Barack Obama had been President for only one full day when, on Jan. 22, 2009, he acted on a central campaign promise. Arguing that the Founding Fathers would agree that America must “observe the core standards of conduct not just when it’s easy but also when it’s hard,” Obama signed an executive order to close the notorious military prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, where the Bush administration had detained hundreds of men captured in combat and counter terrorism operations since 2001. With dozens of men imprisoned for years without charges brought against them, and in many cases having actually been cleared for release, Obama said closing Guantánamo would return America to the “moral high ground” it had yielded in its ruthless pursuit of al-Qaeda during the Bush years. “I can tell you that the wrong answer is to pretend like this problem will go away,” Obama said in May 2009. “I refuse to pass it on to somebody else. It is my responsibility to solve the problem.”
Four years later, with Guantánamo still open–and the site of widespread hunger strikes and other acts of disobedience by many of its 166 inmates–Obama is again trying to fulfill that responsibility. In a May 23 address about a range of his counter-terrorism policies, including drone strikes, Obama declared the start of a new push against the political obstacles that thwarted his first attempt to close the most infamous symbol of the US’s post-9/11 war on terrorism. “[History] will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism and those of us who fail to end it,” Obama said.
But Obama will be hard pressed to live up to his grand rhetoric. Opposition still runs high to the idea of releasing or bringing into US prisons dozens of men widely considered dangerous terrorists even if many are not. Asked to gauge the probability that Obama can close Guantánamo before he leaves office, David Remes, a lawyer who represents 18 Guantánamo inmates replies, “Zero.” And even if Obama can shut down the site known colloquially as Gitmo, he hasn’t promised to end the practice of long-term incarceration without trial that along with interrogation techniques like waterboarding blighted the US’s track record for treating prisoners in the so-called global war on terrorism. The prison camp on Cuba’s southern tip may or may not be shuttered during Obama’s watch, but Gitmo, in the metaphorical sense, may never really close.
Nor is America’s long war on terrorism about to end. Obama’s speech revealed a man “haunted” by the deaths of innocents in drone strikes and wrestling with the balance between national security and the constitution’s integrity. But while he announced tighter standards for ordering drone strikes abroad (including an unspoken plan to partly shift the programme from the CIA to the theoretically more accountable Pentagon) and spoke of a day when the war might be declared over, Obama is retaining broad powers to detain or kill suspected terrorists, to conduct aggressive surveillance and to use military force in foreign nations. “To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties,” Obama said. “We must finish the work of defeating al-Qaeda and its associated forces.”
Hungry for Clarity
At last count, military medical personnel at Gitmo were force-feeding 35 of the more than 100 inmates who refuse to eat. Twice a day, those men are strapped into restraining chairs as tubes that run up their noses and down their throats fill their stomachs with a compound called Ensure, a supplement used by everyone from athletes to dieters. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called force-feeding a violation of international law, and the World Medical Association, of which the US is a member, declared in 1991 that the practice is “never ethically acceptable” unless a prisoner consents or is unable to make a rational choice. (The WMA calls it “ethical to allow a determined hunger striker to die.”)
Although Remes says he suspects the inmates at Gitmo are aware of the President’s speech and that some may even have watched it on television, he doubts that the hunger strikes will end anytime soon. “Obama has no credibility with the detainees,” he says. “I bet they didn’t even look up from their chessboards.” Then, recalling that after recent scuffles with their guards, inmates were barred from congregating, he adds, “No, they’re not playing chess. They’re not even allowed to be together.”
A lack of faith in Obama is one reason for the hunger strikes (although detainees have also alleged improper treatment by guards, including charges of mishandling Quran, that the military denies). Among the hunger strikers are 86 who have been declared safe for release–some of them by two different administrations–and who were crushed when Obama failed to deliver on his 2009 promise to close Gitmo.
Should They Stay or Should They Go?
Understanding why Gitmo hasn’t closed requires understanding who exactly is there. The camp holds three types of inmates, each posing different challenges. The first group consists of those 86 detainees deemed safe to release to their home countries or third nations, so long as they can be monitored and accounted for to ensure they don’t take up arms against the US The second group consists of suspected terrorists whom the administration is prosecuting or plans to charge with specific crimes. The third group consists of prisoners too dangerous to simply release–for reasons that could include a suspected organizational role in al-Qaeda, explosives training or in some cases an openly stated desire to kill Americans–but also impossible to put on trial, maybe because of evidence rendered inadmissible by torture; because the troops who captured them didn’t collect evidence; or because they supported al-Qaeda before the US made that a crime for foreigners overseas.
The first group is the easiest to deal with. Obama has the freedom to send the 86 men home on his own. Fifty-six of them are from Yemen–all of whom could be there by now had al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate, whose leaders included an ex–Gitmo detainee, not tried to bomb a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day 2009, leading Obama to halt detainee transfers back to the country. Obama now says improvements in the Yemeni government’s ability to monitor repatriated detainees allows him to lift his self-imposed moratorium on returning detainees there. He can likewise dispatch the rest of the cleared inmates to other countries unilaterally.
