‘President Barack Obama announced drastic changes to the United States’ counterterrorism operations today, reforming the rules that guide America’s drone program while also expediting the release of Guantanamo Bay detainees.
The president spoke at the National Defense University in Washington, DC at 2 p.m. EST addressing those two issues in particular, weighing in on a pair of topics that have increasingly attracted criticism to the Obama administration since his first term in office began more than four years ago.
When Mr. Obama entered the White House in 2009, he inherited along with two wars a couple of items from the George W. Bush administration that are widely cited today as the driving force behind anti-American sentiment overseas: the US continues to operate the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba military prison to house more than 160 alleged enemy combatants; and the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, has increased exponentially under Mr. Obama’s leadership.
But although both the drone program and Guantanamo Bay have existed for more than a decade, calls for reform on both matters have increased severely in recent months as the number of civilian drone casualties soars. By many estimates, thousands of women, children and other innocent people have been killed during nearly a decade-long war dominated by drones. Meanwhile, Gitmo inmates — nearly all of them — remain committed to a hunger strike that has made the White House the object of international embarrassment and prompted them to start force-feeding prisoners.’
‘One of the methods used to extract information from Muslim inmates in Guantanamo was to apply sexual interrogation techniques, Terry Holdbrooks, former guard at the camp has told RT.
Such a degradation methods, the former US soldier said, were used on innocent men. Holdbrooks, who wrote a book about GITMO prisoners, claims that it is the inmates’ religious perseverance in the face of pain and humiliation made him convinced that US was not fighting for the right cause.’
‘The Pentagon is asking Congress for more than $450 million for maintaining and upgrading the Guantanamo Bay prison that President Barack Obama wants to close.
New details on the administration’s budget request emerged on Tuesday and underscored the contradiction of the president waging a political fight to shutter the facility while the military calculates the financial requirements to keep the installation operating, AP news agency reported.
The budget request for the fiscal year beginning October 1 calls for $79m for detention operations, the same as the current year, and $20.5m for the office of military commissions, an increase over the current amount of $12.6m. The request also includes $40m for a fiber optic cable and $99 million for operation and maintenance.
The Pentagon also wants $200m for military construction to upgrade temporary facilities. That work could take eight to 10 years as the military has to transport workers to the island, rely on limited housing and fly in building material.
The facility at the US naval base in Cuba currently holds 166 prisoners, and hunger strikes by 100 of them over their indefinite detention and prison conditions prompted Obama to renew his effort to close Guantanamo.’
by Jason Leopold
‘A military physician who oversees a team of nurses force-feeding hunger-striking prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility has dismissed ethical concerns raised by human rights groups and medical organisations about the procedure, saying the medical community was motivated to speak out about the practice for political reasons.
In an interview with Al Jazeera at the prison’s detention hospital last week, the physician, who, for security reasons, could only be identified as a senior medical officer of the Joint Medical Group, was defensive when pressed about questions regarding medical ethics and force-feeding.
“It’s very easy for folks outside of this place to make policies and decisions they think they would implement,” the senior medical officer said. “This is kind of a tough mission and this is kind of an ugly place sometimes, alright? The reality is when faced with people who are hunger striking, potentially to the point of needing medical intervention to protect their life and to keep them from harming themselves, suddenly it’s not a very abstract decision. Hunger strikes are tough and a big use of time. I realise there’s a lot of controversy. But it’s a political thing.”
Thirty of the 103 Guantanamo prisoners who have been on hunger strike since February are now being fed a nutritional supplement through a tube that is threaded through their nostril and into their stomach, a brutal procedure laid bare in an exclusive report last week by Al Jazeera, citing the military’s own standard operating procedure (SOP), which was written March 5, a month after the hunger strike started.
The practice has been criticised by the president of the American Medical Association (AMA), who said in a letter sent to Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel in April that force-feeding “violates core ethical values of the medical profession” and “every competent patient has the right to refuse medical intervention, including life-sustaining interventions”.’
SEE ALSO: Gitmo Lawyer Speaks Out (We Are Change)
by CAROL ROSENBERG
‘Guantánamo prison staff members were tube-feeding 30 of the 100 hunger-striking captives on Wednesday, the detention center said, reporting an all-time high last reached in 2005.
