August 01, 2013

Obama's meeting with Yemeni prez won't produce Gitmo "mass exodus"

President Obama meets later today with the president of Yemen to talk about his decision to lift a moratorium that prevented the U.S. from sending Guantanamo Bay detainees back to the country.

But Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters not to expect any announcements on when any detainees will be sent back, even as reporters noted that 56 of 86 detainees that have been cleared for transfer are from Yemen. 

Carney said Obama will "will reiterate to President Hadi his firm commitment to closing Guantanamo and his decision to lift the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen in favor of a case-by-case approach."

But, he added, "the lifting of the moratorium did not mean a mass exodus. It meant that we would then move to a case-by-case evaluation of each detainee."

Human rights groups are pressing Obama

July 26, 2013

WH announces two transfers out of Guantanamo

The White House said today it will repatriate two Guantanamo Bay detainees to Algeria as part of President Obama's renewed effort to close the controversial facility.

The White House said in the Defense Department has "certified to Congress its intent to repatriate the detainees," adding it was taking the step "in consultation with the Congress, and in a responsible manner that protects our national security."

Obama in April vowed to redouble efforts on a failed first-term campaign promise to close the prison for terrorism suspects and the White House said it would "continue to call on Congress to join us in supporting these efforts by lifting the current restrictions that significantly limit our ability to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo, even those who have been approved for transfer."

More than half the population of the detention camp is Yemeni and Obama next week will meet at the White House with its president, Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Continue reading "WH announces two transfers out of Guantanamo " »

July 25, 2013

Yemen's president to visit WH after releasing journalist Obama wanted held

A day after Yemen's president pardoned and released a Yemeni journalist whom Obama once personally lobbied to have remain in jail,the White House announced the chief executive is coming to Washington for a visit.

Yemeni President Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi will visit the White House on Aug. 1, the White House said. His visit comes as Obama has pledged to close the detention center at Guanantamo Bay and as Obama has said he's asked Congress to work with him to lift a moratorium on returning Yemenis who make up more than half the population at Guantanamo.

The White House says the visit will "highlight the strength of the U.S.-Yemeni relationship and underscore the United States' ongoing support for Yemen's political transition."

It said Obama would talk with Hadi about U.S. efforts to "enhance democratic governance and support economic development" in Yemen, as well as U.S. efforts to "enable the return of Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay who have been designated for transfer."

Human rights groups say Obama has the authority now to make it happen now: "Talk is cheap," said Zeke Johnson, director of Amnesty International USA's Security & Human Rights program. "Detainees can be transferred home to Yemen today under current U.S. law, and they should be, with full respect for their human rights. It's been more than four years since President Obama ordered the prison closed within a year, and two months since his latest pledge to get the job done."

July 09, 2013

White House on force feeding: "We do not want these individuals to die"

The White House declined Tuesday to address a judge's finding that force feeding detainees at Guantanamo Bay is a "painful, humiliating and degrading process" that President Obama could put a stop to.

Press Secretary Jay Carney referred reporters to the Department of Justice for questions on the lawsuit over the force feeding and to the Defense Department -- which runs Guantanamo -- for specifics about the hunger strikers. But he added that Obama said in April that "we do not want these individuals to die" and that the force feeding is aimed at preventing that from happening.

"Broadly speaking... he believes that we need to close Guantanamo Bay," Carney said. "He has long believed that, and he has returned to this issue because he believes that it's in our national security interest to do so."

Carney said Obama has  called on Congress to work with him to lift the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, as well as bring some detainees to trial in the U.S.

"The long-term goal here has been, in keeping with the views of leading Republicans as well as Democrats, as well as military officials and other national security experts, we need to close this facility because it's in our interest to do so," Carney said.

June 17, 2013

Edward Snowden answers reader questions about leaking government surveillance secrets

NSA leaker Edward Snowden seemed equally paranoid and steadfast Monday when he answered questions from the public for the first time since he revealed government secrets about a classified surveillance program in early June.

Snowden, whose live Q&A was hosted by The Guardian, responded to questions ranging from his choice of destination to his label as a traitor from Twitter users as well as commenters on the British paper’s website.

Snowden responded to criticism from former Vice President Dick Cheney, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Congressman Peter King (R-N.Y.), saying being labeled as a traitor by people like Cheney was the highest honor you could give to an American.

Asked why he fled to Hong Kong, instead of his destination-of-choice Iceland, Snowden wrote that it is often difficult for NSA employees to leave the country, usually having to give 30-days notice before a trip. Snowden said he needed to pick a country “with the cultural and legal framework to allow me to work without being immediately detained.”

Snowden also answered questions about his current relationship with China, calling the implication that he is a Chinese spy a “knee-jerk” reaction and saying if he were, he’d “be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now.”

One Guardian reporter asked Snowden to clarify his answer, saying commenters weren’t satisfied with his vague response. “No. I have had no contact with the Chinese government,” Snowden responded.

