda. In fact, that was an explicit rationale for the formation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The announcement came less than a week after John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman released a statement (citing Shihri explicitly) complaining about the imminent release of 6 Yemeni detainees; Dianne Feinstein and Kit Bond issued their own request. Jane Harman and Crazy Pete Hoekstra were also calling for a halt to transfers to Yemen (Hoekstra, of course, was also leaking NSA intercepts to fearmonger against Anwar al-Awlaki). The day after the announcement, DOD sources leaked a report that would later be released in more detail showing 20% of Gitmo detainees released had joined or rejoined al Qaeda. In short, in significant part it came in response to political pressure to halt transfers, something DiFi admits readily.

But the halt in transfers also came among Obama Administration guarantees that their new strategy against Yemen would quickly bring results. Brennan described the new security agreements put into place at the January 2, 2010 David Petraeus-Ali Abudullah Saleh meeting (this is where Brennan estimated the number of AQAP militants to be “several hundred”) at which Saleh agreed to let fixed wing planes, including drones, operate in his country.

WALLACE: Let me widen this discussion in that sense. Not only as you point out, obviously, were you in Yemen earlier, but General Petraeus, the head of Central Command, was in Yemen yesterday.

The British overnight have announced that the U.S. and the British are going to be co-funding a new Yemeni anti-terror counter-terror police force.

Is it fair to say that we are opening up a second front in our war on terror outside the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater in Yemen?

BRENNAN: I wouldn’t say we’re opening up a second front. This is the continuation of an effort that we’ve had under way since, as I said, the beginning of this administration.

David Petraeus has been out to Yemen several times. I spoke with him yesterday after he met with President Salih. We’re continuing to have a very close and ongoing dialogue with the Yemeni government. The cooperation is on the security, intelligence and military fronts.

We’ve had close consultations with the British. I spoke with the British last night also about the types of things that we can do together in support of the Yemeni government. So this is a determined and concerted effort.

We’re not going to let Al Qaeda continue to sort of make gains in Yemen, because we need to take whatever steps necessary to protect our citizens there as well as abroad.

WALLACE: Could that mean U.S. troops on ground in Yemen?

BRENNAN: We’re not talking about that at this point at all. The Yemeni government has demonstrated their willingness to take the fight to Al Qaeda. We — they’re willing to accept our support. We’re providing them everything that they’ve asked for.

And they’ve made some real progress. And over the past month, Al Qaeda has taken a number of hits, and a number of Al Qaeda leaders in Yemen are no longer with us because of this determined and aggressive action.

The day after Obama announced the moratorium on Yemen transfers, Robert Gibbs claimed (perhaps because several Yemenis had been transferred in December) that the moratorium came as a result of a recent decline in security.

MR. GIBBS: I have not seen or heard about the latest report that you refer to and I don’t have handy what numbers had been for similar reports in years past. Yesterday’s determination was made and announced very much on what you heard John Brennan say over the weekend. We never had a plan to transfer anybody either to their home country or to a third country that we believe — we have reason to believe will present a security situation for us or for that country. And in relating to Yemen, I think you heard John say nobody was going to be transferred back that we did not believe that the Yemeni government could handle.

The determination was made that given the — as you heard the President say — the swift change in the security environment even over the last few weeks in Yemen caused the President and the Attorney General to agree that pausing any of those transfers was the right policy right now.

Continue reading

Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Gitmo Memoir: A Slow Death

Slate has a remarkable three part excerpt from the memoir of Mouhamedou Ould Slahi, a Mauritanian Gitmo detainee subjected to some of the worst torture. The intro, by Larry Siems, is here. (Some posts on his still-ongoing habeas fight are here, here, and here.) The whole thing reflects a remarkable, chilling, understanding of the Americans who kept him captive, even as he succumbs to his torture and starts lying to make the torture stop.

Reading the memoir, even as over a hundred detainees continue their hunger strike, I’m struck by the repeated theme of slow death, both in what Americans say to him, and in how he processes his own torture.

In Slahi’s story of Bagram, he tells of a “cowboy,” believing he doesn’t speak English, wishing he’ll die slowly.

Now I am sitting in front of a bunch of dead-regular U.S. citizens; my first impression, when I saw them chewing without a break: “What’s wrong with these guys, do they have to eat so much?” Most of the guards are tall, and overweight. Some of them were friendly and some very hostile. Whenever I realized that a guard [was hostile], I pretended that I understood no English. I remember one cowboy coming to me with an ugly frown on his face.

“You speak English?” he asked.

“No English,” I replied.

“We don’t like you to speak English, we want you to die slowly,” he said.

“No English,” I kept replying. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction that his message arrived. People with hatred have always something to get off their chests, but I wasn’t ready to be that drain.

Slahi thinks about slow death as he recounts the fake rendition staged with Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization, in which a Jordanian and Egyptian took Slahi on a boat trip to make him think he might be rendered to Egypt. After hours a beating, they wrapped him in ice.

