Recently, there was a brief flurry of media interest in Guantánamo after the New York Times published an article by Charlie Savage entitled, “Obama’s Plan for Guantánamo Is Seen Faltering.”

Savage noted how the Obama administration’s “fitful effort” to shut down the prison at Guantánamo “is collapsing again,” pointing out how, in his first six months as defense secretary, Ashton Carter “has yet to make a decision on any newly proposed deals to transfer individual detainees,” and claiming that, according to unnamed officials, this delay, “which echoes a pattern last year by his predecessor, Chuck Hagel,” is “generating mounting concern in the White House and State Department.” The most recent transfers out of Guantánamo — of six Yemenis resettled in Oman —  were in June, but they were part of deal negotiated under Hagel, which saw four other Yemenis rehoused in Oman in January.

Savage wrote that, in mid-July, President Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, “convened a cabinet-level ‘principals committee’ meeting on how to close the prison before the president leaves office in 18 months.” At that meeting, Carter “was presented with an unsigned National Security Council memo stating that he would have 30 days to make decisions on newly proposed transfers,” according to several officials familiar with the discussions.

However, the meeting apparently “ended inconclusively.” Carter “did not commit to making a decision on pending transfer proposals by a particular date, including the repatriation of a Mauritanian and a Moroccan” — mentioned as pending releases in a Washington Post article in April, which I discussed here — and Savage added that it was unclear whether Carter “accepted the 30-day deadline.”

Carter already has the most significant role in approving releases, because he has to sign assurances, submitted to Congress 30 days before any transfer, stating that any risks in releasing prisoners “have been substantially mitigated.” As Charlie Savage put it, “The law effectively vests final power in the defense secretary and makes him personally accountable if something goes wrong.”

With this in mind, it is increasingly worrying that Carter has not yet approved anyone for transfer out of Guantánamo, even though 52 of the remaining 116 prisoners have been approved for release — 44 in 2009-10 by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, and eight more by Periodic Review Boards in the last year and a half. 43 of these men are Yemenis, and as Charlie Savage noted, because Yemen “is in chaos, the American government is trying to resettle them, not repatriate them.”

Robert M. Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas who worked on detainee policy for the Obama administration in 2009, told the Times, “The chances of getting it done on Obama’s watch are getting increasingly slim. Whatever hope there is depends on quick progress in transferring as many detainees as possible.” He added, however, that “there is still going to have to be a deal with Congress for the remainder for long-term custody in the United States.”

After noting that President Obama “has called closing Guantánamo a ‘national imperative,’ arguing that it fuels anti-American sentiment and wastes money,” Charlie Savage related how, in a written statement, Lisa Monaco, the president’s top counter-terrorism adviser, said that the president remained “steadfast in his commitment” to close Guantánamo.

Monaco wrote, “This is a goal that the entire national security team is working together to fulfill — from the White House to the Departments of Defense, State and Justice as well as the intelligence community.” She added, “The safety of Americans is our first priority, and each transfer decision involves careful vetting and negotiation of detailed security arrangements. These deliberations take time because these are important decisions.”

Officials told Savage that inter-agency tensions with Ashton Carter had “not reached the levels they did by last fall with Mr. Hagel, who eventually resigned under pressure.” Savage added that, towards the end of his time in the job, Hagel “cleared a backlog of proposed deals, leading to more than two dozen transfers between November and January,” including the ten Yemenis sent to Oman.

Lee Wolosky, the new State Department envoy for Guantánamo closure, said that the government “was talking with multiple countries about ‘the transfer of a large number of detainees’ from the list” of cleared prisoners awaiting release. He added, “This process will ramp up further in the coming weeks, as reducing the detainee population through foreign transfers is a critical component to our broader efforts to close the detention facility.”

However, Ashton Carter still has to approve any deals, as Charlie Savage pointed out. His deputy, Robert O. Work, said in a statement that the Pentagon would “continue to work with the national security team and the Congress to close the facility in an efficient and responsible manner.”

In his article, Savage also discussed the ongoing opposition to the closure of Guantánamo in Congress, noting how, in February, at Ashton Carter’s confirmation hearing, two Republican senators “asked him to commit that he would not succumb to pressure by the White House over Guantánamo transfers.” Carter’s response? “I understand my responsibilities under that statute, and I’ll, as in everything else I do, I’ll play it absolutely straight,” he said.

Charlie Savage also noted how the House and Senate Armed Services Committees are currently “meeting to resolve differences between their versions of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which includes the detainee transfer restrictions.” He explained that the House bill “would further tighten the standards, most likely shutting down any more transfers,” while the Senate version “would largely extend existing restrictions,” and he also noted that the White House “has threatened to veto both versions.” I discussed these deliberations in an article in June, “The Path to Closing Guantánamo,” in which I also discussed an additional issue included in the Senate version — as Charlie Savage put it, “a process, proposed by Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, for closing the prison: The administration would submit a plan to Congress, and if both chambers approve it, the ban on bringing the remaining detainees to domestic soil would be lifted.”

Charlie Savage noted how Ashton Carter and Lisa Monaco “have promised to give Mr. McCain a plan,” although he noted that it was expected to be similar to previous proposals — “to transfer all lower-level detainees, while bringing those deemed too dangerous for release to a military prison on domestic soil.” He added, “Of the latter group, some would be prosecuted while the rest would be held as wartime prisoners, with periodic parole-like reviews.”

Savage also noted that the plan “has previously failed to persuade skeptics of Mr. Obama’s Guantánamo policy, particularly in the House,” and a Republican congressional staff member told him that President Obama’s critics “also wanted to see, as part of the plan, discussion of how law-of-war detention would be used to hold and interrogate terrorism suspects captured in the future.” However, as Savage explained, “The administration has developed a model of first interrogating new captives for a period for intelligence purposes, often on a ship, and then transferring them to civilian courts for prosecution,” and “considers that model to be one of its policy achievements.”