Republicans warn that even some of those detainees deemed safe for release will inevitably join forces with Islamic radicals–as did Saeed al-Shihri months after his 2007 release from Gitmo, eventually rising to the No. 2 spot in al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch before being killed by a drone strike earlier this year. “I don’t trust the government” in Yemen, Republican Representative Peter King told ABC’s This Week on May 26. But they can’t prevent Obama from proceeding. How fast he’ll move is another question: Obama said each of the Yemenis must first undergo yet another review.
The second and third groups are considerably tougher cases. Obama would like to move the trials by military commissions now under way at Guantánamo to a location in the US and bring any new cases against prosecutable suspects on American soil, either in military or civilian courts. He also presumably intends to move to highly secure sites in the US the roughly 46 who can be neither released nor tried, until some solution can be found for them. But right now Obama can’t move any detainees into the US without Congress’s help. In 2009 he tried to resettle some low-risk prisoners in the US and also proposed trying alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Gitmo inmates in federal court. A furious backlash from conservatives and even many Democrats who feared the soft-on-terrorists label prompted Congress to block inmate transfers into the US for any reason.
And while Obama’s May 23 speech may have stirred the hearts of some liberal supporters, it doesn’t seem to have moved the Republicans whose support he’ll need to move detainees into the US, particularly in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives. “I don’t get the sense that this pressure is having an impact” on House Republicans, says Representative Adam Smith, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. Many Republicans argue that the risk of detainees’ committing future acts of terrorism outweighs the damage Guantánamo does to the US’s image. And they have little interest in Obama’s appetite for moving more terrorism cases into civilian courts.
Lately Obama has tried speaking the language Republicans best understand–spending–by pointing out that each inmate at Gitmo costs $800,000 per year to house, for a total of about $150 million per year in operations. But when it comes to closing Gitmo, Smith says, many of the Republicans whose support Obama would need to approve transfers to US prisons have boxed themselves in politically. House Speaker John Boehner, for instance, has called the prison a “world-class facility” and in 2010 said he wouldn’t vote to close it “if you put a gun to my head.”
The broader themes of Obama’s speech may not have helped the Guantánamo cause either. Far from agreeing with the President’s talk of a severely weakened al-Qaeda and his aspiration to wind down the war on terrorism, some Republicans accused him of complacency and retreat. Newt Gingrich called Obama’s vision “breathtakingly, stunningly naive.” Such talk is hardly the groundwork for a new spirit of cooperation.
Some Problems Have No Solution
Even assuming that the president can close Gitmo by resettling some detainees in other countries and bringing the rest to trials and prisons in the US, a major problem will remain: What to do with the 48 detainees who can’t be tried or released for fear that they will return to the “battlefield” of the war on terrorism? After all, holding prisoners without charges would seem to violate the constitution’s fundamental habeas corpus guarantee. Obama doesn’t claim to have a clear answer, and his speech punted the question. He said only that “once we commit to a process of closing [Guantánamo], I am confident that this legacy problem can be resolved, consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.”
For now, Obama deals with this legal equivalent of radioactive waste by treating those inmates as prisoners of war. In March 2009, Obama’s lawyers filed a legal brief justifying detention of Gitmo detainees under the laws of war–in this case the war on al-Qaeda, made official by Congress’s September 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which allowed for the invasion of Afghanistan and other counter-terrorism efforts. Ironically, “while it decries Guantánamo as contrary to American values, the Obama administration has convinced courts of its legal validity,” says Matthew Waxman, a former Bush detainee policy official now at Columbia Law School.
Rather than see Obama stretch that validity in new directions, one prominent human rights lawyer has actually argued for keeping Gitmo open. Closing it now “would do more harm than good,” human rights lawyer and Georgetown law professor Jennifer Daskal wrote in a January New York Times op-ed, because it would mean simply opening up a similar camp in the US, thereby “setting a precedent and creating a facility readily available to future Presidents wanting to rid themselves of a range of potentially dangerous actors.”
According to this vision, Gitmo would close when the war on terrorism is finally considered over. Lawyers for detainees might argue that should happen once the US’s lead combat role in Afghanistan ends in late 2014, for instance. Obama also says he’d like Congress to revisit the AUMF, perhaps to narrow its scope or even to declare the war over. “Usually if you’re holding prisoners of war, you release them at the end of hostilities,” says C. Dixon Osburn of Human Rights First.
But at a recent Senate hearing on the AUMF, a top Pentagon official testified that the war on al-Qaeda could last 10 to 20 more years. Some Republicans, including Senator John McCain, have suggested that the law should be broadened, not narrowed or repealed.
Rhetoric about the founders aside, it’s hard to imagine Obama’s releasing trained al-Qaeda members who have not renounced terrorism into the wild, as it were. “The administration’s view seems to be that so long as it’s only a small number of very dangerous al-Qaeda terrorists, it is legitimate to hold them without trial,” Waxman says. Obama would prefer not to hold them in the prison that stains America’s international reputation. But he may find the moral high ground he seeks is simply out of his reach.
