Posts Tagged Guantanamo
President Barack Obama launched a final push on Tuesday to persuade Congress to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but lawmakers, opposed to rehousing detainees in the United States, declared his plan a non-starter.
In White House remarks, Obama, a Democrat, pleaded with the Republican-led Congress to give his proposal a “fair hearing.” He said he did not want to pass along the issue to his successor next January.
The Pentagon plan proposes 13 potential sites on U.S. soil for the transfer of remaining detainees but does not identify the facilities or endorse a specific one.
“We’ll review President Obama’s plan,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “But since it includes bringing dangerous terrorists to facilities in U.S. communities, he should know that the bipartisan will of Congress has already been expressed against that proposal.”
Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, said Obama had yet to convince Americans that moving the prisoners to the United States was smart or safe.
Obama pledged to close the prison as a candidate for the White House in 2008. The prisoners were rounded up overseas when the United States became embroiled in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. The facility in years past came to symbolize aggressive detention practices that opened the United States to allegations of torture.
“Let us go ahead and close this chapter,” Obama said.
“Keeping this facility open is contrary to our values … It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of rule of law,” he said.
Obama is considering taking unilateral executive action to close the facility, situated in a U.S. naval station in southeast Cuba, if Congress does not vote to allow transfers to the United States. Republicans oppose any executive order.
The White House has sought to buttress its argument for closing the prison by focusing on its high cost. Obama said nearly $450 million was spent last year alone to keep it running. The new plan would be cheaper, officials said.
The transfer and closure costs would be $290 million to $475 million, an administration official told reporters, while housing remaining detainees in the United States would be $65 million to $85 million less expensive than at the Cuba facility, meaning the transfer bill would be offset in 3 to 5 years.
The prison, which Obama said once held nearly 800 detainees, now houses 91 detainees. Some 35 prisoners will be transferred to other countries this year, leaving the final number below 60, officials said.
Obama noted that his predecessor, Republican President George W. Bush, transferred hundreds of prisoners out of Guantanamo and wanted to close it. Republican Senator John McCain, Obama’s 2008 presidential opponent and a former prisoner of war during U.S. involvement in Vietnam, also wanted it shut.
The plan would send detainees who have been cleared for transfer to their homelands or third countries and transfer remaining prisoners to U.S. soil to be held in maximum-security prisons. Congress has banned such transfers to the United States since 2011.
Though the Pentagon has previously noted some of the sites it surveyed for use as potential U.S. facilities, the administration wants to avoid fueling any political outcry in important swing states before the Nov. 8 presidential election.
Three Yemenis and two Tunisians held for more than a decade at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo have been flown to Kazakhstan for resettlement, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, the latest in a series of prisoner transfers aimed at closing the facility.
The transfer of the five men followed a recent pledge by President Obama for a stepped-up push to shut the internationally condemned detention center at the U.S. naval base in Cuba where most prisoners have been held without being charged or tried.
The U.S. government has moved 28 prisoners out of Guantanamo this year the largest number since 2009 and a senior U.S. official said the quickened pace would continue with further transfers expected in coming weeks.
Kazakhstan’s acceptance of the five followed extensive negotiations, the official said. Though the oil-rich central Asian state is an ally of Russia, it has cultivated areas of economic and diplomatic cooperation with the West.
The men sent to Kazakhstan, a majority-Muslim country, were identified as low-risk detainees cleared long ago for transfer. With their removal from Guantanamo just before the new year, the detainee population has been whittled down to 127.
More than half of the remaining Guantanamo detainees are from Yemen, but Washington is unable to send them home because of the chaotic security situation there.
Obama continues to face obstacles posed by Congress to the goal of emptying the prison before he leaves office, not least of which is a ban on transfer of prisoners to the U.S. mainland.
All five men were detained on suspicion of links to al Qaeda or allied groups, but the U.S. official said investigations had determined they “could be described as low-level, if even that.”
The Pentagon identified the Yemenis as Asim Thabit Abdullah Al-Khalaqi, Muhammad Ali Husayn Khanayna and Sabri Muhammad Ibrahim Al Qurashi. The Tunisians were named as Adel Al-Hakeemy and Abdullah Bin Ali Al-Lufti.