The day after the New York Times article was published, the administration followed up. As Reuters put it, the White House said “it was in the final stage of drafting a plan for closing the Guantánamo prison.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the administration “hoped to ‘short circuit’ opposition from Republicans in Congress who have blocked Obama from closing the prison.” At a press briefing, Earnest said that the administration was “in the final stages of drafting a plan to safely, responsibly, close the prison at Guantánamo and to present that plan to Congress.”

Time also covered the story, speaking to Daphne Eviatar of Human Rights First, who said, “the fact that the White House is working [on a] plan could be a good first step, but questions still remain as to whether or not Congress will be able to approve any plan given many members’ opposition to closing the prison,” as Time described it. As Eviatar said, “It’s still within the Administration’s power to do a lot to close the prison. [The White House] can’t keep blaming Congress, but Congress also needs to do more. It shouldn’t be this political football anymore.”

Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel at the ACLU, also spoke to Time. He said that the plan being sent to Congress would “constitute no more than an ‘irrelevant checking of the box,'” and added that President Obama “already has the executive authority to make detainee transfers happen without Congress” — a waiver that the president has possessed since 2012.

As Anders put it, “It’s not much different than plans that have already been sent and it’s not going to convince Congress to change its mind. Obama should tell the Secretary of Defense to approve the transfer of cleared detainees.”

Anders added that the lack of prisoner releases was the “number one obstacle” facing the president and that the Pentagon was “digging in its heels” on closing the prison.

In conclusion, it is difficult to see quite what the flurry of media activity signified. It is certainly to be hoped that the administration, with Sen. McCain, can come up with a plan that might be used to persuade Congress to allow the president to fulfil his promise to close Guantánamo before he leaves office, but it is impossible to say with a straight face, and with any optimism, that this can or will happen.

However, what can and should happen is the release of as many as possible of the 52 men already approved for transfer, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and other men mentioned in April — the Mauritanian Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz and the Moroccan Younus Chekhouri.

Ashton Carter should approve these men’s transfer as soon as possible.

To encourage defense secretary Carter, please feel free to call the Pentagon on 703-571-3343 to leave him a message.

- See more at: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2015/08/03/does-president-obama-still-h...

 

The US added Yemen to its 14 years of continuous war somewhere

he American-backed genocidal war on Yemen is in its fifth month, making it one of the hotter issues in the 2016 Presidential campaign, right? Wrong. 

If ANY announced candidate has said anything about Yemen, it’s hard to find. None of our would-be leaders of the free world are calling for a halt to the war of aggression that violates international law, none are demanding a stop to the war crimes and crimes against humanity that flow from the terror-bombing carried out by Saudi Arabia and its allies, with US tactical and intelligence support. None of our White House aspirants are demanding a halt to this criminal war or demanding justice against its war-criminal perpetrators

Of course, neither is the present president, whose administration seems to have adopted a policy variant on the way we won the west (“the only good injun is a dead injun”). Now the American mantra amounts to “the only good Houthi is a dead Houthi.” The slogan may change, but the genocide remains the same

The good news here, in its way, is that there’s no cheerleading section for multi-state savagery against largely defenseless people. Little reported, even less discussed, the US-Saudi terror bombing of Houthi rebels in Yemen goes relentlessly on, like the fascist intervention in the Spanish Civil War, causing a Yemenicide of displaced, starving, and dead civilians, along with a few dead fighters whose enemies include not only the US and Saudi coalition, but also Al Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIL) in Yemen as well.

In other words, President Obama’s policy amounts to a declaration that the enemies of our enemies are also our enemies. Why? Who knows? Because the Saudi Sunnis say so? Because the US thinks killing Shi’ites en masse is a good thing? Is it pure, homicidal cynicism for the sake of Saudi oil? Is it just a continuation of the recent American proclivity to get in on the wrong side of stupid wars, as the president said of Iraq?

Is American foreign policy built on institutional stupidity?

There’s plenty of evidence for a prima facie case that American policy on war and peace has been rooted in stupidity at least since Viet-Nam. The underlying question is whether stupidity is a product or a cause of capitalism or imperialism. And a related question is whether it’s really stupidity, since it’s the consistent policy of a tiny minority, the bipartisan American elite that continues to benefit from being consistently wrong from a moral or humanitarian perspective. That’s another reason a healthy country needs war crimes trials for people above the rank of lieutenant. 

One of the major stupidities still raging through American political discourse, such as it is, is that Iran is all bad. This is an article of faith for which the evidence is very thin. Any honest indictment of Iran would be far briefer than an indictment of Saudi Arabia, Israel, or the United States. Clearly, no honest indictments are in the offing. 

Caught in this web of Iran inanity as he tries to establish a sane relationship with Iran (a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, unlike Israel), President Obama recently undermined the prime Saudi rationale for reducing Yemen to rubble. The Saudis are Iranaphobic, blaming Iran for the Houthi rebellion against decades of repression by the Yemeni government. Now President Obama has quietly said that actually Iran tried to restrain the Houthis when they started to take over Yemen:

“When the Houthis started moving, that wasn’t on orders from [the head if the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Qasim] Soleimani, that wasn’t on an order from the IRGC [Iranian Guard]. That was an expression of the traditional Houthi antagonism towards [the Yemeni capitol] Sanaa, and some of the machinations of the former president, [Ali Abdullah] Saleh, who was making common cause out of expediency with the Houthis…. 

“We watched as this proceeded. There were moments where Iran was actually urging potential restraint. Now, once the Houthis march in and there’s no there there [the government fled] are they interested in getting arms to the Houthis and causing problems for the Saudis? Yes. But they weren’t proceeding on the basis of, come hell or high water, we’re moving on a holy war here.”

Whatever. That didn’t keep the Obama administration from joining the Saudis in committing war crimes if there was a holy war. Obama argues, heretically in the present American belief system, that Iran is a rational state actor. What he doesn’t say is that, in recent history, Iran has been a more rational state actor than the US. Having called US anti-terrorist policy in Yemen a success, President Obama has been all but silent about the criminal war that resulted from that “success.” 

If no one talks about a genocide, it’s not really happening, is it?