Was he surprised, asked Bill Plante of CBS News, that the 100 or so prisoners who were participating in the protest preferred death over indefinite confinement?
Tapping his finger on the lectern and speaking in a clipped cadence, Obama did not mince words in response. “Guantanamo is not necessary to keep us safe,” he said. “It is expensive. It is inefficient… It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.”
He then pledged to rededicate himself to the challenge of shutting the prison. “I’m going to go back at this,” he bluntly resolved.
For anyone who has followed the saga of Guantanamo Bay over the past few years, Obama’s words were nothing short of shocking. It had been a long time since his efforts to close Gitmo had collapsed — done in by congressional obstruction, by political realities, and even, to an extent, by Obama himself.
During the intervening period, there had been little evidence that Obama cared to return to the issue. He hadn’t uttered the word Guantanamo in a State of the Union address since 2009. Nor was there even anybody in charge of driving the initiative. The prevailing attitude toward Gitmo within the White House administration seemed to be “out of sight, out of mind”.
Like the 166 prisoners languishing in the facility, the president’s policy seemed entirely stuck in limbo.
Now Obama, with no public warning, had suddenly committed himself to making another run at what had thus far proved to be the most Sisyphean of all his policy goals. Could he possibly have meant what he said? Was he really ready to restart this particular political fight?
In a word, yes. According to three administration sources, the president’s sudden rhetorical plunge back into the Guantanamo morass reflected a calculated, highly personal decision — one borne of both frustration at his team and a measure of personal regret about his failure to solve the problem sooner.
It all dates to March, when Obama started seeing disturbing reports about the hunger strike at the prison. Twice daily, detainees were being shackled at the wrists and ankles to restraint chairs and force-fed by Navy medics, a process that involved snaking long tubes through their nasal passages, down the backs of their throats, and into their stomachs to pump in cans of Ensure, a nutritional supplement. The painful procedure often provokes gagging and vomiting.
Meanwhile, John Kelly, the marine general overseeing Guantanamo, made a stunning admission before a congressional committee on Mar 20: He attributed the hunger strike directly to the perception that Obama, after promising to close the prison, had given up, effectively abandoning the detainees.
“They were devastated when the president backed off — at least their perception — of closing the facility,” he testified.
According to one presidential adviser, Obama, troubled by what he was hearing, began digging back into his policy to see where things stood and what else could be done. What followed was a flurry of activity. Shutting down the facility would likely entail freeing some prisoners, transferring some to jails in other countries, prosecuting some, and moving still others — those being held indefinitely — to US prisons.
To rally public support for this effort, Newsweek has learned, Obama plans to give a major speech partly devoted to the subject, possibly as soon as later this month. “Obama has no illusions about how hard this is,” says a former administration official. “But he also knows that he will own this bit of history just as much as George Bush does” — if, that is, he doesn’t make substantial progress toward fixing it.
Throughout his presidency, pleas for action on Guantanamo from civil libertarians, friends, and top advisers have reportedly tugged at Obama’s conscience. But politics and a weary fatalism subsumed action nearly every time.
One recent plea, two sources told Newsweek, came from Hillary Clinton, who, just before she left office in Jan 2013, sent a two-page confidential memo to Obama about Guantanamo. Clinton had, during her years in the administration, occasionally jumped into the fray to push the issue. One of those occasions was at a White House meeting of Obama’s national security principals in Aug t 2010. “We are throwing the president’s commitment to close Guantanamo into the trash bin,” she chastised White House aides.
“We are doing him a disservice by not working harder on this.”
But, at the end of the day, Clinton had little leverage to get the White House to act. 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.
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 had already been cleared for release.
The Clinton missive perturbed White House aides, who viewed it as an attempt to put them on the spot. It’s unclear how Obama himself reacted to the memo; there’s no evidence it spurred him to action. But the mere fact Clinton felt the need to write it was noteworthy, because it suggested the degree to which Guantanamo remained an irritant for her and many other high-level administration officials as well.
One of Obama’s very first tactical moves on Guantanamo backfired spectacularly. His plan to bring to the US a handful of detainees — Chinese Uighurs who were cleared by the courts — caused a political furore. Obama pulled the plug on the plan, and Congress soon began passing measures to restrict transfers out of Gitmo.
For Obama’s advisers, the episode demonstrated that the toxic politics of terrorism could overwhelm the administration’s domestic agenda; for civil libertarians, it was an ominous sign that Obama lacked the political will to aggressively engage Congress.
Even some of Obama’s top national-security aides were frustrated with the White House’s timid approach toward Congress. John Brennan — then Obama’s counter-terrorism czar, now his CIA chief — believed the administration needed to show more backbone in its dealings with Congress.
Brennan’s outrage was fuelled by the knowledge that many detainees, who were still at Guantanamo after years of detention, had no record of terrorism.
A few weeks after the Uighur debacle, Obama made his first attempt to save his faltering Guantanamo policy: in a sweeping address he laid out a detailed plan for closing the prison. But in the end, however eloquent, it was only a speech. It did not push the policy forward.
