ICRC President Visits Obama, Brennan, Hagel Regarding “International Humanitarian Law”

ICRC President Peter Maurer (Wikimedia Commons)

ICRC President Peter Maurer (Wikimedia Commons)

Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, yesterday completed four days of meetings with US officials in Washington. According to the blog site for the ICRC, Maurer met with President Barack Obama, senior members of Congress and a number of high-ranking government figures, including “Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency John Brennan, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, and Deputy Attorney General James Cole.”

It is perhaps not surprising that since there is a widespread hunger strike at Guantanamo (and since the ICRC visited Guantanamo earlier this month), detention issues were high on the list of topics for the meetings:

A focus of Mr Maurer’s visit was detention-related matters. “The United States, including its Congress, must urgently find a way to resolve all pending humanitarian, legal and policy issues relating to the detention of persons held at Guantanamo Bay, including those deemed to no longer represent a threat that justifies their continued detention there,” said Mr Maurer.

But Guantanamo was not the only topic. It comes as a welcome development to me that Maurer would widen the scope of discussion with key figures such as Obama, Brennan and Hagel to remind them of their duties under international humanitarian law:

“We enjoy a robust and multi-faceted dialogue with the United States, and my visit was an opportunity to discuss issues and contexts of mutual concern such as Syria and Afghanistan,” said Mr Maurer. “The United States values the mandate, positions and input of the ICRC and I am confident that this interaction will continue to bring concrete results, notably in terms of implementation of and respect for international humanitarian law in current and future battlefields.”

Especially when it comes to Obama and Brennan, it is striking that this statement can be construed as saying that the US needs to implement international humanitarian laws and to respect them. Although not stated outright, it is impossible to come to any other conclusion than to believe that the ICRC now believes that the US does not abide by international humanitarian law. I would think that the US practice of targeted killings, which is viewed by the UN as an issue for international law (and where the UN has called “double tap” drone strikes war crimes) would likely have been a topic for Maurer when talking with Brennan, who has played a key role in ordering drone strikes.

Sadly, I don’t share the ICRC’s optimism regarding our government’s respect for the “mandate, positions and input of the ICRC”. We need look no further than the sad news out of Guantanamo yesterday where it now appears that hundreds of thousands of confidential files and communications belonging to Guantanamo defense lawyers have been provided to the prosecution. In addition, a number of key files seem to have disappeared. From Carol Rosenberg:

At issue has been the disappearance recently of certain defense documents off what was thought to be a secure hard drive at the Office of Military Commissions. Technicians were creating a mirror of the war court’s server, so lawyers could work on their documents between the Pentagon region and the crude war court compound at the remote Navy base in Cuba, and documents on both the Cole and Sept. 11 death penalty cases simply vanished.

“I honestly don’t know how bad it is. All I know is that the information systems have been impacted, corrupted, lost,” Mayberry said, describing the lost work product by 9/11 defense lawyers as of a greater magnitude than the Cole case.

There is more from the New York Times:

The latest delay traces back to an effort by Pentagon technical staff to find records about plea negotiations in another tribunal case. The records had been requested by a military commissions appeals court, according to several military officials. But when prosecutors began going through the records, they discovered that they included confidential e-mails between defense lawyers. Prosecutors alerted the defense and the court to the problem, but several additional searches continued to sweep up confidential records.
The problem brought to light the potential accessibility of confidential lawyer-client e-mails to outsiders. As a result, the chief military commissions defense lawyer ordered all military defense lawyers not to use their e-mail system until it can be made secure.
“We need to try to get some idea of the scope of the intrusions, and the second piece of it is how do they get fixed,” said Richard Kammen, a civilian defense lawyer for Mr. Nashiri. “It’s not realistic to practice law in an environment where outside agencies can come in and look at attorney-client or work product materials.”

But it is in the Washington Post where we get a feel for the true scope of the problem:

The military justice system at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which has been dogged by charges of secret monitoring of proceedings and defense communications, became embroiled in a fresh controversy Thursday when it was revealed that hundreds of thousands of defense e-mails were turned over to the prosecution.

Wow. Hundreds of thousands of defense emails turned over to the prosecution, and yet there is still an effort to claim that this was not an intentional breach? I think I agree with defense attorney James Connell:

“Is there any security for defense attorney information?” said James Connell, attorney for Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, one of the Sept. 11 defendants. “This new disclosure is simply the latest in a series of revelations of courtroom monitoring, hidden surveillance devices and legal-bin searches.”

Recall also the actions of OCA (Original Classification Authority) in censoring courtroom transmissions without the consent of the presiding judge. Guantanamo is clearly spiraling out of control as it moves further and further into lawlessness. Recall also that just as the ICRC was visiting Guantanamo, the issue of drinking water came up. Prisoners complained that their supply of bottled water was cut off and they were advised by guards to drink the tap water. Despite claims by authorities at Guantanamo that the tap water is safe, defense attorneys maintain that Guantanamo’s tap water has always been considered not to be potable. Further support for that position came yesterday when Jason Leopold posted this tweet:

It’s a good thing someone is lecturing the Obama administration on humanitarian law, because right now they seem to be ignoring it on a number of fronts.

29 replies
  1. What Constitution? says:

    I guess the really reassuring news is that Mr. Maurer apparently was permitted to leave and has not been incarcerated at Guantanamo as a person considered “dangerous”.