Other countries that have accepted Guantanamo detainees for resettlement this year include Uruguay, Georgia and Slovakia.
The prison was opened by Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States to house militant suspects rounded up overseas.
“I’m going to be doing everything I can to close it,” Obama told CNN in an interview broadcast on Dec. 21, renewing a pledge he made when he took office in 2008.
A key thrust of the strategy is the administration’s outreach to a range of countries it hopes will take in more of the roughly 60 prisoners already approved for transfer.
Clifford Sloan, Obama’s outgoing State Department envoy on Guantanamo, led negotiations for the Kazakh deal. It was not immediately known whether the Obama played any personal role.
Among the prisoners sent to Kazakhstan, Lufti, 49, was detained in Pakistan and held at Guantanamo for nearly 12 years, according to a database of government documents compiled by the New York Times and National Public Radio.
He was accused of links to Tunisian militants when he lived in Italy in the 1990s, but he denied this. He has heart problems that led authorities to recommend his transfer as early as 2004.
One of the Yemenis, Khalaqi, 46, had been implicated by John Walker Lindh, an American captured in late 2001 working with the Taliban, as having fought with al Qaeda in Afghanistan, according to the documents. But Khalaqi denied any involvement.
The Defense Department identified them as Shawali Khan, Khi Ali Gul, Abdul Ghani and Mohammed Zahir. The U.S. Air Force C-17 carrying them arrived in Afghanistan around 6 a.m. Saturday (10 p.m. ET Friday), Pentagon spokesman Lt. Colonel Myles Caggins said.
An administration official announced that four detainees are not expected to face further detainment in Afghanistan.
In a statement, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul expressed appreciation to the Afghan government which, Since September, has been led by President Ashraf Ghani “for helping to reintegrate these former detainees.”
“We have full confidence in the Afghan government’s ability to mitigate any threats these individuals may pose and to ensure that they are given humane treatment,” the embassy said.
The move was also made to further President Barack Obama’s goal of drawing down the number of those held at the U.S. naval base in southeastern Cuba, something that has been ongoing for years.
“This repatriation reflects the Defense Department’s continued commitment to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo in a responsible manner,” said Paul Lewis, the Pentagon’s special envoy for the closure of Guantanamo.
The departures of these four Afghan men means that, as of Saturday, 132 people are still detained at Guantanamo.
This is down significantly from the numbers soon after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when the facility widely known as Gitmo was repurposed to hold detainees from the “war on terror.”
The administration of then President George W. Bush asserted that, since Gitmo detainees weren’t held on American soil, they could be considered “enemy combatants” and be denied certain legal privileges. Almost all of the nearly 800 detainees were held without charges.
This legal limbo, as well as allegations of torture and other mistreatment, spurred criticism of Gitmo. Shortly after his 2009 inauguration, President Obama signed an executive order to close the detention facility within a year.
About 17% of the 620 Gitmo detainees released most of them during Bush’s presidency went on to engage in terrorist activities, a September semiannual report from the director of national intelligence found. Another 12% are suspected of having engaged in terrorist or insurgent activities.
Still, the number of detainees has steadily gone down, including six transferred to the government of Uruguay earlier this month. Four of these were Syrians, one was Tunisian and the sixth was Palestinian, according to Rear Adm. John Kirby, press secretary for the Pentagon.
Uruguayan President Jose Mujica said on his website December 5, “We have offered our hospitality for humans suffering a heinous kidnapping in Guantanamo(.) The unavoidable reason is humanitarian.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, said this and other releases by Obama’s administration are dangerous, claiming many nations that receive former detainees aren’t up for the job and that these countries don’t stop them from rejoining the fight.
“We knew that was going to happen,” Rogers said. “That’s why those of us who were trying to do the review of this were so concerned, because they were so interested in getting them out, that they forgot to do the due diligence, I think that would allow them to at least protect those that were going to go back into the fight, from getting back into the fight.”
While they came from many countries, many Guantanamo detainees were captured during the U.S.-led military fight against al Qaeda and its Taliban allies in Afghanistan. It’s been rare for them to be sent back there, especially given some diplomatic discord and concerns about the country’s security situation.