Things only got worse from there. On Christmas Day 2009, the so-called underwear bomber attempted to bring down a plane over Detroit — a plot directed by al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate. The near miss took a powerful psychic toll on the White House, still dogged by the perception that Democrats were weak on national security.
Obama became convinced that he could not send any of the nearly 100 Yemeni detainees at Gitmo back to their home country, for fear they would link up with extremists and begin plotting attacks against America. Suddenly, the fate of the Yemenis was another giant obstacle to closing the prison.
Then came the unravelling of Attorney General Eric Holder’s plans to try some Gitmo detainees, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in New York. Obama had initially backed Holder’s decision. But when it blew up in Congress, he seemed to equivocate.
His own chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, actually worked behind the scenes with Republican senators to undermine Holder’s initiative, according to multiple sources. Once the plan showed cracks, lawmakers smelled blood. They began passing ever more restrictive legislation tying the administration’s hands on Guantanamo.
For much of the past few years, without any signal that Obama was going to fight on Gitmo, the policy drifted.
Even the steps Obama took to move things forward were of a highly limited nature. One of those steps came in Mar 2011, when Obama issued an executive order designed to solve a thorny problem.
Forty-eight of the detainees could not be prosecuted, either for lack of evidence or because they had been tortured — yet were nonetheless considered too dangerous to release.
This meant they had to be held in indefinite detention, a prospect that troubled Obama. His compromise, issued via executive order, was to set up Periodic Review Boards — administrative bodies that would allow such prisoners to challenge their incarceration, including by presenting new evidence.
It was hardly ideal from a civil liberties perspective. And Obama was worried about the precedent he’d be setting by embracing a regime of detention without trial, likening it to leaving behind a “loaded weapon” for future presidents. But at least the review boards would give detainees some limited version of due process — and the possibility, however remote, of being transferred or released.
Fast forward to now. As Obama, concerned about the hunger strike, began looking into the issue, he found something that, according to officials, infuriated him: Two years after his Mar 2011 executive order, the Periodic Review Boards had not yet gotten off the ground, despite that the order had called for them to be up and running within a year.
Some Obama officials shifted blame to the CIA, which they said had slowed down the process.
One source directly involved in the controversy says CIA officials were balking at sharing any more information about the agency’s infamous detention and interrogation programme — a subject that would have likely come up during review-board hearings.
As word of Obama’s reaction filtered back though the national security agencies, a new effort was launched to resolve the interagency disputes over the review boards. And a frustrated Obama directed his staff to redouble its efforts to identify creative solutions to the Guantanamo conundrum, including measures he could take unilaterally.
Today, many of the options on the table are the ones spelled out in the Clinton memo several months ago.
But the reality, of course, is that Obama cannot close Gitmo by himself. He’s going to need Congress to sign off. And therein lies the central challenge. To date, the public’s emotional response to terrorism has made Gitmo a ripe target for political demagoguery on Capitol Hill.
So how to cajole self-interested lawmakers to take a major political risk on behalf of 166 men who have little or no constituency? Obama’s answer seems to be that he is going to make his case to the public.
In the coming days, Obama plans to address both Guantanamo and drones — another festering, controversial element of the administration’s national security agenda — in a broad “framing” speech that will try to knit together an overarching approach to counterterrorism. In the speech, Obama plans to lay out a legal framework for the administration’s evolving strategies on targeting, detention, and prosecution, according to two senior officials who have been briefed on its contents. The delicate process of putting together such a major presidential statement has apparently taken months and involved arduous interagency wrangling. It had been scheduled for last month but was then abruptly rescheduled. Sources say Obama wants to use the speech to take stock of the war on terror in the wake of such seminal events as the killing of bin Laden and the looming withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan.
The speech could serve as the White House’s opening shot in its campaign to solve the Guantanamo riddle. But Obama’s critics will be sceptical — likely branding it another attempt to bend the arc of history with mere eloquence.
It would fit a pattern on rule-of-law issues, they say, in which Obama’s lofty rhetoric is rarely followed by resolute action — especially when it comes to standing up to Congress. According to this narrative, Obama expresses righteous indignation, but then is persuaded by his political team that the time is not right to fight.
Or he threatens to veto legislation that shackles him on Guantanamo, but then fails to go through with the threat. The dynamic, critics say, creates a self-fulfilling cycle that emboldens congressional Republicans and weakens the president.
His supporters argue that instead of giving up, Obama has shifted to a long-road strategy, which sometimes requires backing down from epic confrontations in the hope that over time the politics will turn his way.
In at least one area — prosecuting suspected terrorists in civilian courts — that approach may be working. Though Obama caved to criticism and backed down on trying KSM in court back in 2011, he subsequently decided to have a string of captured terrorists tried in the civilian justice system, the latest being Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston bomber. Over time, the criticism has dwindled to barely a peep.
Will Obama stand up to Congress on Gitmo during his second term?
Even some civil libertarians — Obama’s fiercest critics on Guantanamo — are optimistic that he has built up the resolve to finally fix the situation. “I am more optimistic this time around, because he’s no longer naive about the politics,” says David Cole, a professor of constitutional law and national security at Georgetown.