Three of the captives were being treated in the hospital, said Army Lt. Col. Samuel House, a prison spokesman, although none “currently have any life-threatening conditions.”
The Pentagon’s Southern Command headquarters had earlier sent medical reinforcements to the remote prison camps, to increase the military deployment of Navy doctors, nurses and corpsmen to about 140 to care for the 166 captives at the sprawling detention center in southeast Cuba. ‘
by Ann Neumann
‘I know a hunger-striking prisoner who hasn’t eaten solid food in more than five years. He is being force-fed by the medical staff where he’s incarcerated. Starving himself, he told me during one of our biweekly phone calls last year, is the only way he has to exercise his first amendment rights and to protest his conviction. Not eating is his only available free speech act.
The prisoner has lost half his body weight and four teeth to malnutrition. He and his lawyer have gone to court to stop the force-feedings, but a judge ruled against him in March. If I asked you to guess where Coleman is being held, you’d likely say Guantánamo — “America’s offshore war-on-terror camp” — where a mass hunger strike of 100 prisoners has brought the ethics of force-feeding to American newspapers, if not American consciences. Twenty-five of those prisoners are now being manually fed with tubes.
But William Coleman is not at Guantánamo. He’s in Connecticut. The prison medical staff force-feeding him are on contract from the University of Connecticut, not the U.S. Navy. Guantánamo is not an anomaly. Prisoners — who are on U.S. soil and not an inaccessible island military base — are routinely and systematically force-fed every day.’
Why is Obama Hiding 6,000-Page Report on Bush-Era Torture and Why is Torture Still Allowed? ~ All Gov
‘President Barack Obama is currently blocking the release—or allowing the CIA to block the release—of a comprehensive Senate report on the use of torture by the George W. Bush administration CIA that is said to conclude that torture was not an effective or reliable method of interrogation and that the agency repeatedly misled the White House, the Justice Department, and Congress about its interrogation efforts.
[...] Although the report validates anti-torture positions taken by Democrats, including President Obama, during the Bush years, Obama may be delaying its release over concerns about shedding negative light on his own, related, anti-terror policies that offend human rights, such as the continued use of torture at Guantánamo Bay or the predator drone assassination program. Further, the deep involvement of Obama’s hand-picked CIA Director, John Brennan, in the Bush-era torture and kidnapping programs may call Obama’s judgment about Brennan into question.’
by Matt Williams
‘Hunger-strikers being force fed at Guantánamo Bay are shackled to a chair, fitted with a mask and have tubes inserted through their nose and into their stomachs for up to two hours at a time, according to revised guidelines in use at the camp.
The guidelines, which were updated after the latest protest by inmates began in February, detail the process of involuntary feeding and how after the sessions, detainees are kept in a “dry cell” to prevent them vomiting. News of the 30-page Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) manual – which was firstpublished on Monday, by al-Jazeera, and has since been confirmed to be genuine by the US military – comes amid fresh questions over the ethics of force-feeding protesters at the prison.
It comes as consortium of human rights activists, pressure groups and law bodies issued a direct plea to US defense secretary Chuck Hagel to end the practice of force feeding at Guantanamo Bay.’
‘I remind you that at least half of the inmates are innocent of any wrongdoing (Afghan warlords turned random people in for the reward money). The wingnuts insist that because some of the men previously released joined al Qaeda to seek revenge, we can’t let anyone go! And we can’t try the valid cases in U.S. courts because so much evidence has been compromised by torture and would be inadmissible, anyway. Oops!
Oh, and in case you forgot, we are the alleged “good guys” in this gruesome situation.
[...] According to international standards,prisoners are entitled to refuse food and drink. But President Obama has ordered the force-feeding.
Without any decisive action or announced intent to change the situation that has driven the prisoners to this point, that order strikes me as highly unethical.’
‘It’s been dubbed the most expensive prison on Earth and President Barack Obama cited the cost this week as one of many reasons to shut down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, which burns through some $900,000 per prisoner annually.
