Convictions of ex-Qaeda media director overturned
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on July 14 overturned two out of three convictions of Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al-Bahlul, media secretary of Osama Bin Laden. The court vacated Bahlul's convictions for providing material support for terrorism and solicitation of others to commit war crimes but did not overturn his conviction for conspiracy to commit terrorism, remanding that issue to the Court of Military Commission Review (CMCR). A three-judge panel of the appeals court had ruled last year that the military tribunal that convicted Bahlul of conspiracy in 2007 erred because a Guantánamo prisoner could not be convicted of conspiracy unless his crime took place after 2006. The court said the Military Commissions Act (MCA) of 2006 codified conspiracy as a war crime, but did not apply to crimes committed before the MCA was passed. The en banc court disagreed, ruling "that the 2006 MCA is unambiguous in its intent to authorize retroactive prosecution for the crimes enumerated in the statute—regardless of their pre-existing law-of-war status." Nonetheless, the court vacated the other two convictions, concluding that trying Bahlul by military commission for providing material support was "a plain ex post facto violation," and that "solicitation of others to commit war crimes is plainly not an offense traditionally triable by military commission." The new ruling could result in a reduction of Bahlul's life sentence.
Gitmo detainees file motion for religious freedom
Lawyers for Guantánamo Bay detainees on July 2 filed an emergency application (PDF) in the US District Court for the District of Columbia for a temporary restraining order prohibiting the government from depriving the inmates of the right to pray communally during the month of Ramadan. Lawyers for petitioner Imad Abdullah Hassan have already applied (PDF) for a preliminary injunction, now pending, that alleges that prohibiting the detainees from prayer violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The emergency application was filed following the US Supreme Court's recent decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. Hassan argues that the decision in Hobby Lobby, which held that for-profit corporations can deny coverage of contraception costs because of their religious beliefs, overrules the district court's prior decision in Rasul v. Myers. In that case the court held that the Guantánamo Bay detainees are not protected "persons" within the meaning of the RFRA. Thus, the motion argues that "a nonresident alien Guantanamo Bay detainee, who inarguably has constitutional rights in what is de facto sovereign US territory...must also enjoy the protections extended by the RFRA."
Appeals court dismisses Gitmo detainee lawsuit
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on June 10 dismissed (PDF) a lawsuit brought by a former Guantánamo detainee against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. According to the original complaint (PDF), the plaintiff, Sami Abdulaziz Allaithi, was an Egyptian professor working in Kabul teaching English. When the US started its bombing campaign, the plaintiff fled to Pakistan, was captured and then transferred to the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp where he claims he was tortured and prevented from practicing his religion. This treatment continued even though he was classified as a non-enemy combatant by the Department of Defense's Combatant Status Review Tribunal until he was released. In the opinion, written by Judge Janice Rodgers Brown, the court held that, "[t]he now-settled law reveals several flaws and inadequacies of the Appellants' complaint. ... In response, counsel invites us to remand this case to allow them an opportunity to rectify whatever mistakes lie in their pleadings... We cannot."
DoD approves war crimes trial for Qaeda leader
The US Department of Defense on June 2 approved the war crimes trial of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi (BBC profile), a leader of al-Qaeda's armed forces between 2002 and 2004. The former CIA captive has been held at Guantánamo Bay since 2007. The official charge sheet (PDF) alleges, among other things, that al-Hadi was a superior commander for al-Qaeda and that he and his operatives killed multiple US service members and attacked a US military medical helicopter with rocket-propelled grenades and firearms. Prosecutors also allege that al-Hadi funded and oversaw all of al-Qaeda's operations against US and allied forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2002 to 2004, and that he directed his forces to use various unlawful means, such as attacking civilians and detonating car bombs in civilian areas.
US POW released in exchange for Gitmo detainees
US President Barack Obama announced May 31 that prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl had been released into US custody in exchange for five detainees held at Guantánamo Bay. Bergdahl was the only confirmed US prisoner of war from the conflict in Afghanistan remaining in enemy custody. The Obama administration brokered the deal for Bergdahl's exchange through the Qatari government; once Bergdahl was secured, five high-profile Guantánamo Bay detainees, including the former head of the Taliban army, were transferred to Qatar. Republicans in the US Senate and House of Representatives criticized the exchange, which had been conducted in violation of a law requiring the president to notify Congress 30 days before any detainees are transferred from Guantanamo bay (PDF). The Obama administration maintains that the provision of the law requiring the notification is an unconstitutional violation on his rights as Commander-in-Chief (signing statement, PDF).
Judge orders halt to force-feeding at Gitmo
The US District Court for the District of Columbia on May 16 ordered (PDF) officials at Guantánamo Bay to temporarily suspend forced feedings of a detainee at the facility. Judge Gladys Kessler's unprecedented ruling also bars officials at the facility from subjecting the detainee to so-called forced cell extractions "for the purposes of" tube-feedings until May 21, the date of the next hearing in the case. The ruling also orders the military to preserve more than 100 videos that show the prisoner being forcibly removed from his cell and force-fed. Syrian national Abu Wa'el Dhiab (advocacy website) has been held at Guantánamo Bay since 2002 after being detained in Pakistan. Dhiab has been cleared for release or transfer out of Guantanamo since 2009, and has been refusing food for over a year. Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale stated in an e-mail that "[w]hile the Department follows the law and only applies enteral feeding in order to preserve life, we will, of course, comply with the judge's order here." (Jurist, May 17; Al Jazeera America, May 16)
Panel calls for transfer of Yemeni Gitmo prisoner
The Periodic Review Secretariat, a national security panel under the authority of the US Department of Defense (DoD), on April 24 recommended (PDF) the release of a Yemeni prisoner currently held at Guantánamo Bay. The prisoner, Ali Ahmad Mohamed al-Razihi, was suspected of acting as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden and has been held at Guantánamo since 2002. The Periodic Review Secretariat determines whether certain individuals detained at Guantánamo represent a continuing significant threat to the security of the US such that their continued detention is warranted. In making the determination, the security review panel considered the detainee's plans for the future and the level of his involvement with al-Qaeda, including his behavior throughout detention. The journalist and Guantánamo expert Andy Worthington released a copy of al-Razihi's statement delivered before the review board of the Periodic Review Secretariat on March 20.
Uruguay agrees to take five Guantánamo prisoners
Uruguayan President Jose Mujica announced on March 20 that his country has agreed with US President Barack Obama to take five inmates at Guantánamo Bay, reportedly stating that they would be "welcome to work and stay with their families in Uruguay." Obama is attempting to live up to his promise to release the remaining prisoners at the camp and to close the facility, but there are still 154 remaining detainees. The five prisoners will be granted refugee status in Uruguay, and though Mujica reportedly agreed to the proposal for humanitarian reasons, he has also acknowledged the possibility of some reciprocal action from the United States, reportedly stating, "I don't do favors for free." Mujica has some personal connection to the prisoners' scenario, having been detained for fourteen years as a guerrilla fighter by the 1973-1985 Uruguayan dictatorship.
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