“He’s lived through four years of stalemate on this, so the fact that he was nonetheless as strong and passionate about his concerns suggests to me that he really has made a renewed commitment to take it on.”
Whether or not Cole is right, Gitmo does appear for now at least to have Obama’s attention again. Indeed, if there’s a silver lining in the events of the past four years for civil libertarians, it’s that, while Obama hasn’t figured out a way to close Gitmo, he also hasn’t figured out a way, in his own mind, to let the issue go.
* Daniel Klaidman is the national political correspondent for Newsweek and The Daily Beast and the author of Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency.
President Barack Obama has made a clear and convincing case for closing Guantanamo! Mostly the same reasons finally articulate were just as true when he initially took office. Closing the stigma of war, crime and national shame has always been a high agenda item for many Americans. It is now the watermark battle ground that could begin to show who or what really runs this country. But think of the mindless excuses from war hawks (including complicity by the mainstream media) to try to stop any transparency about Guantanamo prisoners. But there is simply no way President Obama can close this base on his own without major and active U.S. citizen and world support. How can Congress possibly stand in the way of the reasons President Obama announced for closing the Bush Legacy? Where is the Free Speech movement, where are the campus protests at Madison and Kent State Ohio?
Closing Guantanamo—Why it’s Symbolically, Spiritually and Materially Important.
By Scott Skein
Finally. President Barack Obama has made a clear and convincing case for closing Guantanamo! Yet many Americans expected, or assumed, it would have closed early in his first term—that is to say the case was already self-evident. After all it was one reason this president was elected our new leader—to reverse the criminality and immorality of the Bush Administration. Mostly the same reasons finally articulate were just as true when he initially took office. (See Obama Remembers Gitmo Exists Says ‘Not Necessary’ for American Safety by Lucy Steigewald at AntiWar.com April 30, 2013.)
Closing the stigma of war, crime and national shame has always been a high agenda item for many Americans. It is now the watermark battle ground that could begin to show who or what really runs this country—certain special interests (that elected legislators really represent) and the Pentagon/ CIA or The People of this country. In essence it is our own form of Berlin Wall (and to think Dick Cheney’s company played a part in building it).
As of yet Washington D.C.’s beltway pattern of high corruption level and willful distortion to truth continues to reign supreme. Think about it: Why has there been so much resistance to closing Gulag Gitmo; or getting those prisoners a fair and/or public trial (rather than so much hoopla about defining them as enemy combatants); or treating them halfway decently before declared guilty by a fair trial, etc., (in our covert world of black ops prisons with the help of “extraordinary” renditions. It seems the whole war on terror has become terrorism?
And likely it’s not because most of those people were, or are, all that dangerous—but rather it is that truth itself that is dangerous—that is a greater truth to which 9/11 was forged to serve—once it happened and could be quickly capitalized. It was always about avoiding the laws of our country and international treaties.
Several contingency groups benefited from 9/11 (see essay “9/11: Who Really Benefited?” by Captain America found on the Internet). Three powerful contingencies that benefited are: 1) investors of the military industrial complex and related private contractors and mercenary groups who literally have made a killing since, 2) investors (that is owners of securities) of major oil companies, and 3) Zionists who wanted to further make U.S. foreign policy equivalent to what was, and still is, really the policy goals of right-wing Zionists—such as to get Americans to believe all of Israel’s enemies are equally enemies of the people of the United States (even if most Americans are not Jewish or Israeli), and to get the U.S Government to label Israel’s enemies as all terrorists as policy and propaganda (which resulted from a long term, major propaganda campaign—see Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2001 reprint of 1995 book Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat the International Terrorist Network as one of many, many examples).
Since 9/11, U.S. foreign policy has in effect opened up the opium trade in Afghanistan; illegally attacked Israel’s enemy Saddam Hussein and that nation (see “I don’t mean to say I told you so, but….” by Stephen Walt at http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/02/08/i_dont_m…o_but ).
And now we are destroying Syria (for Israel or please explain how Syria is so important to the American people that we should be so meddlesome in their affairs) as we are still on track to attack Iran with uncompromising demands, similar to our demands for unconditional surrender from Japan in WW2 that more or less guaranteeing Japan would not so we used two nuclear bombs with mass civilian casualties (as this standoff is equally for Israel); and the fact that such endeavors cost unimaginable amounts of American tax dollars and potentially could cost many American lives doesn’t seem to mean a thing to the Neo-Con-Artists—who basically came up with this hegemony. Nor did they care whether such events destroyed our overall economic viability.
But think of the mindless excuses from war hawks (including complicity by the mainstream media) to try to stop any transparency about Guantanamo prisoners—including how many were randomly rounded up in Afghanistan via blood money paid to War Lords—yes bribery money ultimately from tax payers via our government employees). If war is about winning hearts and minds then who wants to learn truth about how things really go down—better to keep things under the rug and away from the home front?
There are several documentaries on Guantanamo that you can find on the Internet. It is not some small, sideline issue—it is central to who and what we are—as opposed to who we claim we are.