Like their president, the current candidates’ silence on Yemen is just as deafening. That silence is aided and abetted by a passive press corps that chooses not to ask questions about why the US is aiding the Saudi coalition in trashing international law and destroying one of the poorest countries in the world. That’s similar to the Turkish Rule about Armenians: if you forbid mention of genocide, then it never happened.  

As a former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton might have some insight into what’s happening in and to Yemen. She might even have an opinion. But if she does, she hasn’t shared it much. She has a record of voting for and tolerating criminal wars. Her official website, skimpy on foreign policy generally, doesn’t seem to mention Yemen at all. Surely her reticence has little to do with gifts to the Clinton Foundation from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Yemen (the former government, whose president has fled to Saudi Arabia), all of which are among the criminal belligerents in the Saudi coalition.

Bernie Sanders doesn’t seem to have anything to say about war crimes in Yemen, either. But then Bernie Sanders doesn’t have much to say about war and peace issues, defense spending (more than half the US budget), or militarism generally. He’s made a point of supporting wounded American veterans, which is decent and politically easy, but fails to address the pathology that creates wounded veterans in the first place. He’s said the US needs to fight terrorism, but so do Saudi Arabia and Turkey (“Those countries are going to have to get their hands dirty, it cannot just be the United States alone”). This implies that Sanders is OK with Turkish attacks on its Kurds and Saudi depredations against Yemen. He doesn’t actually say. 

Jill Stein of the Green Partyapparently hasn’t said anything about America’s criminal war on Yemen in particular. She has, however, expressed sanity about Iran, called the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan illegal, and in 2012 she noted that:  

“It's very clear that there is blowback going on now across the Middle East, not only the unrest directed at the Libyan embassy. 75% of Pakistanis actually identify the US now as their enemy, not as their supporter or their ally. And, you know, in many ways, we're seeing a very ill-conceived, irresponsible and immoral war policy come back to haunt us, where US foreign policies have been based, unfortunately, on brute military force and wars for oil. Under my administration, we will have a foreign policy based on international law and human rights and the use of diplomacy.” [emphasis added]

As for the 17 Republican candidates running for president, that’s a running joke, with a potential punch line that’s not too funny. Given their collective performance on the Fox News “debates,” none of them has a coherent view of the US place in the world beyond doing whatever it pleases. The Fox News reporters didn’t ask any probing questions. 

There were some hilarious responses about foreign policy, as Juan Cole noted. Ted Cruz seemed to praise Egyptian President al-Sisi for killing hundreds of opponents and establishing a military police state. Ben Carson seemed to defend torture and other war crimes. A Fox reported asked Scott Walker, “Which Arab country not already in the U.S. led coalition has potential to be our greatest partner?” Walker’s effectively answered “none” when he said:

“… we need to focus on the ones we have. You look at Egypt, probably the best relationship we’ve had in Israel, at least in my lifetime, incredibly important. You look at the Saudis — in fact, earlier this year, I met with Saudi leaders, and leaders from the United Arab Emirates, and I asked them what’s the greatest challenge in the world today? Set aside the Iran deal. They said it’s the disengagement of America. We are leading from behind under the Obama-Clinton doctrine — America’s a great country. We need to stand up and start leading again, and we need to have allies, not just in Israel, but throughout the Persian Gulf.”

All of this seems to confirm the observation attributed to Ambrose Bierce more than a century ago, that “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.”

 

Original published at Reader Supported News.


RSNRSN                       

Recently, there was a brief flurry of media interest in Guantánamo after the New York Times published an article by Charlie Savage entitled, “Obama’s Plan for Guantánamo Is Seen Faltering.”

Savage noted how the Obama administration’s “fitful effort” to shut down the prison at Guantánamo “is collapsing again,” pointing out how, in his first six months as defense secretary, Ashton Carter “has yet to make a decision on any newly proposed deals to transfer individual detainees,” and claiming that, according to unnamed officials, this delay, “which echoes a pattern last year by his predecessor, Chuck Hagel,” is “generating mounting concern in the White House and State Department.” The most recent transfers out of Guantánamo — of six Yemenis resettled in Oman —  were in June, but they were part of deal negotiated under Hagel, which saw four other Yemenis rehoused in Oman in January.

Savage wrote that, in mid-July, President Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, “convened a cabinet-level ‘principals committee’ meeting on how to close the prison before the president leaves office in 18 months.” At that meeting, Carter “was presented with an unsigned National Security Council memo stating that he would have 30 days to make decisions on newly proposed transfers,” according to several officials familiar with the discussions.

However, the meeting apparently “ended inconclusively.” Carter “did not commit to making a decision on pending transfer proposals by a particular date, including the repatriation of a Mauritanian and a Moroccan” — mentioned as pending releases in a Washington Post article in April, which I discussed here — and Savage added that it was unclear whether Carter “accepted the 30-day deadline.”

Carter already has the most significant role in approving releases, because he has to sign assurances, submitted to Congress 30 days before any transfer, stating that any risks in releasing prisoners “have been substantially mitigated.” As Charlie Savage put it, “The law effectively vests final power in the defense secretary and makes him personally accountable if something goes wrong.”

With this in mind, it is increasingly worrying that Carter has not yet approved anyone for transfer out of Guantánamo, even though 52 of the remaining 116 prisoners have been approved for release — 44 in 2009-10 by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, and eight more by Periodic Review Boards in the last year and a half. 43 of these men are Yemenis, and as Charlie Savage noted, because Yemen “is in chaos, the American government is trying to resettle them, not repatriate them.”

Robert M. Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas who worked on detainee policy for the Obama administration in 2009, told the Times, “The chances of getting it done on Obama’s watch are getting increasingly slim. Whatever hope there is depends on quick progress in transferring as many detainees as possible.” He added, however, that “there is still going to have to be a deal with Congress for the remainder for long-term custody in the United States.”