The Pentagon estimates it spends about $150 million each year to operate the prison and military court system at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, which was set up 11 years ago to house foreign terrorism suspects. With 166 inmates currently in custody, that amounts to an annual cost of $903,614 per prisoner.
By comparison, super-maximum security prisons in the United States spend about $60,000 to $70,000 at most to house their inmates, analysts say. And the average cost across all federal prisons is about $30,000, they say.’
by John Glaser
‘President Obama this week defended the US’s policy of force feeding detainees in Guantanamo Bay who are protesting their due process-free indefinite detention by going on a hunger strike.
On Wednesday, UN human rights officials declared that force feeding amounts to torture, saying “it is unjustifiable to engage in forced feeding of individuals contrary to their informed and voluntary refusal of such a measure.”’
by Eric Posner
‘In his press conference Tuesday, President Obama repeated that he wanted to shut Guantanamo Bay but blamed Congress for stopping him. “They would not let us close it,” he said. But that’s wrong. President Obama can lawfully release the detainees if he wants to. Congress has made it difficult, but not impossible. Whatever he’s saying, the president does not want to close the detention center—at least not yet.
The relevant law is the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA). This statute confirms the president’s power to wage war against al-Qaida and its associates, which was initially given to him in the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed shortly after 9/11. The NDAA also authorizes the president to detain enemy combatants, and bans him from transferring Guantanamo detainees to American soil.
The NDAA does not, however, ban the president from releasing detainees. Section 1028 authorizes him to release them to foreign countries that will accept them—the problem is that most countries won’t, and others, like Yemen, where about 90 of the 166 detainees are from, can’t guarantee that they will maintain control over detainees, as required by the law.’
by Jason Leopold
‘An attorney who represented prisoners detained at Guantanamo Bay was found dead last week in what sources said was a suicide.
Andy P. Hart, 38, a federal public defender in Toledo, Ohio, apparently died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Hart left behind a suicide note and a thumb drive, believed to contain his case files. It is unknown where Hart died, what the suicide note said or whether an autopsy was performed.
Hart’s death comes amid escalating chaos that has engulfed Guantanamo over the past three months—from a mass hunger strike to military commissions and renewed pressure on the White House to shut down the prison facility. Hart was one of three-dozen Guantanamo attorneys who signed a letter in March urging Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to take immediate action and bring about an end to the hunger strike.
Because Hart was a federal employee working on sensitive legal issues the FBI was contacted about his death. It is unknown if the agency has been investigating the circumstances surrounding his death.’
by Dan Roberts
‘The lawyer who first drew up White House policy on lethal drone strikes has accused the Obama administration of overusing them because of its reluctance to capture prisoners that would otherwise have to be sent to Guantánamo Bay.
John Bellinger, who was responsible for drafting the legal framework for targeted drone killings while working for George W Bush after 9/11, said he believed their use had increased since because President Obama was unwilling to deal with the consequences of jailing suspected al-Qaida members.’
‘CUBA’S foreign minister has demanded that Washington shut its controversial jail at Guantanamo Bay and return the long-held military base to Havana.
The comments by Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva came a day after US President Barack Obama vowed again to shut the military prison, saying it was damaging US interests.’
by Alex Spillius
A two-year study by the Constitution Project determined that there was “no justification” for the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” deployed by the George W Bush administration, which it said violated both international and American law.
“It is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture,” said the 577-page report by Constitution Project, a high-powered Washington watchdog.
“I had not recognized the depths of torture in some cases,” said James Jones, a former Democratic congressman who acted as co-chairman of the research team with Asa Hutchinson, formerly a senior Bush official. “We lost our compass.”
The report is the most ambitious effort so far to document the controversial practices of the war on terror.
Pre-trial hearings in the Guantanamo Bay war crimes tribunals have been delayed to address the disappearance of defense legal documents from Pentagon computers, military officials said on Thursday.
Defense lawyers representing inmates at the prison camp were ordered Wednesday to halt all computer transmission of sensitive material because of a security risk. The problem reportedly stems from a Pentagon-provided computer server that was supposed to transmit information from Washington to Guantanamo. Instead of transmitting files effectively, however, the system has been deleting documents since January of this year.