Back in November of 2009 Attorney General Eric Holder announced a trial for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would be held at a Federal Courthouse in New York City. The very next month an quixotic and bizarre underwear bomber story emerged and it more or less buried any discussion about the trial (that some in NYC did not want). That underwear bomber story scenario was not only a idiotic plot—it always seemed suspicious—as some conspiracy theorists have found plenty enough to question. Nevertheless the mainstream media played it like a real threat ad nauseum (never suggesting intelligence groups or types do engage “active measures” from time to time to affect outcomes—if for no other reason than to protect their own backsides).
Then shortly thereafter came the racism of Pamela Geller and Robert Spenser and their Stop the Islamization of America group complaining about the Ground Zero Mosque. After this carried on a few months there was little, if any, discussion for public or fair trials for prisoners of America’s gulag system—such ideas were effectively shunted—and equally there grew more imbecile excuses as to why the “mighty” U.S. could not close it down, culminating to hair-brained notions as such men were “too” dangerous to imprison on American soil (even as this high ratio prisoner society has routinely locked up more dangerous men).
Whereas, in previous years the mainstream had inundated the public consciousness with endless discussions about whether water boarding was really torture—while completely and deliberately ignoring an International Red Cross report (sent to all major U.S news outlets) that stated at least 44 people were known to have died from U.S. sponsored torture.
But there is simply no way President Obama can close this base on his own, or at least the prison part of it, without major and active U.S. citizen and world support. President Obama is surrounded by an entrenched cabinets of the Executive branch—they act power-hungry and have establishment the fact they have little respect for law. Equally a top-down and corrupted democratic party suffocates any possibility for clean and refreshing air. It was his choice of Ramn Israel Emanuel for Chief of Staff, in his first term, who apparently helped sideline the Guantanamo issue.
It is not enough for Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks to admonish the President, or correctly criticize him, for not having the stomach for a tough fight. There has to be a major coalition of the American people with him, willing to let Congress, and their staffs, know we Americans are tired of this status quo, and we are going to do something about it. (Currently you can’t even email some U.S. Senators a statement of any length—it prints as all run together—no spacing—take John McCain’s official email sight as example? Obviously he, nor his staff, doesn’t even read from the constituency—and it’s not just such level of arrogance—but also how mediocre are many of their minds.
Why has not the U.S. Senate called for an investigation of the likely assassination of Paul Wellstone, who was positioned to be re-elected for another term? You see it’s not really about being Jewish—but rather if you are crazy, right-wing NeoCon or not).
Americans must make a firm and powerful stand now—bigger than the Occupy Movement. Where is the Free Speech movement, where are the campus protests at Madison and Kent State Ohio? Think tanks were betting as long as there was no draft there wouldn’t be much protests. The D.C. Mall should be flooded this summer with people demanding justice for all people. This is not a party issue—it is All American issue.
It seems too many of our elected leaders are corrupted. How can they possibly stand in the way of the reasons President Obama announced for closing the Bush Legacy? Congress is acting as traitors to our very values and Constitutional liberties. They must be ousted from any decision-making capacity—if not put on trial for high crimes of treason.
We must force the military and intelligence quagmire to subordinate to the President. To think that mere men and women at the top of echelons were placing themselves into position to play some egotistical God—that is one who could arbitrarily make up the rules, could judge according to one’s own sanctimonious dictates, could willfully sanction war and murder, and could punish with some nebulous form of eternal torture as hell (with no possible right to justifiable Justice), is beyond comprehension and the pale—unless one realizes how the very meaning of corruption comports itself even within the ambiance of Washington D.C. We don’t need another Arab Spring but we do need our own form of American Summer.
We must reclaim our participatory role. The question is not whether the president has given up on common sense and idealism—but rather whether the American people have.
THIS IS THE TIME AND THIS IS THE ISSUE OF CONTENTION
OCCUPY! OCCUPY! OCCUPY!
The long-troubled military trials at Guantanamo Bay were hit by revelations earlier this year that a secret censor had the ability to cut off courtroom proceedings, and that there were listening devices disguised as smoke detectors in attorney-client meeting rooms.
Now, another potential instance of compromised confidentiality at the military commissions has emerged: Defense attorneys say somebody has accessed their email and servers.
“Defense emails have ended up being provided to the prosecution, material has disappeared off the defense server, and sometimes reappeared, in different formats, or with different names,” said Rick Kammen, a lawyer for Abd Al Rahim Al Nashiri, who is accused of plotting the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole.
The lawyers say they don’t know exactly who is accessing their communications. And it’s not yet clear whether the emails were intentionally grabbed or were scooped up mistakenly due to technical or procedural errors.
Either way, the lawyers are concerned.
In response to the apparent breaches, the military’s chief defense counsel ordered defense lawyers to stop using email for privileged or confidential communications.
“This follows on the heels of the seizure of over 500,000 e-mail containing attorney-client privileged communications as well as the loss of significant amount of defense work-product contained in shared folders,” Commander Walter Ruiz, one of the military defense counsels, said in an email.
The search of thousands of emails was revealed by the prosecution, attorneys say.