After noting that President Obama “has called closing Guantánamo a ‘national imperative,’ arguing that it fuels anti-American sentiment and wastes money,” Charlie Savage related how, in a written statement, Lisa Monaco, the president’s top counter-terrorism adviser, said that the president remained “steadfast in his commitment” to close Guantánamo.

Monaco wrote, “This is a goal that the entire national security team is working together to fulfill — from the White House to the Departments of Defense, State and Justice as well as the intelligence community.” She added, “The safety of Americans is our first priority, and each transfer decision involves careful vetting and negotiation of detailed security arrangements. These deliberations take time because these are important decisions.”

Officials told Savage that inter-agency tensions with Ashton Carter had “not reached the levels they did by last fall with Mr. Hagel, who eventually resigned under pressure.” Savage added that, towards the end of his time in the job, Hagel “cleared a backlog of proposed deals, leading to more than two dozen transfers between November and January,” including the ten Yemenis sent to Oman.

Lee Wolosky, the new State Department envoy for Guantánamo closure, said that the government “was talking with multiple countries about ‘the transfer of a large number of detainees’ from the list” of cleared prisoners awaiting release. He added, “This process will ramp up further in the coming weeks, as reducing the detainee population through foreign transfers is a critical component to our broader efforts to close the detention facility.”

However, Ashton Carter still has to approve any deals, as Charlie Savage pointed out. His deputy, Robert O. Work, said in a statement that the Pentagon would “continue to work with the national security team and the Congress to close the facility in an efficient and responsible manner.”

In his article, Savage also discussed the ongoing opposition to the closure of Guantánamo in Congress, noting how, in February, at Ashton Carter’s confirmation hearing, two Republican senators “asked him to commit that he would not succumb to pressure by the White House over Guantánamo transfers.” Carter’s response? “I understand my responsibilities under that statute, and I’ll, as in everything else I do, I’ll play it absolutely straight,” he said.

Charlie Savage also noted how the House and Senate Armed Services Committees are currently “meeting to resolve differences between their versions of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which includes the detainee transfer restrictions.” He explained that the House bill “would further tighten the standards, most likely shutting down any more transfers,” while the Senate version “would largely extend existing restrictions,” and he also noted that the White House “has threatened to veto both versions.” I discussed these deliberations in an article in June, “The Path to Closing Guantánamo,” in which I also discussed an additional issue included in the Senate version — as Charlie Savage put it, “a process, proposed by Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, for closing the prison: The administration would submit a plan to Congress, and if both chambers approve it, the ban on bringing the remaining detainees to domestic soil would be lifted.”

Charlie Savage noted how Ashton Carter and Lisa Monaco “have promised to give Mr. McCain a plan,” although he noted that it was expected to be similar to previous proposals — “to transfer all lower-level detainees, while bringing those deemed too dangerous for release to a military prison on domestic soil.” He added, “Of the latter group, some would be prosecuted while the rest would be held as wartime prisoners, with periodic parole-like reviews.”

Savage also noted that the plan “has previously failed to persuade skeptics of Mr. Obama’s Guantánamo policy, particularly in the House,” and a Republican congressional staff member told him that President Obama’s critics “also wanted to see, as part of the plan, discussion of how law-of-war detention would be used to hold and interrogate terrorism suspects captured in the future.” However, as Savage explained, “The administration has developed a model of first interrogating new captives for a period for intelligence purposes, often on a ship, and then transferring them to civilian courts for prosecution,” and “considers that model to be one of its policy achievements.”

The day after the New York Times article was published, the administration followed up. As Reuters put it, the White House said “it was in the final stage of drafting a plan for closing the Guantánamo prison.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the administration “hoped to ‘short circuit’ opposition from Republicans in Congress who have blocked Obama from closing the prison.” At a press briefing, Earnest said that the administration was “in the final stages of drafting a plan to safely, responsibly, close the prison at Guantánamo and to present that plan to Congress.”

Time also covered the story, speaking to Daphne Eviatar of Human Rights First, who said, “the fact that the White House is working [on a] plan could be a good first step, but questions still remain as to whether or not Congress will be able to approve any plan given many members’ opposition to closing the prison,” as Time described it. As Eviatar said, “It’s still within the Administration’s power to do a lot to close the prison. [The White House] can’t keep blaming Congress, but Congress also needs to do more. It shouldn’t be this political football anymore.”

Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel at the ACLU, also spoke to Time. He said that the plan being sent to Congress would “constitute no more than an ‘irrelevant checking of the box,'” and added that President Obama “already has the executive authority to make detainee transfers happen without Congress” — a waiver that the president has possessed since 2012.

As Anders put it, “It’s not much different than plans that have already been sent and it’s not going to convince Congress to change its mind. Obama should tell the Secretary of Defense to approve the transfer of cleared detainees.”

Anders added that the lack of prisoner releases was the “number one obstacle” facing the president and that the Pentagon was “digging in its heels” on closing the prison.

In conclusion, it is difficult to see quite what the flurry of media activity signified. It is certainly to be hoped that the administration, with Sen. McCain, can come up with a plan that might be used to persuade Congress to allow the president to fulfil his promise to close Guantánamo before he leaves office, but it is impossible to say with a straight face, and with any optimism, that this can or will happen.

However, what can and should happen is the release of as many as possible of the 52 men already approved for transfer, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and other men mentioned in April — the Mauritanian Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz and the Moroccan Younus Chekhouri.

Ashton Carter should approve these men’s transfer as soon as possible.

To encourage defense secretary Carter, please feel free to call the Pentagon on 703-571-3343 to leave him a message.

- See more at: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2015/08/03/does-president-obama-still-h...

Recently, there was a brief flurry of media interest in Guantánamo after the New York Times published an article by Charlie Savage entitled, “Obama’s Plan for Guantánamo Is Seen Faltering.”