A weeklong hearing was scheduled to start on Monday for Abd al Rahim al Nashiri – a Saudi Arabian citizen alleged to be the mastermind of the bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000. The attack killed 17 US soldiers aboard the ship and wounded 37 others.
But the trial has now been pushed back to June 11, the US naval base said in an order on Thursday.
It comes just one day after Nashiri’s lawyer, Ricard Kammen, urged Army Colonel James Pohl – who oversees the war crimes court – to cancel this week’s hearing.
A new commander has been named to lead the Guantanamo Bay prison amid a hunger strike that has dragged on for more than two months.
The Pentagon says Rear Adm. Richard W. Butler will be the next commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo after serving at the Air Warfare Division in Washington.
Butler replaces Rear Adm. John W. Smith, who will move to the National Defense University in Norfolk, Virginia.
Navy Capt. Robert Durand says the change is part of a normal rotation in which the prison commander serves for about a year.
SEE ALSO: Gitmo’s Last UK Detainee: ‘People Are Dying Here’ in Hunger Strike (Guardian)
by Jason Ditz
[...] Cindy Panuco, the defense lawyer in question, says she hasn’t been allowed contact with her client since the incident, and details remain scarce, but maintains there is “no way they could have any sort of weapons.”
Panuco cited invasion February searches, in which even Qurans were seized as evidence that it was unlikely secreted arms could have escaped notice, and added that they don’t even allow detainees to use proper inkpens, instead forcing them to use the internal feeds from ballpoint pens, apparently unwilling to trust them even with the hard plastic of a biro pen barrel.
The US statement claimed the detainees had taped together a bunch of water bottles into a fearsome weapon of some sort, but since the US has been denying detainees bottled water for weeks, it isn’t clear how that’s even theoretically possible.
by John Glaser
According to The Associated Press, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in House testimony on Thursday that he supports closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But Hagel’s actual words were too ambiguous for such a claim.
[...] Hagel’s response was more of a dodge than a firm affirmation of President Obama’s initial position on closing Guantanamo when he came into office in 2009. But, of course, that is no longer the President’s position.
In January, he Obama administration decided to close the office and eliminate the special envoy devoted to closing the prison, which holds 166 detainees, many of which have already been cleared for released, in indefinite detention.
That decision, reported The New York Times, “appeared to signal that the administration does not currently see the closing of the Guantánamo Bay prison as a realistic priority, despite repeated statements that it still intends to do so.”
In truth, Obama abandoned the effort to close Guantanamo very early in his administration. In May 2009, Obama “scuppered a plan,” writes Andy Worthington, “to bring a handful of innocent and wrongly detained prisoners to the United States who could not be safely repatriated.”
by RUPERT CORNWELL
For long periods we forget it, even though it is a human rights disgrace surely unequalled in recent American history. But now, 11 years after it opened, the prison for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay is demanding our attention once again, thanks to the largest hunger strike by detainees in its infamous history. Al-Qa’ida has been decimated; America’s war in Iraq is over and the one in Afghanistan soon will be. But the scandal of Guantanamo endures.
Today, 166 inmates remain. Three have been convicted, while a further 30 will face trial. Fifty or so are in a legal no-man’s-land, deemed by the authorities too dangerous to release but against whom there is not enough evidence to prosecute. And then there are 86 who have been cleared for release, but who instead rot in a hell from which there is no escape. No wonder yesterday more than 160 of them were involved in clashes with guards that led to what the US said were “less than lethal” rounds being fired.
In 2009, Barack Obama entered office vowing to close Guantanamo within a year. Perhaps he should have listened more closely to his predecessor. George W Bush, too, wanted to shut Guantanamo; even he came to understand it was perhaps the most powerful single recruiting agent for global terrorism. But, he warned presciently, the devil was in the detail – or, more exactly, in Congress.
Mr Obama’s planned to transfer most inmates to a high-security prison in Illinois, but that idea was blocked. Then Congress made things harder still, first scotching a plan to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the organiser of 9/11 and Guantanamo’s best-known prisoner, in a civil court in the US, and effectively banning the use of public money to transfer Guantanamo detainees to the US or abroad.