“The searches on their face looked to be fairly benign,” Kammen said. The defense emails turned up when prosecutors requested a search of prosecutors’ own emails. “The people who were doing the searches ended up providing all manner of defense material as well.” It’s not clear what department, agency, or office did the search.
It is not possible to corroborate the attorneys’ accounts because the full documents are undergoing security review, and are not yet public.
The Pentagon declined to comment, citing the ongoing trial.
In recent months, defense lawyers also realized that files were missing from their shared and personal servers. There is no evidence that the missing files are connected to the email searches.
“The main thing is that the integrity of the system as the whole is in very serious question,” said Commander Ruiz. The order to stop using servers and emails, “essentially cripples our ability to operate,” he said.
Hearings in Nashiri’s case were scheduled for next week, but in response to a motion from his lawyers, military judge James Pohlhas delayed the hearings for two months. Yesterday, lawyers for the 9/11 plotters also filed a motion regarding “Information Technology Corruption and Loss of Relevant Defense Files.”
These new concerns are the latest example of irregularities of military commissions overshadowing the actual facts of the cases brought before them. Pretrial hearings have been consumed by issues such as whether defendants can wear camouflage to court (they can), when mail can be read, and what exactly lawyers can discuss with or send their clients. The prosecution has also tried to prohibit “informational contraband,” including any material on “current political or military events in any country; historical perspectives or discussions on jihadist activities.” Copies of the 9/11 Commission Report and the memoirs of an FBI agent have been taken from defendants’ cells.
In cases before the commissions, defendants’ interactions with their attorneys are subject to strict controls. Orders aimed at protecting classified information govern most proceedings and lawyers have limited access to their clients. Defense lawyerspreviously had to get a security officer’s approval to use even mundane information from defendants. That requirement was loosened a bit, but details of the defendants’ time in CIA custody – including their own accounts of being tortured – are automatically classified.
There have been seven convictions under the military commissions. Another seven detainees are currently facing charges, and 24 others may yet be prosecuted. The government has deemed 46 detainees simply too dangerous to release but doesn’t plan to try them.
The Obama administration initially sought to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the four other alleged 9/11 plotters in federal court in Manhattan, but reversed its position after heated opposition from Congress and New York City officials.
Though President Obama has thus far failed to fulfill his pledge to close Guantanamo, no one has been brought to the prison under the Obama administration. In recent months, a string of terror suspects have been extradited from foreign countries to face charges in U.S. courts.
In a statement, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale disputed defense attorneys’ characterizations of the email and data breach described below, saying that none of the government prosecutors “saw the content of any privileged communications.”
The search was conducted by the Pentagon’s IT department. Breasseale said the reason prosecution ended up with defense emails at all was likely because a security officer “miscommunicated the search parameters.” As soon as one prosecutor “realized the search results included privileged material, the searches completely ceased, and, upon agreement of defense counsel … the IT department deleted all the search results from the two searches,” Breasseale said.
Statement emailed to reporters by Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale:
Perhaps the biggest myth in the current reporting is that US government prosecutors saw defense e-mails.
I can tell you unequivocally that NO prosecutor and no member of the privilege review team saw the content of any privileged communications. Only one prosecutor and only one member of the privilege review team each actually saw a single defense communication. To be clear: there were a series of searches for a particular piece of information in which both prosecution and defense took part. One prosecutor saw the email when reviewing results generated from the first search. The privilege-review attorney saw the email when reviewing the results generated from the second search. However, in both cases, they only saw the “To,” “From,” and “CC” lines, and the one prosecutor saw the opening salutation of the email (it was “team,” or some similar word) and saw NOTHING ELSE. As soon as that prosecutor realized the search results included privileged material, the searches completely ceased, and, upon agreement of defense counsel in Qosi, the IT department deleted all the search results from the two searches.
But more generally – though terrifically more importantly – the attorney-client privilege ranks among the oldest and most established evidentiary privileges known to our law, and we take this seriously. The fact that this arose from a defense-initiated petition, was promptly dealt with due to a PROSECUTION report, and that it is receiving appropriate focus to identify corrective measures, confirms that. All attorneys, including both our professional corps of defense and prosecuting attorneys, are duty-bound to safeguard privileged material. Attorneys are obligated to scrupulously avoid reviewing the other side’s privileged material. Specifically, the attorneys in the office of the chief prosecutor have demonstrated their respect for the attorney-client privilege and they diligently work to protect it.
In any complex litigation, privileged material sometimes accidentally ends up in the wrong place – from both ‘sides.’ For example, just last week, a member of the defense counsel mistakenly sent to a number of prosecutors an ex parte filing that was meant to be sent only to the court. Defense counsel notified the prosecution, and actions were immediately taken to protect the confidentiality of the filing. This sort of human error is unfortunate but not out of the ordinary in complex litigation in both civilian and military systems, and both sides work together to resolve any issues that arise.
Meanwhile, encryption–which is the recommended means of communication–would have precluded even this inadvertent and fully contained disclosure that involved no content.
So, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to offer some point-for-point responses to some of the growing myths that are out there.