Savage noted how the Obama administration’s “fitful effort” to shut down the prison at Guantánamo “is collapsing again,” pointing out how, in his first six months as defense secretary, Ashton Carter “has yet to make a decision on any newly proposed deals to transfer individual detainees,” and claiming that, according to unnamed officials, this delay, “which echoes a pattern last year by his predecessor, Chuck Hagel,” is “generating mounting concern in the White House and State Department.” The most recent transfers out of Guantánamo — of six Yemenis resettled in Oman —  were in June, but they were part of deal negotiated under Hagel, which saw four other Yemenis rehoused in Oman in January.

Savage wrote that, in mid-July, President Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, “convened a cabinet-level ‘principals committee’ meeting on how to close the prison before the president leaves office in 18 months.” At that meeting, Carter “was presented with an unsigned National Security Council memo stating that he would have 30 days to make decisions on newly proposed transfers,” according to several officials familiar with the discussions.

However, the meeting apparently “ended inconclusively.” Carter “did not commit to making a decision on pending transfer proposals by a particular date, including the repatriation of a Mauritanian and a Moroccan” — mentioned as pending releases in a Washington Post article in April, which I discussed here — and Savage added that it was unclear whether Carter “accepted the 30-day deadline.”

Carter already has the most significant role in approving releases, because he has to sign assurances, submitted to Congress 30 days before any transfer, stating that any risks in releasing prisoners “have been substantially mitigated.” As Charlie Savage put it, “The law effectively vests final power in the defense secretary and makes him personally accountable if something goes wrong.”

With this in mind, it is increasingly worrying that Carter has not yet approved anyone for transfer out of Guantánamo, even though 52 of the remaining 116 prisoners have been approved for release — 44 in 2009-10 by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, and eight more by Periodic Review Boards in the last year and a half. 43 of these men are Yemenis, and as Charlie Savage noted, because Yemen “is in chaos, the American government is trying to resettle them, not repatriate them.”

Robert M. Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas who worked on detainee policy for the Obama administration in 2009, told the Times, “The chances of getting it done on Obama’s watch are getting increasingly slim. Whatever hope there is depends on quick progress in transferring as many detainees as possible.” He added, however, that “there is still going to have to be a deal with Congress for the remainder for long-term custody in the United States.”

After noting that President Obama “has called closing Guantánamo a ‘national imperative,’ arguing that it fuels anti-American sentiment and wastes money,” Charlie Savage related how, in a written statement, Lisa Monaco, the president’s top counter-terrorism adviser, said that the president remained “steadfast in his commitment” to close Guantánamo.

Monaco wrote, “This is a goal that the entire national security team is working together to fulfill — from the White House to the Departments of Defense, State and Justice as well as the intelligence community.” She added, “The safety of Americans is our first priority, and each transfer decision involves careful vetting and negotiation of detailed security arrangements. These deliberations take time because these are important decisions.”

Officials told Savage that inter-agency tensions with Ashton Carter had “not reached the levels they did by last fall with Mr. Hagel, who eventually resigned under pressure.” Savage added that, towards the end of his time in the job, Hagel “cleared a backlog of proposed deals, leading to more than two dozen transfers between November and January,” including the ten Yemenis sent to Oman.

Lee Wolosky, the new State Department envoy for Guantánamo closure, said that the government “was talking with multiple countries about ‘the transfer of a large number of detainees’ from the list” of cleared prisoners awaiting release. He added, “This process will ramp up further in the coming weeks, as reducing the detainee population through foreign transfers is a critical component to our broader efforts to close the detention facility.”

However, Ashton Carter still has to approve any deals, as Charlie Savage pointed out. His deputy, Robert O. Work, said in a statement that the Pentagon would “continue to work with the national security team and the Congress to close the facility in an efficient and responsible manner.”

In his article, Savage also discussed the ongoing opposition to the closure of Guantánamo in Congress, noting how, in February, at Ashton Carter’s confirmation hearing, two Republican senators “asked him to commit that he would not succumb to pressure by the White House over Guantánamo transfers.” Carter’s response? “I understand my responsibilities under that statute, and I’ll, as in everything else I do, I’ll play it absolutely straight,” he said.

Charlie Savage also noted how the House and Senate Armed Services Committees are currently “meeting to resolve differences between their versions of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which includes the detainee transfer restrictions.” He explained that the House bill “would further tighten the standards, most likely shutting down any more transfers,” while the Senate version “would largely extend existing restrictions,” and he also noted that the White House “has threatened to veto both versions.” I discussed these deliberations in an article in June, “The Path to Closing Guantánamo,” in which I also discussed an additional issue included in the Senate version — as Charlie Savage put it, “a process, proposed by Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, for closing the prison: The administration would submit a plan to Congress, and if both chambers approve it, the ban on bringing the remaining detainees to domestic soil would be lifted.”

Charlie Savage noted how Ashton Carter and Lisa Monaco “have promised to give Mr. McCain a plan,” although he noted that it was expected to be similar to previous proposals — “to transfer all lower-level detainees, while bringing those deemed too dangerous for release to a military prison on domestic soil.” He added, “Of the latter group, some would be prosecuted while the rest would be held as wartime prisoners, with periodic parole-like reviews.”

Savage also noted that the plan “has previously failed to persuade skeptics of Mr. Obama’s Guantánamo policy, particularly in the House,” and a Republican congressional staff member told him that President Obama’s critics “also wanted to see, as part of the plan, discussion of how law-of-war detention would be used to hold and interrogate terrorism suspects captured in the future.” However, as Savage explained, “The administration has developed a model of first interrogating new captives for a period for intelligence purposes, often on a ship, and then transferring them to civilian courts for prosecution,” and “considers that model to be one of its policy achievements.”

The day after the New York Times article was published, the administration followed up. As Reuters put it, the White House said “it was in the final stage of drafting a plan for closing the Guantánamo prison.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the administration “hoped to ‘short circuit’ opposition from Republicans in Congress who have blocked Obama from closing the prison.” At a press briefing, Earnest said that the administration was “in the final stages of drafting a plan to safely, responsibly, close the prison at Guantánamo and to present that plan to Congress.”