Even so, Dan Fried, the special envoy in charge of closing the prison, managed to resettle 40 detainees during Obama’s first term. But at the end of January, Mr Fried was reassigned and not replaced, his duties incorporated into the State Department’s existing legal office. For the 86 inmates eligible for release it was the last straw. Within a week the hunger strikes started.
Detainees tell their lawyers that up to 130 now are taking part. The Pentagon claims they number no more than 40, of whom a dozen are being force-fed. Given the lack of independent access to Guantanamo, the exact number is impossible to establish.
Like others before it, the protest may have been sparked by complaints that guards were abusing detainees’ copies of the Koran. But even the Pentagon admits the real reason was despair. Inmates were “devastated” by the signal that the administration no longer believed that closing the prison was a realistic priority, Marine General John Kelly told Congress, so “they want to turn the heat up, get it back in the media”. And who can blame them?
by Ben Fox
Months of increased tension at the Guantanamo Bay prison boiled over into a clash between guards and detainees Saturday as the military closed a communal section of the facility and moved its inmates into single cells.
The violence erupted during an early morning raid that military officials said was necessary because prisoners had covered up security cameras and windows as part of a weekslong protest and hunger strike over their indefinite confinement and conditions at the U.S. base in Cuba.
Prisoners fought guards with makeshift weapons that included broomsticks and mop handles when troops arrived to move them out of a communal wing of the section of the prison known as Camp 6, said Navy Capt. Robert Durand, a military spokesman. Guards responded by firing four “less-than-lethal rounds,” he said.
There were no serious injuries from the rounds, which included a modified shotgun shell that fires small rubber pellets as well as a type of bean-bag projectile, said Army Col. Greg Julian, a spokesman for Miami-based U.S. Southern Command, which oversees the prison at the U.S. base in Cuba.
“I know for sure that one detainee was hit but the injuries were minor, just some bruises,” Julian said.
The confrontation came a day after a team from the International Committee of the Red Cross finished a three-week visit to Guantanamo to meet with prisoners and assess conditions.
by CORA CURRIER
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.
by John Glaser
A press release from the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights:
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Friday urged all branches of the United States Government to work together to close the Guantanamo detention centre, saying “the continuing indefinite incarceration of many of the detainees amounts to arbitrary detention and is in clear breach of international law.”
“I am deeply disappointed that the US Government has not been able to close Guantanamo Bay, despite repeatedly committing itself to do so,” Pillay said. “Allegedly, around half of the 166 detainees still being held in detention have been cleared for transfer to either home countries or third countries for resettlement. Yet they remain in detention at Guantanamo Bay. Others reportedly have been designated for further indefinite detention. Some of them have been festering in this detention centre for more than a decade. This raises serious concerns under international law. It severely undermines the United States’ stance that it is an upholder of human rights, and weakens its position when addressing human rights violations elsewhere.”
Commenting on the current hunger strike by Guantanamo detainees, Pillay said that “a hunger strike is a desperate act, and one which brings a clear risk of people doing serious lasting harm to themselves. I always urge people to think of alternative, less dangerous, ways to protest about their situation. But given the uncertainty and anxieties surrounding their prolonged and apparently indefinite detention in Guantanamo, it is scarcely surprising that people’s frustrations boil over and they resort to such desperate measures.”
Pillay noted that four years ago she warmly welcomed President Obama’s announcement immediately after his inauguration that he was placing a high priority on closing Guantanamo and setting in motion a system to safeguard the fundamental rights of the detainees. She welcomed a White House spokesman’s reiteration of this commitment last week (27 March), citing Congressional legislation as the prime obstacle.
“Nevertheless, this systemic abuse of individuals’ human rights continues year after year,” she said. “We must be clear about this: the United States is in clear breach not just of its own commitments but also of international laws and standards that it is obliged to uphold. When other countries breach these standards, the US – quite rightly – strongly criticizes them for it.”
The Obama administration’s response to such sweeping criticisms of their indefinite detention policies has largely been to ignore them. ‘What? We’re criminals? Oh, hush up.’