While Snowden said he was initially excited about the media’s coverage of his story, he became annoyed by the press’ choice to cover “what I said when I was 17 or what my girlfriend looks like.”

Throughout the Q&A, Snowden wrote passionately, condemning the U.S. government, the NSA and the gang of eight, a group of senators spearheading the current immigration bill, who Snowden claimed to be the biggest supporters of lies; he said their actions compelled him in part to release the information.

He also cited President Barack Obama's failure to close the detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as one the factors leading up to his decision to release the information.

The answer came as a questioner asked Snowden why he waited to release the documents when he's said he wanted to inform the world about the NSA programs before Obama was elected president.

Snowden wrote that Obama's "campaign promises and election gave me faith that he would lead us toward fixing the problems he outlined in his quest for votes. Many Americans felt similarly. Unfortunately, shortly after assuming power, he closed the door on investigating systemic violations of law, deepened and expanded several abusive programs, and refused to spend the political capital to end the kind of human rights violations like we see in Guantanamo, where men still sit without charge."

Snowden answered numerous questions, but left even more unanswered. The Guardian’s comment section was filled with more than 3,000 comments, while Twitter was flooded with questions.

Even questions that Snowden responded to sometimes received only partial answers.

He was asked:

“What would you say to others who are in a position to leak classified information that could improve public understanding of the intelligence apparatus of the USA and its effect on civil liberties? What evidence do you have that refutes the assertion that the NSA is unable to listen to the content of telephone calls without an explicit and defined court order from FISC?”

Snowden simply responded, “This country is worth dying for.”

The conversation ended with Snowden thanking the audience for its support, reminding readers that “just because you are not the target of a surveillance program does not make it okay.”

--By Kevin Thibodeaux; Lesley Clark contributed.

June 07, 2013

Back from Gitmo, McCain, Feinstein and WH say it's time to close it

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, John McCain and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said a trip today to Guantanamo reinforced their belief it's time to close the camp.

"We continue to believe that it is in our national interest to end detention at Guantanamo, with a safe and orderly transition of the detainees to other locations," the statement issued by McCain's office said. "We intend to work, with a plan by Congress and the Administration together, to take the steps necessary to make that happen."

March 27, 2013

White House says it's monitoring hunger strikers at Guantanamo

The White House said Wednesday it's keeping an eye on the hunger strike at the Pentagon's war on terror prison at Guantánamo and once again blamed Congress for its inability to close the detention center containing 166 captives.

"The White House and the president’s team is closely monitoring the hunger strikers at Guantánamo Bay,” Joshua Earnest, principal deputy press secretary, told reporters in response to a question.

Earnest's were believed to be the first public remarks by a White House official since news surfaced of the ongoing hunger strike.

Detention center spokesman, Navy Capt. Robert Durand said Wednesday that the medical staff counted nearly 19 percent of the captives, or 31 or them, as hunger strikers, with 11 being fed nutritional supplements through tubes and three hospitalized.

January 29, 2013

Guantanamo commissions: Whatever the CIA wants you to see

Over the past few years, after Obama failed to close Guantanamo, there's been a push to present the military commissions process there as reformed -- nothing like the extra-legal prosecution efforts of the Bush era, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the effort unconstitutional because Congress had not set it up. So the Obama administration and Congress came up with an improved regime, one more in keeping with what Americans would recognize as a court.

Today, we learned another way in which military commissions are different from any court the United States has seen before: Turns out the CIA has the ability to cut off the public's view of the proceedings without consulting with the judge, or anyone else.

That's apparently what happened Monday, to the shock of the judge, who apparently was unaware that anyone other than the court's security officer had the authority to censor courtroom exchanges. You can read The Miami Herald's Carol Rosenberg's account on what took place here.

Today, we learn who that someone is: the OCA or the Original Classification Authority -- in this case, the CIA. (You can see Rosenberg's account of today's commission testimony at her Twitter account here.)

Certainly, the Obama administration and Congress never publicly explained that this was how the commissions would work when they mandated in the Military Commission Act that the proceedings must be held in public. Obviously, it had not been explained to Judge Pohl or the defense attorneys, though the prosecution seemed to know.

What to do now? Rosenberg, after consulting with counsel, challenged the refusal to explain who had the authority to cut off the public's access to the courtroom. Here's what she filed with the commissions clerk:

To the Clerk of Military Commissions:


I am writing to you pursuant to Regulation 19-3 governing public access to commission proceedings, to object to the closure yesterday, January 28, 2013, of proceedings in United States v. Mohammad, et al.


Public access was denied to a portion of the proceedings by the termination of the video and audio feed, and this closure of the courtroom was imposed without any findings by the military judge authorizing it, as required by M.C.A. 949d(c) and R.M.C. 806.  As a reporter covering these proceedings, I object to this unauthorized denial of access and request a public explanation of the basis for the closure, a statement of the legal authority for the denial of public access, and an identification of the individual or organization that
closed the proceedings to the public.

I hereby request that you forward this objection to all counsel of record in the proceeding.    