Time also covered the story, speaking to Daphne Eviatar of Human Rights First, who said, “the fact that the White House is working [on a] plan could be a good first step, but questions still remain as to whether or not Congress will be able to approve any plan given many members’ opposition to closing the prison,” as Time described it. As Eviatar said, “It’s still within the Administration’s power to do a lot to close the prison. [The White House] can’t keep blaming Congress, but Congress also needs to do more. It shouldn’t be this political football anymore.”

Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel at the ACLU, also spoke to Time. He said that the plan being sent to Congress would “constitute no more than an ‘irrelevant checking of the box,'” and added that President Obama “already has the executive authority to make detainee transfers happen without Congress” — a waiver that the president has possessed since 2012.

As Anders put it, “It’s not much different than plans that have already been sent and it’s not going to convince Congress to change its mind. Obama should tell the Secretary of Defense to approve the transfer of cleared detainees.”

Anders added that the lack of prisoner releases was the “number one obstacle” facing the president and that the Pentagon was “digging in its heels” on closing the prison.

In conclusion, it is difficult to see quite what the flurry of media activity signified. It is certainly to be hoped that the administration, with Sen. McCain, can come up with a plan that might be used to persuade Congress to allow the president to fulfil his promise to close Guantánamo before he leaves office, but it is impossible to say with a straight face, and with any optimism, that this can or will happen.

However, what can and should happen is the release of as many as possible of the 52 men already approved for transfer, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and other men mentioned in April — the Mauritanian Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz and the Moroccan Younus Chekhouri.

Ashton Carter should approve these men’s transfer as soon as possible.

To encourage defense secretary Carter, please feel free to call the Pentagon on 703-571-3343 to leave him a message.

- See more at: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2015/08/03/does-president-obama-still-h...

Does President Obama Still Have a Plan for Closing Guantánamo?

3.8.15

A collaged image of President Obama and a guard tower at Guantanamo.Recently, there was a brief flurry of media interest in Guantánamo after the New York Times published an article by Charlie Savage entitled, “Obama’s Plan for Guantánamo Is Seen Faltering.”

Savage noted how the Obama administration’s “fitful effort” to shut down the prison at Guantánamo “is collapsing again,” pointing out how, in his first six months as defense secretary, Ashton Carter “has yet to make a decision on any newly proposed deals to transfer individual detainees,” and claiming that, according to unnamed officials, this delay, “which echoes a pattern last year by his predecessor, Chuck Hagel,” is “generating mounting concern in the White House and State Department.” The most recent transfers out of Guantánamo — of six Yemenis resettled in Oman —  were in June, but they were part of deal negotiated under Hagel, which saw four other Yemenis rehoused in Oman in January.

Savage wrote that, in mid-July, President Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, “convened a cabinet-level ‘principals committee’ meeting on how to close the prison before the president leaves office in 18 months.” At that meeting, Carter “was presented with an unsigned National Security Council memo stating that he would have 30 days to make decisions on newly proposed transfers,” according to several officials familiar with the discussions.

However, the meeting apparently “ended inconclusively.” Carter “did not commit to making a decision on pending transfer proposals by a particular date, including the repatriation of a Mauritanian and a Moroccan” — mentioned as pending releases in a Washington Post article in April, which I discussed here — and Savage added that it was unclear whether Carter “accepted the 30-day deadline.”

Carter already has the most significant role in approving releases, because he has to sign assurances, submitted to Congress 30 days before any transfer, stating that any risks in releasing prisoners “have been substantially mitigated.” As Charlie Savage put it, “The law effectively vests final power in the defense secretary and makes him personally accountable if something goes wrong.”

With this in mind, it is increasingly worrying that Carter has not yet approved anyone for transfer out of Guantánamo, even though 52 of the remaining 116 prisoners have been approved for release — 44 in 2009-10 by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, and eight more by Periodic Review Boards in the last year and a half. 43 of these men are Yemenis, and as Charlie Savage noted, because Yemen “is in chaos, the American government is trying to resettle them, not repatriate them.”

Robert M. Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas who worked on detainee policy for the Obama administration in 2009, told the Times, “The chances of getting it done on Obama’s watch are getting increasingly slim. Whatever hope there is depends on quick progress in transferring as many detainees as possible.” He added, however, that “there is still going to have to be a deal with Congress for the remainder for long-term custody in the United States.”

After noting that President Obama “has called closing Guantánamo a ‘national imperative,’ arguing that it fuels anti-American sentiment and wastes money,” Charlie Savage related how, in a written statement, Lisa Monaco, the president’s top counter-terrorism adviser, said that the president remained “steadfast in his commitment” to close Guantánamo.

Monaco wrote, “This is a goal that the entire national security team is working together to fulfill — from the White House to the Departments of Defense, State and Justice as well as the intelligence community.” She added, “The safety of Americans is our first priority, and each transfer decision involves careful vetting and negotiation of detailed security arrangements. These deliberations take time because these are important decisions.”

Officials told Savage that inter-agency tensions with Ashton Carter had “not reached the levels they did by last fall with Mr. Hagel, who eventually resigned under pressure.” Savage added that, towards the end of his time in the job, Hagel “cleared a backlog of proposed deals, leading to more than two dozen transfers between November and January,” including the ten Yemenis sent to Oman.

Lee Wolosky, the new State Department envoy for Guantánamo closure, said that the government “was talking with multiple countries about ‘the transfer of a large number of detainees’ from the list” of cleared prisoners awaiting release. He added, “This process will ramp up further in the coming weeks, as reducing the detainee population through foreign transfers is a critical component to our broader efforts to close the detention facility.”

However, Ashton Carter still has to approve any deals, as Charlie Savage pointed out. His deputy, Robert O. Work, said in a statement that the Pentagon would “continue to work with the national security team and the Congress to close the facility in an efficient and responsible manner.”

In his article, Savage also discussed the ongoing opposition to the closure of Guantánamo in Congress, noting how, in February, at Ashton Carter’s confirmation hearing, two Republican senators “asked him to commit that he would not succumb to pressure by the White House over Guantánamo transfers.” Carter’s response? “I understand my responsibilities under that statute, and I’ll, as in everything else I do, I’ll play it absolutely straight,” he said.