The order went as follows: They stuffed the air between my clothes and me with ice cubes from my neck to my ankles, and whenever the ice melted they put in new hard ice cubes. Continue reading

Obama: We’re Force-Feeding Cleared Detainees Because We Couldn’t Try Them in Civilian Courts

At a press conference today, Obama had this to say about hunger strikers at Gitmo.

Q: Mr. President, as you’re probably aware, there’s a growing hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay, among prisoners there. Is it any surprise, really, that they would prefer death rather than have no end in sight to their confinement?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, it is not a surprise to me that we’ve got problems in Guantanamo, which is why, when I was campaigning in 2007 and 2008 and when I was elected in 2008, I said we need to close Guantanamo.

I continue to believe that we’ve got to close Guantanamo. I think — well, you know, I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.

Now Congress determined that they would not let us close it and despite the fact that there are a number of the folks who are currently in Guantanamo who the courts have said could be returned to their country of origin or potentially a third country.

I’m going to go back at this. I’ve asked my team to review everything that’s currently being done in Guantanamo, everything that we can do administratively, and I’m going to re-engage with Congress to try to make the case that this is not something that’s in the best interests of the American people.

And it’s not sustainable. I mean, the notion that we’re going to continue to keep over a hundred individuals in a no man’s land in perpetuity, even at a time when we’ve wound down the war in Iraq, we’re winding down the war in Afghanistan, we’re having success defeating al-Qaida core, we’ve kept the pressure up on all these transnational terrorist networks, when we’ve transferred detention authority in Afghanistan — the idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried — that is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop.

Now, it’s a hard case to make because, you know, I think for a lot of Americans, the notion is out of sight, out of mind, and it’s easy to demagogue the issue. That’s what happened the first time this came up. I’m going to go back at it because I think it’s important.

Q: (Off mic) — continue to force-feed these folks — (inaudible) –

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I don’t — I don’t want these individuals to die. Obviously, the Pentagon is trying to manage the situation as best as they can. But I think all of us should reflect on why exactly are we doing this. Why are we doing this?

I mean, we’ve got a whole bunch of individuals who have been tried who are currently in maximum security prisons around the country. Nothing’s happened to them. Justice has been served. It’s been done in a way that’s consistent with our Constitution, consistent with due process, consistent with rule of law, consistent with our traditions. The — the individual who attempted to bomb Times Square — in prison serving a life sentence. Individual who tried to bomb a plane in Detroit — in prison serving a life sentence. A Somali who was part of al-Shahab (sic) who we captured — in prison.

So we can handle this. And I understand that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, with the traumas that had taken place, why, for a lot of Americans, the notion was somehow that we had to create a special facility like Guantanamo, and we couldn’t handle this in — in a normal, conventional fashion. I understand that reaction.

But we’re not over a decade out. We should be wiser. We should have more experience at — in how we prosecute terrorists. And this is a lingering, you know, problem that is not going to get better. It’s going to get worse. It’s going to fester.

And so I’m going to — as I’ve said before, we’re — examine every option that we have administratively to try to deal with this issue. But ultimately, we’re also going to need some help from Congress. And I’m going to ask some — some folks over there who, you know, care about fighting terrorism but also care about who we are as a people to — to step up and — and help me on it.

To review, he was asked about hunger strikers’ desperation. In response, Obama talked about Gitmo in terms of efficacy — citing cost and image, which only indirectly relate to the plight of those who have been cleared. He then blames Congress for not letting him close Gitmo. Then ultimately he admits that Gitmo amounts to keeping “a hundred individuals in a no man’s land in perpetuity.”

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JimWhiteGNV RT @GatorZoneBB: Who's ready for doubleheader action at McKethan Stadium today? #Gators and Bulldogs start at 3 p.m.
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emptywheel Know what official website's privacy policy I'd like to see? http://t.co/KgvdEeK3OL I Con the Record.
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emptywheel Utterly scathing -- and apt -- quote from Eugene Fidell on Gitmo: http://t.co/DsxpxdVcIZ "Courtroom w/3 benches."
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emptywheel @phillipanderson Must be just as old cause McC and I just got back from our hour walk too. And it's an early 8 here than it is there!
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emptywheel @CasparBowden Suspect it's more like, "we fucked up and don't want to tell you" or "you're safe but have bad friends" @glynmoody
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bmaz @JasonLeopold Is there a detention facility at Coachella? Also, new drone stoke in Yemen tonight. 18 dead. @carwinb @chrisjwoods @lohphat
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bmaz RT @ionacraig: Up to 18 dead in apparent US #drone strike in al-Baydah, #Yemen. Reports of civilians amongst the dead.
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bmaz @banditelli Pretty fucking awesome.
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bmaz Don't worry, they will again very soon because Ken Kendrick sucks RT @DidDbacksLose No @erinscafe
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bmaz RT @AP: http://t.co/36AvJ2kcCB users told to change passwords due to vulnerability to #Heartbleed security bug: http://t.co/3DArbCgNck
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bmaz Whoa did Nico Rosberg screw Alonso's last hot lap by that shunt in the last corner in Q3?
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