  

  Will it make a difference? That remains to be seen. The Obama administration likes to say it's made the military commissions process transparent. But hiding the fact that all proceedings are overseen by an unnamed entity that can move outside the authority of the judge to censor the public's view of what's taking place is hardly transparent. It's difficult even to imagine that any entity has that authority in what passes for a quasi-judicial  proceeding, where the judge runs the courtroom.

January 07, 2011

Obama: Will fight Congress' restrictions on Guantanamo transfers

President Obama says he's strongly objecting to the restrictions Congress is trying to impose on him regarding the transfer of terrorism detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison, and will "seek repeal of these restrictions, will seek to mitigate their effects, and will oppose any attempt to extend or expand them in the future."

Here's the signing statement just released that accompanies the defense authorization bill that contains those restrictions:

STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT ON H.R. 6523

Today I have signed into law H.R. 6523, the "Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011." The Act authorizes funding for the defense of the United States and its interests abroad, for military construction, and for national security-related energy programs.

Section 1032 bars the use of funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act for fiscal year 2011 to transfer Guantanamo detainees into the United States, and section 1033 bars the use of certain funds to transfer detainees to the custody or effective control of foreign countries unless specified conditions are met. Section 1032 represents a dangerous and unprecedented challenge to critical executive branch authority to determine when and where to prosecute Guantanamo detainees, based on the facts and the circumstances of each case and our national security interests. The prosecution of terrorists in Federal court is a powerful tool in our efforts to protect the Nation and must be among the options available to us. Any attempt to deprive the executive branch of that tool undermines our Nation's counterterrorism efforts and has the potential to harm our national security.

With respect to section 1033, the restrictions on the transfer of detainees to the custody or effective control of foreign countries interfere with the authority of the executive branch to make important and consequential foreign policy and national security determinations regarding whether and under what circumstances such transfers should occur in the context of an ongoing armed conflict. We must have the ability to act swiftly and to have broad flexibility in conducting our negotiations with foreign countries. The executive branch has sought and obtained from countries that are prospective recipients of Guantanamo detainees assurances that they will take or have taken measures reasonably designed to be effective in preventing, or ensuring against, returned detainees taking action to threaten the United States or engage in terrorist activities. Consistent with existing statutes, the executive branch has kept the Congress informed about these assurances and notified the Congress prior to transfers. Requiring the executive branch to certify to additional conditions would hinder the conduct of delicate negotiations with foreign countries and therefore the effort to conclude detainee transfers in accord with our national security.

Despite my strong objection to these provisions, which my Administration has consistently opposed, I have signed this Act because of the importance of authorizing appropriations for, among other things, our military activities in 2011.

Nevertheless, my Administration will work with the Congress to seek repeal of these restrictions, will seek to mitigate their effects, and will oppose any attempt to extend or expand them in the future.

BARACK OBAMA

THE WHITE HOUSE

January 7, 2011.

March 18, 2010

Guantanamo detainees: No dissent on who should be held

That's the message Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair and Attorney General Eric Holder delivered to Congress this week in response to questions about how decisions were made about who among the Guantanamo detainees should be released, who should be tried and who should be held indfinitely without trial.

Depending on how you feel about the current regime of detentions, including the conclusion that "about 50" should be held indefinitely, the letter is either reassuring or frightening.

The bottom line: if any of the agencies involved in the review disagreed with the others' conclusion that someone should be released, then the individual was not put on the release list. That means the veto power on release was held by the agency that most wanted to keep detainees indefinitely.

"The Review Panel made disposition determinations only by unanimous agreement," Blair and Holder wrote the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees in a letter dated March 17. "[N]o determinations were made over the objection of any of the six agencies," who were identified in the letter as the departments of Justice, State, Defense and Homeland Security, plus the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Those who participated in the deliberations came from the CIA, the National Counter Terrorism Center, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the FBI. There were federal prosecutors, State Department analysts, military officers and military prosecutors. One hundred federal employees served on the task force over its lifetime. Decisions were made by senior officials and when there was a disagreement, it went to the principals, meaning the secretaries of the departments and the heads of the agencies, for a decison.

The Director of National Intelligence agreed with the recommended disposition of each of the 240 detainees subject to the review, including the more than half of the detainees the group concluded ought to be released or transferred to other countries.

Sounds like a very thorough process. Until you remember that the Justice Department and the Defense Department, relying on evidence gathered in part by the Intelligence Community, have fought to keep at least 33 detainees at Guantanamo in instances where federal court judges later found there was no evidence to hold them. The case of Fouad al Rabia, the 50-year-old fat Kuwaiti Airlines employee who was held for years even though his own interrogators didn't believe his tortured confession, should give pause to anyone willing to rely on evidence gleaned from intelligence sources. It's worth reading District Judge Collen Kollar Kotelly's opinion in the case to see one arbiter's opinion of the quality of the evidence in one case.

For a look at Holder and Blair's letter, click here.

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"Planet Washington" covers politics and government. It is written by journalists in McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

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