Charlie Savage also noted how the House and Senate Armed Services Committees are currently “meeting to resolve differences between their versions of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which includes the detainee transfer restrictions.” He explained that the House bill “would further tighten the standards, most likely shutting down any more transfers,” while the Senate version “would largely extend existing restrictions,” and he also noted that the White House “has threatened to veto both versions.” I discussed these deliberations in an article in June, “The Path to Closing Guantánamo,” in which I also discussed an additional issue included in the Senate version — as Charlie Savage put it, “a process, proposed by Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, for closing the prison: The administration would submit a plan to Congress, and if both chambers approve it, the ban on bringing the remaining detainees to domestic soil would be lifted.”

Charlie Savage noted how Ashton Carter and Lisa Monaco “have promised to give Mr. McCain a plan,” although he noted that it was expected to be similar to previous proposals — “to transfer all lower-level detainees, while bringing those deemed too dangerous for release to a military prison on domestic soil.” He added, “Of the latter group, some would be prosecuted while the rest would be held as wartime prisoners, with periodic parole-like reviews.”

Savage also noted that the plan “has previously failed to persuade skeptics of Mr. Obama’s Guantánamo policy, particularly in the House,” and a Republican congressional staff member told him that President Obama’s critics “also wanted to see, as part of the plan, discussion of how law-of-war detention would be used to hold and interrogate terrorism suspects captured in the future.” However, as Savage explained, “The administration has developed a model of first interrogating new captives for a period for intelligence purposes, often on a ship, and then transferring them to civilian courts for prosecution,” and “considers that model to be one of its policy achievements.”

The day after the New York Times article was published, the administration followed up. As Reuters put it, the White House said “it was in the final stage of drafting a plan for closing the Guantánamo prison.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the administration “hoped to ‘short circuit’ opposition from Republicans in Congress who have blocked Obama from closing the prison.” At a press briefing, Earnest said that the administration was “in the final stages of drafting a plan to safely, responsibly, close the prison at Guantánamo and to present that plan to Congress.”

Time also covered the story, speaking to Daphne Eviatar of Human Rights First, who said, “the fact that the White House is working [on a] plan could be a good first step, but questions still remain as to whether or not Congress will be able to approve any plan given many members’ opposition to closing the prison,” as Time described it. As Eviatar said, “It’s still within the Administration’s power to do a lot to close the prison. [The White House] can’t keep blaming Congress, but Congress also needs to do more. It shouldn’t be this political football anymore.”

Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel at the ACLU, also spoke to Time. He said that the plan being sent to Congress would “constitute no more than an ‘irrelevant checking of the box,'” and added that President Obama “already has the executive authority to make detainee transfers happen without Congress” — a waiver that the president has possessed since 2012.

As Anders put it, “It’s not much different than plans that have already been sent and it’s not going to convince Congress to change its mind. Obama should tell the Secretary of Defense to approve the transfer of cleared detainees.”

Anders added that the lack of prisoner releases was the “number one obstacle” facing the president and that the Pentagon was “digging in its heels” on closing the prison.

In conclusion, it is difficult to see quite what the flurry of media activity signified. It is certainly to be hoped that the administration, with Sen. McCain, can come up with a plan that might be used to persuade Congress to allow the president to fulfil his promise to close Guantánamo before he leaves office, but it is impossible to say with a straight face, and with any optimism, that this can or will happen.

However, what can and should happen is the release of as many as possible of the 52 men already approved for transfer, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and other men mentioned in April — the Mauritanian Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz and the Moroccan Younus Chekhouri.

Ashton Carter should approve these men’s transfer as soon as possible.

To encourage defense secretary Carter, please feel free to call the Pentagon on 703-571-3343 to leave him a message

- See more at: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2015/08/03/does-president-obama-still-h...

Does President Obama Still Have a Plan for Closing Guantánamo?

3.8.15

A collaged image of President Obama and a guard tower at Guantanamo.Recently, there was a brief flurry of media interest in Guantánamo after the New York Times published an article by Charlie Savage entitled, “Obama’s Plan for Guantánamo Is Seen Faltering.”

Savage noted how the Obama administration’s “fitful effort” to shut down the prison at Guantánamo “is collapsing again,” pointing out how, in his first six months as defense secretary, Ashton Carter “has yet to make a decision on any newly proposed deals to transfer individual detainees,” and claiming that, according to unnamed officials, this delay, “which echoes a pattern last year by his predecessor, Chuck Hagel,” is “generating mounting concern in the White House and State Department.” The most recent transfers out of Guantánamo — of six Yemenis resettled in Oman —  were in June, but they were part of deal negotiated under Hagel, which saw four other Yemenis rehoused in Oman in January.

Savage wrote that, in mid-July, President Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, “convened a cabinet-level ‘principals committee’ meeting on how to close the prison before the president leaves office in 18 months.” At that meeting, Carter “was presented with an unsigned National Security Council memo stating that he would have 30 days to make decisions on newly proposed transfers,” according to several officials familiar with the discussions.

However, the meeting apparently “ended inconclusively.” Carter “did not commit to making a decision on pending transfer proposals by a particular date, including the repatriation of a Mauritanian and a Moroccan” — mentioned as pending releases in a Washington Post article in April, which I discussed here — and Savage added that it was unclear whether Carter “accepted the 30-day deadline.”

Carter already has the most significant role in approving releases, because he has to sign assurances, submitted to Congress 30 days before any transfer, stating that any risks in releasing prisoners “have been substantially mitigated.” As Charlie Savage put it, “The law effectively vests final power in the defense secretary and makes him personally accountable if something goes wrong.”

With this in mind, it is increasingly worrying that Carter has not yet approved anyone for transfer out of Guantánamo, even though 52 of the remaining 116 prisoners have been approved for release — 44 in 2009-10 by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, and eight more by Periodic Review Boards in the last year and a half. 43 of these men are Yemenis, and as Charlie Savage noted, because Yemen “is in chaos, the American government is trying to resettle them, not repatriate them.”