The American military’s future in Afghanistan had been uncertain, too, amid contentious talks involving former President Hamid Karzai. The countries signed a security agreement soon after Ashraf Ghani took office. While the U.S. military won’t participate in combat operations in Afghanistan, some U.S. troops will remain there into 2015 and beyond as part of the deal.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul expressed hope that the latest transfer can mark “a step forward in strengthening relations between the two countries and can provide an opportunity for greater confidence among Afghans to engage in political dialogue to end the violence in their country. ”
The statement backed an “Afghan-led reconciliation” that includes “all opposition groups, including the Taliban.”
“As part of the outcome of any reconciliation process, the Taliban and other armed groups must end violence, break ties with (al Qaeda) and accept Afghanistan’s constitution, including its protections for women and minorities,” the embassy said. “This transfer demonstrates U.S. support for such a reconciliation process.”
A Briton will be the next hostage murdered by Islamist terrorists, the British extremist known as “Jihadi John” threatened on Tuesday as he beheaded a second American journalist and announced “I’m back”.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) carried out its threat to murder Steven Sotloff, the US citizen who was shown last month in the video of the murder of his fellow American, James Foley.
Just as Mr Sotloff appeared as the next potential victim at the end of the Foley video, the British hostage, wearing a Guantánamo Bay-style jumpsuit, is shown on his knees as the latest video draws to a close.
In a clear message to David Cameron, the British terrorist says: “We take this opportunity to warn those governments that enter this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State to back off and leave our people alone.”
The killer does not refer to the Briton by name, but his name is shown on screen as a signal of Isil’s intent that he is the next intended victim.
In a horrific carbon copy of the murder of Mr Foley, Mr Sotloff was made to read a statement condemning America’s foreign policy in Iraq before his decapitated body is shown on screen.
Mr Cameron said: “If verified, this is a despicable and barbaric murder. My thoughts and prayers are with Mr Sotloff’s family and friends tonight as they deal with this appalling and tragic situation.
“As I have said consistently over the last few weeks, Isil terrorists speak for no religion. They threaten Syrians, Iraqis, Americans and British people alike and make no distinction between Muslims, Christians or any other faith.
“We have already been working hard to keep British people safe and we will continue to do all we can to protect our country and our people from these barbaric terrorists.”
The Briton was abducted in March last year near the Atmeh refugee camp on the Turkish border with the northern Syrian province of Idlib.
Mr Cameron has been regularly briefed on attempts to free the British hostage, and Whitehall sources have said that a failed attempt by US special forces this summer to free 40-year-old Mr Foley was also intended to free the Briton, among others.
The Prime Minister said that he would lead a meeting of the Cabinet’s emergency Cobra committee this morning “to review these latest developments”.
The British hostage, whose identity has not been formally confirmed by the Foreign Office, is a father in his mid-40s who works in logistics.
The Foreign Office said the man’s family, who live in Scotland, had been informed. Members of his family, including his brother, were on their way to his parents’ home to comfort them.
A relation would only say last night: “We’re not allowed to say anything.”
The new video will intensify pressure on MI6, Scotland Yard and the FBI to identify the British jihadist, who has a deep voice and a London accent.
He appears in both films and is assumed to be the murderer of both Mr Sotloff and Mr Foley. He is thought to be one of more than 500 Britons who have travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight with Islamist terrorist groups.
There were fears last night that the British hostage could already be dead, after sources in the US suggested that the Sotloff and Foley murders may have been carried out at the same time.
In the latest video, titled A Second Message to America, the jihadist who is nicknamed John by hostages, as one of four British kidnappers known as The Beatles, stands by Mr Sotloff’s side, holding a knife in his left hand.
He addresses Barack Obama directly, saying that the US president was to blame for Mr Sotloff’s beheading because of his “insistence on continuing your bombings … despite our serious warnings”.
Mr Sotloff, a 31-year-old freelance journalist from Florida who was kidnapped last year, says in the video: “I am Steven Joel Sotloff. I’m sure you know exactly who I am by now and why I am appearing before you. And now this time for my message.
“Obama, your foreign policy of intervention in Iraq was supposed to be for the preservation of American lives and interests, so why is it that I am paying the price of your interference with my life? Am I not an American citizen?
