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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Where Will Obama Try Himself for Material Support for Terrorism?

I consider this a wicked brain teaser:

The Obama administration is engaged in a fierce debate over whether to supply weapons to the rebels in Libya, senior officials said on Tuesday, with some fearful that providing arms would deepen American involvement in a civil war and that some fighters may have links to Al Qaeda.

The debate has drawn in the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon, these officials said, and has prompted an urgent call for intelligence about a ragtag band of rebels who are waging a town-by-town battle against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, from a base in eastern Libya long suspected of supplying terrorist recruits.

“Al Qaeda in that part of the country is obviously an issue,” a senior official said.

On a day when Libyan forces counterattacked, fears about the rebels surfaced publicly on Capitol Hill on Tuesday when the military commander of NATO, Adm. James G. Stavridis, told a Senate hearing that there were “flickers” in intelligence reports about the presence of Qaeda and Hezbollah members among the anti-Qaddafi forces. No full picture of the opposition has emerged, Admiral Stavridis said. While eastern Libya was the center of Islamist protests in the late 1990s, it is unclear how many groups retain ties to Al Qaeda.

After all, according to Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project any help to a terrorist group–even counseling on how to make peace–is material support. And no matter how we try to spin arming rebels as an act of peace, it’s a good deal more help than legal counsel.

And, as the DC Circuit’s decision yesterday in Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman’s habeas suit makes clear, it’s not enough for a person to stop associating with al Qaeda in the 1990s, nor does the government need any real evidence of a tie between someone in al Qaeda’s vicinity to claim that person is a member of al Qaeda.

Uthman filed a challenge, and in February 2010, District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. ruled that he was being improperly held and that the United States had failed to demonstrate that he was a member of al-Qaeda. As ProPublica detailed, the government censored Kennedy’s decision and quickly appealed the case to a court that was already lowering the government’s burden for proving a prisoner’s detainability.

In another case last year, known as Salahi, the appeals court rejected a lower court’s standard that the government show direct evidence the detainee was a member of al-Qaeda. In that case, the court sent the detainee back to the district court to have his habeas corpus petition reheard.

In today’s opinion, written by Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the appeals court went further by reversing the habeas win outright. In doing so, the court determined that circumstantial evidence, such as a detainee being in the same location as other al-Qaeda members, is enough to meet the standard to hold a prisoner without charge.

That standard, the court wrote in its decision today, “along with uncontested facts in the record, demonstrate that Uthman more likely than not was part of al Qaeda.”

By the DC Circuit’s standards, it seems clear, at least some of the rebels we’ve been helping (and are debating arming) are the same as al Qaeda for legal purposes.

Which would mean we’ve already been offering material support to terrorists.

If I were Obama, I’d make the decision quickly about where he wants to be tried for material support of terrorism. If Bud McKeon has his way, he’ll take away the President’s decision-making authority on whether to try Americans in civilian or military trials.

So if you’re the President and need to decide where to try yourself for material support for terror, where do you do it?

Update: Mark Hosenball cites four different sources saying Obama signed a covert order to arm the rebels 2-3 weeks ago.

Obama signed the order, known as a presidential “finding”, within the last two or three weeks, according to four U.S. government sources familiar with the matter.

I forget. Does material support for terrorists done under cover of a Finding qualify as material support for terror?

It’s all so confusing!!!

Court Dockets Are Becoming the 21st Century Memory Hole

Dafna Linzer has two important pieces on the habeas petition of Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman which should both be read in full. This one describes how the government’s case against Uthman, which alleges that he was one of Osama bin Laden’s guards, relies on the following testimony:

  • A statement from Hakim Abd Al Karim Amin Bukhari describing him as a member of OBL’s security detail. In his opinion on the case, Judge Henry Kennedy Jr treated that statement with skepticism because he believed it may have come second-hand from information Bukhari learned at Gitmo, and because Bukhari had become psychotic while at Gitmo, which rendered his statements about other detainees–according to a military psychologist–unreliable.
  • A witness statement from Abdul Rahman Ma’ath Thafir al Amri, based on a photograph, identifying Uthman as “Yasser Al-Madani.” As Linzer points out, calling him “al-Madani” would label him as a Saudi, not as the Yemeni he is. Al Amri killed himself three years ago after a hunger strike at Gitmo.
  • A statement from Salim Hamdan identifying Uthman as “Hudayfah al-Adani,” which is one of the few things Kennedy accepted as credible.
  • A statement from Yemeni detainee Sharqawi Abdul Ali al Hajj identifying Uthman as an OBL bodyguard. Before making that statement at Gitmo, Hajj was tortured in Jordan over a period of 19 months in Jordan. Kennedy ruled that Hajj’s statement was too closely tied to the torture he experienced in Jordan to be considered reliable.
  • A statement from Yemeni detainee Sanad Yislam al Kazimi saying a photo of Uthman looked like Hadayfah al-Yemeni, whom Kazimi claims to have seen in Kabul several months before Uthman arrived in Afghanistan. Kazimi claims to have been severely tortured in Dubai and Kabul in 2003. As a result, Kennedy deemed his statement, like Hajj’s, to be too closely tied to torture to be treated as credible.