Robert M. Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas who worked on detainee policy for the Obama administration in 2009, told the Times, “The chances of getting it done on Obama’s watch are getting increasingly slim. Whatever hope there is depends on quick progress in transferring as many detainees as possible.” He added, however, that “there is still going to have to be a deal with Congress for the remainder for long-term custody in the United States.”

After noting that President Obama “has called closing Guantánamo a ‘national imperative,’ arguing that it fuels anti-American sentiment and wastes money,” Charlie Savage related how, in a written statement, Lisa Monaco, the president’s top counter-terrorism adviser, said that the president remained “steadfast in his commitment” to close Guantánamo.

Monaco wrote, “This is a goal that the entire national security team is working together to fulfill — from the White House to the Departments of Defense, State and Justice as well as the intelligence community.” She added, “The safety of Americans is our first priority, and each transfer decision involves careful vetting and negotiation of detailed security arrangements. These deliberations take time because these are important decisions.”

Officials told Savage that inter-agency tensions with Ashton Carter had “not reached the levels they did by last fall with Mr. Hagel, who eventually resigned under pressure.” Savage added that, towards the end of his time in the job, Hagel “cleared a backlog of proposed deals, leading to more than two dozen transfers between November and January,” including the ten Yemenis sent to Oman.

Lee Wolosky, the new State Department envoy for Guantánamo closure, said that the government “was talking with multiple countries about ‘the transfer of a large number of detainees’ from the list” of cleared prisoners awaiting release. He added, “This process will ramp up further in the coming weeks, as reducing the detainee population through foreign transfers is a critical component to our broader efforts to close the detention facility.”

However, Ashton Carter still has to approve any deals, as Charlie Savage pointed out. His deputy, Robert O. Work, said in a statement that the Pentagon would “continue to work with the national security team and the Congress to close the facility in an efficient and responsible manner.”

In his article, Savage also discussed the ongoing opposition to the closure of Guantánamo in Congress, noting how, in February, at Ashton Carter’s confirmation hearing, two Republican senators “asked him to commit that he would not succumb to pressure by the White House over Guantánamo transfers.” Carter’s response? “I understand my responsibilities under that statute, and I’ll, as in everything else I do, I’ll play it absolutely straight,” he said.

Charlie Savage also noted how the House and Senate Armed Services Committees are currently “meeting to resolve differences between their versions of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which includes the detainee transfer restrictions.” He explained that the House bill “would further tighten the standards, most likely shutting down any more transfers,” while the Senate version “would largely extend existing restrictions,” and he also noted that the White House “has threatened to veto both versions.” I discussed these deliberations in an article in June, “The Path to Closing Guantánamo,” in which I also discussed an additional issue included in the Senate version — as Charlie Savage put it, “a process, proposed by Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, for closing the prison: The administration would submit a plan to Congress, and if both chambers approve it, the ban on bringing the remaining detainees to domestic soil would be lifted.”

Charlie Savage noted how Ashton Carter and Lisa Monaco “have promised to give Mr. McCain a plan,” although he noted that it was expected to be similar to previous proposals — “to transfer all lower-level detainees, while bringing those deemed too dangerous for release to a military prison on domestic soil.” He added, “Of the latter group, some would be prosecuted while the rest would be held as wartime prisoners, with periodic parole-like reviews.”

Savage also noted that the plan “has previously failed to persuade skeptics of Mr. Obama’s Guantánamo policy, particularly in the House,” and a Republican congressional staff member told him that President Obama’s critics “also wanted to see, as part of the plan, discussion of how law-of-war detention would be used to hold and interrogate terrorism suspects captured in the future.” However, as Savage explained, “The administration has developed a model of first interrogating new captives for a period for intelligence purposes, often on a ship, and then transferring them to civilian courts for prosecution,” and “considers that model to be one of its policy achievements.”

The day after the New York Times article was published, the administration followed up. As Reuters put it, the White House said “it was in the final stage of drafting a plan for closing the Guantánamo prison.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the administration “hoped to ‘short circuit’ opposition from Republicans in Congress who have blocked Obama from closing the prison.” At a press briefing, Earnest said that the administration was “in the final stages of drafting a plan to safely, responsibly, close the prison at Guantánamo and to present that plan to Congress.”

Time also covered the story, speaking to Daphne Eviatar of Human Rights First, who said, “the fact that the White House is working [on a] plan could be a good first step, but questions still remain as to whether or not Congress will be able to approve any plan given many members’ opposition to closing the prison,” as Time described it. As Eviatar said, “It’s still within the Administration’s power to do a lot to close the prison. [The White House] can’t keep blaming Congress, but Congress also needs to do more. It shouldn’t be this political football anymore.”

Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel at the ACLU, also spoke to Time. He said that the plan being sent to Congress would “constitute no more than an ‘irrelevant checking of the box,'” and added that President Obama “already has the executive authority to make detainee transfers happen without Congress” — a waiver that the president has possessed since 2012.

As Anders put it, “It’s not much different than plans that have already been sent and it’s not going to convince Congress to change its mind. Obama should tell the Secretary of Defense to approve the transfer of cleared detainees.”

Anders added that the lack of prisoner releases was the “number one obstacle” facing the president and that the Pentagon was “digging in its heels” on closing the prison.

In conclusion, it is difficult to see quite what the flurry of media activity signified. It is certainly to be hoped that the administration, with Sen. McCain, can come up with a plan that might be used to persuade Congress to allow the president to fulfil his promise to close Guantánamo before he leaves office, but it is impossible to say with a straight face, and with any optimism, that this can or will happen.

However, what can and should happen is the release of as many as possible of the 52 men already approved for transfer, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and other men mentioned in April — the Mauritanian Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz and the Moroccan Younus Chekhouri.

Ashton Carter should approve these men’s transfer as soon as possible.

To encourage defense secretary Carter, please feel free to call the Pentagon on 703-571-3343 to leave him a message

- See more at: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2015/08/03/does-president-obama-still-h...