“[I]t was revealed that hundreds of thousands of defense e-mails were turned over to the prosecution.”
“In the latest controversy, the prosecution gained access to about 540,000 emails from defense teams.”
— This is patently FALSE. **The Enterprise Information Technology Services Directorate (EITSD) did not turn over any of the those emails to any attorneys—prosecution or otherwise. IT has maintained possession of these emails and the prosecution attorneys do not have access to them. Because no one has reviewed these emails, we simply do not know whether any of the emails included any defense emails.
“Defense attorneys said military IT personnel unsuccessfully tried to refine their search parameters two more times—and in each case discovered more confidential material.”
— The court wanted communications between the prosecution and the defense regarding waiver of appellate review. The office of the Chief Prosecutor (OMC-P) asked their IT professional, he relayed to them that they had to go through OMC Security Department (now part of Washington Headquarters Services), and OMC Security relayed that they would have to contact the search technicians with OMC-P’s search request. OMC-P gave the search parameters to OMC Security (including the names of the relevant prosecutors and defense attorneys, identifying who was a prosecutor and who was a defense attorney), and OMC Security was supposed to properly communicate them to the search technicians. The representative from OMC-Security miscommunicated the search parameters, which we asses is the likely reason it caused OMC-P to receive the privileged communications which, again, were never read by the prosecutors.
— The IT search that generated 540,000 emails was the third search. Again: no one has reviewed these emails, so we do not know if they include confidential material. After the first search, prosecutors directed IT to deliver any search results to a privilege review team composed of attorneys from the DOD OGC who had no involvement in the Qosi case before the United States Court of Military Commission Review or the Cole and 9/11 trials. IT has deleted the search results from the first two searches.
— Finally, the Office of Military Commissions (OMC), in toto – including both defense and prosecution – suffered from a nearly catastrophic server ‘crash,’ that affected not only the main server, but both of its back-up servers. The server ‘crash,’ coupled with the satellite latency issues that exist between computers here in the US and those at Guantanamo Bay, have caused losses of indiscriminate data across the OMC spectrum. Of the nearly 400 gb of data originally ‘lost,’ there remain some 7 gb yet to be accounted for. To be sure, this data loss – which affects the whole of OMC – is indeed indiscriminate and appears to be mostly affecting updates to pre-existing documents and new documents that were saved to the server and not e-mailed.
**Breasseale’s statement originally said that, “no one knows from where this “540k” number comes and I would direct you to the defense counsel who allege this number.” In a follow-up, Breasseale corrected that to say that “the 540k number comes from one of the prosecution’s pleadings.
In a comment to RT the United Nations rights body said it is investigating allegations of mistreatment at America’s detention facility in Cuba.
“While aware of some of the allegations of mistreatment of inmates said to have provoked the hunger strike – which include undue interference with the inmates’ personal effects — we are still trying to confirm the details,” the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navy Pillay said.
The Red Cross, which visited the island prison from February 18 to 23, was one of the few international organizations to comment on the situation at the Guantanamo detention camp. It acknowledged that a hunger strike was actually taking place, but so far the organization has only released a statement, stating “The ICRC believes past and current tensions at Guantanamo to be the direct result of the uncertainty faced by detainees.”
Military censorship makes it quite difficult to access any information about Gitmo prisoners. It was the attorneys for the detainees that first expressed urgency and grave concern over the life-threatening mass hunger strike that reportedly started in the Guantanamo Bay detention facility on February 6.
According to the Center for Constitutional Rights 130 prisoners went on a hunger strike to protest the alleged confiscation of personal items such as photos and mail and the alleged sacrilegious handling of their Korans.
Prison spokesman Navy Capt. Robert Durand, however, acknowledged only 21 inmates to be on hunger strike. He also denied all allegations of prisoners being mistreated.
Even if not for mistreatment and abuse, prisoners could have started the strike just to draw attention to their being kept in Guantanamo, with the US refusing to repatriate them, despite some being cleared for release.
“There are 166 people at Guantanamo. Of those there are probably 20 guys who are bad guys… like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The other people… more than half of them – 86 of them have been cleared at least for three years and some during the Bush administration – cleared as innocent people. And they are still there and they are frustrated,” says Thomas Wilner, a lawyer, who used to represent some of the Guantanamo detainees in court.
According to Durand, none of the inmates on hunger strike is in immediate health danger.
Lawyers for the prisoners believe otherwise. They have reported some of their clients had weight loss of up to or more than 20 pounds (8kg) and have been hospitalized. Medical experts say that by day 45, hunger strikers can experience potential blindness and partial hearing loss.
The Center for Constitutional Rights and habeas counsel have sent a letter to US Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, urging him “to address this growing crisis at Guantánamo before another man dies at the prison, this time under his watch. The hunger strike should be a wake-up call for the Obama Administration, which cannot continue to ignore the human cost of Guantánamo and put off closing the prison any longer.”
Meanwhile, JTF-GTMO announced that flights to the island prison from South Florida will be terminated on April 5. The step is seen by the prisoners’ attorneys as an attempt by the Defense Department to limit access to their clients.