Go read Linzer’s piece for much more on the thin case against Uthman. And note, Uthman is one of the 48 men the government claims it has reason to hold indefinitely.

The other piece provides background on how Linzer was able to piece together all those details from Kennedy’s opinion. As she describes, DOJ accidentally submitted Kennedy’s opinion without redacting it. Only after she pulled a copy of it did DOJ remove it from PACER entirely and–a day later–replace the opinion with a significantly altered version.

A day after his March 16 order was filed on the court’s electronic docket, Kennedy’s opinion vanished. Weeks later, a new ruling appeared in its place. While it reached the same conclusion, eight pages of material had been removed, including key passages in which Kennedy dismantled the government’s case against Uthman.


The alterations are extensive. Sentences were rewritten. Footnotes that described disputes and discrepancies in the government’s case were deleted. Even the date and circumstances of Uthman’s arrest were changed. In the first version, the judge said Uthman was detained on Dec. 15, 2001, in Pakistan by Pakistani authorities. Rewritten, Kennedy said in the public opinion that Uthman admitted being captured “in late 2001 in the general vicinity of Tora Bora,” the cave complex where bin Laden was thought to be hiding at that time.

Linzer’s story provides a detailed background of what happened with this opinion: how DOJ tried to reclaim all the copies of it, how Kennedy had to insist on an opinion being published at all, how they forced Kennedy to write another version, how DOJ has since released the government’s appeal of Kennedy’s order with information redacted in his opinion left unredacted in their appeal.

Particularly troubling is Linzer’s description of how the completely altered opinion falsely suggests Uthman was present at Tora Bora with Osama bin Laden, even while it hides evidence that he was turned over by Pakistanis implicated in turning over Arabs for bounty.

Kennedy’s original opinion noted that Uthman was seized in Parachinar; that he reached the town after an eight-day trek from the Afghan town of Khost, nowhere near Tora Bora; and that his journey to Pakistan began around Dec. 8, 2001. Those facts make it difficult to portray Uthman as a fighter in a battle that took place between Dec. 12 and Dec. 17 at Tora Bora. Two footnotes in the original opinion note that the government does not contest that Uthman was taken into custody in Parachinar.

Both were removed in the second opinion and Kennedy substituted wording to write instead that Uthman admitted he was seized “in late 2001 in the general vicinity of Tora Bora, Afghanistan.”

The intent of this editing may have been to conceal the role of the Pakistanis in capturing al-Qaida fighters although those details were long ago declassified. But the effect was to link Uthman more closely to the retreat of bin Laden and his inner circle through Tora Bora.

Now all of this is disturbing enough. But I’m particularly interested in the way DOJ tried to hide the fact that the opinion had been altered.

Even the court docket was altered. When the opinion was originally posted on March 16, the docket noted Kennedy’s grant of the writ of habeas corpus to the petitioner. Today, the entry for March 16 simply reads: “Document Entered In Error Erroneously.”

That is, the government is using classification to conduct legal spin, and then it is hiding all evidence they have done so. This is the same DOJ, of course, that is disappearing all evidence of the proceedings against high level Colombian terrorists extradited for drug-related infractions (but not terrorism), and in the process, removing them from Colombia’s reconciliation process. While it’s not clear whether the government is doing the latter just to protect an ongoing investigation or doing it to protect the members of the Colombian government with ties to these right wing terrorists, the way in which the government has turned the court docket into a memory hole seems to be playing a central role in completely arbitrary designations of who is and who is not a terrorist.

The war on terror has become capricious enough. But as the docket increasing gets treated like Orwell’s memory hole, it plays a key role in the government’s ability to sustain its arbitrary claims about what makes a person a terrorist.