“You’ve spent billions of US taxpayers’ dollars and we’ve lost thousands of our troops in our previous fighting against the Islamic State, so where is the people’s interest in reigniting this war?
“From what little I know about foreign policy, I remember a time you could not win an election without promising to bring our troops back home from Iraq and Afghanistan and to close down Guantánamo.
“Here you are now, Obama, nearing the end of your term, and having achieved none of the above, and deceivingly marching us, the American people, in the blazing fire.”
The killer says: “I’m back, Obama, and I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings … despite our serious warnings.
“Just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.”
Mr Sotloff’s mother recorded a video after the death of Mr Foley pleading with the terror group for her son’s release.
A spokesman for the Sotloff family said last night: “The family knows of this horrific tragedy and is grieving privately.”
The video appeared within days of US air strikes around the Iraqi town of Amirli that helped break a two-month siege by Isil on the area.
Jihadi John mentions US air strikes on the Mosul Dam, which helped break an earlier Isil siege.
Jen Psaki, a spokesman for the US State Department, said that the US was “sickened by this brutal act”, adding: “Our hearts go out to the Sotloff family”.
President Obama on Thursday shifted the United States away from a “boundless global war on terror,” restricting deadly U.S. drone strikes abroad and taking steps toward closing the Guantanamo Bay military prison.
In a major policy speech, Obama defended his administration’s drone war against al Qaeda and its allies but made clear he was narrowing the scope of targeted killings, a campaign that has faced growing condemnation at home and abroad.
“Our nation is still threatened by terrorists,” Obama said at Washington’s National Defense University. “We must recognize however, that the threat has shifted and evolved from the one that came to our shores on 9/11.”
Faced with criticism about the morality of using unmanned aerial vehicles to wage war in distant lands, Obama said the United States will only use drone strikes when a threat is “continuing and imminent,” a nuanced change from the previous policy of launching strikes against a significant threat.
“To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance,” Obama said.
Under new presidential guidance signed by Obama on Wednesday, the Defense Department will take the lead in launching lethal drones, as opposed to the current practice of the CIA taking charge.
That would subject drone operations to more scrutiny from Congress and might lead to the Pentagon taking over drone operations in Yemen, but not in Pakistan where the CIA is likely to still run the unmanned aerial vehicles program.
Obama appears intent on confronting human rights and civil liberties challenges that threaten to stain his own legacy if left unresolved in his second term.
“Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands,” he said.
Republican opponents accused him of giving in to terrorism.
“The president’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory. Rather than continuing successful counterterrorism activities, we are changing course with no clear operational benefit,” Senator Saxby Chambliss from Georgia said.
The use by the United States of armed drone aircraft to attack extremists has increased tensions with countries such as Pakistan and drawn criticism from human rights activists. Obama acted in line with a promise to be more open about the issue.
“Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ – but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America,” Obama said.
Renewing his longstanding vow to close the Guantanamo prison at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, Obama is to lift a moratorium on transferring detainees to Yemen, and appoint a State Department coordinator and work with Congress to break a deadlock over the detention camp where most prisoners have been held for more than a decade without trial.
He called the prison “a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law.” Opened by his predecessor President George W. Bush to hold men rounded up on suspicion of involvement with al Qaeda and the Taliban after the September 11 attacks, Guantanamo has defied efforts by Obama to shut it. His current proposals will likely face resistance from Republican lawmakers.
Faced with congressional opposition, Obama has been frustrated by his inability to carry out a 2008 campaign pledge to close the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A hunger strike by 103 of the 166 detainees has put pressure on him to take action.
“There is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened,” Obama said.
He was interrupted for more than a minute by a heckler from the Code Pink movement, who berated him for not closing the prison.
While he cannot shut Guantanamo on his own, Obama did announce some steps aimed at getting some prisoners out. He lifted a moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen out of respect for that country’s reforming government.
He called on Congress to lift restrictions on the transfer of terrorism suspects from Guantanamo and directed the Defense Department to identify a site to hold military tribunals for Guantanamo detainees.
“Where appropriate, we will bring terrorists to justice in our courts and military justice system,” he said.