  2. harpie says:

    The United States values the mandate, positions and input of the ICRC and I am confident that this interaction will continue to bring concrete results, notably in terms of implementation of and respect for international humanitarian law in current and future battlefields.”-ICRC President, Peter Maurer


  3. What Constitution? says:

    @Snarki, child of Loki: Why do you presume that being in Guantanamo means you’re off the drone kill list? Bahd is Bahd, isn’t it? I figure Brennan just doesn’t get through the whole No Fly List every Tuesday, but that doesn’t mean it might not happen.

  4. harpie says:

    From the ICRC blog post:

    Mr Maurer also met with senior members of the U.S. Congress and the leadership of the American Red Cross.

    Any idea which members of Congress that might have been?

    Sorry about the many comments–I shall now desist.

  5. Gimme Shelter says:


    we used to check every single day for a new post.

    how did you come to check???

  6. hcgorman says:

    @harpie: just seeing this now- somehow the story about the emails did not hit my radar- perhaps because those of us with clients on the “indefinite detention list” have long known that our emails are compromised…
    Attorneys for one detainee filed a motion asking for humanitarian relief for their client- although I respect what they are attempting to do- our judges in DC are as bad as the politicians and the military. The judge first set it for an evidentiary hearing for yesterday but then thought better about it and decided not to take evidence- only argument- it is now set for monday….who needs that damn evidence anyway?…sigh.

  7. harpie says:

    @hcgorman: Thanks so much for responding! [I’ve been enjoying the defense attorney interviews from Talking Dog you’ve been linking to on your blog.]

    Basically, my question is: do the Guantanamo defense attorneys think that Justice O’Connor writing for the majority in Hamdi, left any opening that the Court might look at things differently if “indefinite detention” were to become a reality?

    […] Hamdi contends that the AUMF does not authorize indefinite or perpetual detention. Certainly, we agree that indefinite detention for the purpose of interrogation is not authorized. Further, we understand Congress’ grant of authority for the [***594]use of “necessary and appropriate force” to include the authority to detain for the duration of the relevant conflict, and our understanding is based on longstanding law-of-war principles. If the practical circumstances of a given conflict are entirely unlike those of the conflicts that informed the development of the law of war, that understanding may unravel. But that is [**2642]not the situation we face as of this date. […]

  8. hcgorman says:

    Breaking news- the commander of JTF Gitmo was just replaced. Perhaps the next guy will be just as unable to rein in Bogdan but as Studs Terkel said “hope dies last….”
    The problem in even getting to use the nice quote from Hamdi is that the government refuses to acknowledge who is being indefinitely detained- we are just stuck figuring it out through the process of elimination- “not cleared for release- check—-not charged or even on the list to maybe be charged in a military commission–check– therefore must be on the indefinite detention list.”
    Of course if there is ever an end to the conflict in Afghanistan all of the men have an argument that they can no longer be detained but that doesn’t look to be a day we will be seeing any time soon.
    I am waiting for the oral argument to be scheduled in the DC Circuit Court for my remaining clients case…but I didn’t really touch on the indefinite detention status except as background because the reasons the government raised for holding him are so patently silly….of course that will not stop the DC Circuit from ruling against my client and perhaps when I file in the supreme court I will have as one of the questions “Is this the kind of person who we want to hold indefinitely—and by the way do we have the legal right to hold anyone indefinitely without charge—-” or something like that.
    If anyone else wants to read the talking dog interviews with the Gitmo lawyers here is a link to his website.. http://thetalkingdog.com/

  9. harpie says:

    Thank you so much, Candace. I sincerely respect you for the work you do.

    That’s interesting about the Commander–wonder how things will change.


  10. Stu Wilde says:

    I wish the links would open in another tab or window [sorry EW — I love your site tho)

    Reading this post, I cannot help but think back to 2008 when candidate obama was traveling all over the country promising to undo all the damage that bush & cheney did to freedom, democracy and inter alia — our standing in the world. Soon thereafter, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

    Now, read this post again and find a barf bag.

  11. Jim White says:

    @hcgorman: Word in the press is that the replacement of the commander is on the usual one-year rotation of being commander there. I’ve been poking around on the Google, trying to find a list of the previous commanders and the dates they served to see if that claim is true. So far, I haven’t found such a list. Do you recall the commanders changing out on a yearly basis? If they usually stay longer, then we have to think that brass and/or the Obama administration are starting to feel the heat from the hunger strike. But, as you point out, Bogdan will still be around and will need to be controlled somehow.

  12. harpie says:

    @Jim White: Why is Bogdan so out of control???

    Or maybe…if the PTB really didn’t want it that way, he would already be gone.

    The prisoners have been calling it “Miller time”

    “The Night Shift are back on ‘Miller Time’ [what Shaker [Aamer] calls the behavior and strategies of General Geoffrey D. Miller, in 2002-03]. They are stomping up and down the tier, talking, singing (one woman in particular), doing the garbage, banging the doors which are hydraulic and make a very loud slamming noise 20 or 30 times a night, dragging chairs around, crashing about with the ice chest. They have brought a big fan back to make noise.”

  13. hcgorman says:

    @Jim White: well- if the regular rotation is one year then this one is off by two months- as Smith was only there 10 months–but I always thought it was an 18 month rotation….but i am not sure why I thought that.

  14. harpie says:

    @hcgorman: Ugg.

    Some detainees resisted with improvised weapons, and in response, four less-than-lethal rounds were fired. There were no serious injuries to guards or detainees.

    Less than lethal? That’s ok, then.

  15. P J Evans says:

    Because they can’t do it when anyone is watching: it would be obvious that they’re violating all kinds of laws, including the Geneva Conventions. It would also be obvious that the hunger strikers are in bad physical (and probably mental) health.

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