The LWOT: Obama considers ignoring Congressional Gitmo ban; UK to modify but continue control orders

Foreign Policy and the New America Foundation bring you a twice weekly brief on the legal war on terror. You can read it on or get it delivered directly to your inbox -- just sign up here.

Virginie Montet/AFP/Getty Images
Virginie Montet/AFP/Getty Images

Obama could fight Gitmo ban through signing statements

The investigative journalism website ProPublica reported Jan. 3 that President Barack Obama was considering issuing a "signing statement" declaring his intention not to abide by provisions of a new defense spending bill limiting his authority to transfer Guantánamo Bay detainees to the United States for trial, or transferring them to third countries (ProPublica, NYT, Washington Post). These statements gained attention during the Bush administration, which issued 150 such statements asserting broad executive authority, something that many current Obama officials criticized at the time (ABC, New Yorker).

The Obama administration has attacked the provisions, calling them an infringement on the Executive’s authority. However, as Charlie Savage reports, some administration aides are urging that President Obama strongly criticize the provisions after signing the bill into law, but stop short of declaring his intention to ignore them (NYT). Instead, he could challenge the provisions’ constitutionality in court, wait until next September when the provisions expire to resume detainee transfers or proceed with possible civilian trials, or begin trying Guantánamo detainees in military commissions at the base.

In an open letter, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) urged Obama not to issue a signing statement, but instead to use money from other departments to proceed with transfers, or veto the bill outright (NYT). And Lawfare Blog’s Benjamin Wittes argued that if closing Guantánamo is as serious a national security priority as Obama says, then he should fight encroachments on his authority by Congress – or stop talking about how important it is to close the prison (Lawfare Blog).

And the Department of Defense announced Jan. 6 that it had repatriated Gitmo detainee Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed (also known as Saed Farhi) to his native Algeria, the first detainee transfer since September (DoD). Mohammed was originally ordered released by a federal judge last November, but was part of a group of Algerians who fought repatriation, fearing targeting at the hands of extremists and punishment from the Algerian government for their time at Gitmo. Carol Rosenberg reports that Mohammed’s’s transfer headed off a possible Supreme Court case to determine if a federal judge could oversee assurances made to the State Department that repatriated detainees will be safe from harm (Miami Herald). 

Mohammed’s transfer brings the number of detainees at the prison to 173. His counsel before the Supreme Court, David Remes, told Lawfare Blog that (Lawfare Blog):

This was a stealth transfer. The government shipped Mr. Mohammed back to Algeria against his will-the second involuntary transfer of an Algerian in the past six months-giving us no advance notice and therefore no chance to resist.

UK to modify, but keep, control orders

Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg announced today that the United Kingdom would seek to modify but keep in use controversial control orders, an anti-terrorism tool adopted in 2005 which allows British ministers to subject a "small number" of suspected terrorists to a series of restrictions on their movement and communications (Telegraph). The position signals a change from Clegg’s previous blanket opposition to control orders, and Britain’s coalition government this week publicly and acrimoniously debated their future and effectiveness, threatening to pull the government apart at the seams (Guardian, Telegraph, Guardian, BBC).

The debate took place as authorities in the United Kingdom have raised the alert level in the country to "severe" following intelligence reports of planning for a "Mumbai-style" attack near London, with a focus on aviation and mass transit (CNN, Bloomberg, Telegraph, AP). The Telegraph on Jan. 5 reported that three men arrested for allegedly planning an attack on the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in Denmark are thought by British authorities to have links to two UK men part of a network set up by terrorist leader Ilyas Kashmiri (Telegraph).

Der Spiegel reports today in German, citing the Arabic journal Al-Arabiyya, that Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has claimed to have trained Swedish suicide bomber Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, who wounded two and killed himself in an explosion in Stockholm Dec. 11, for three months in the city of Mosul (Der Spiegel). For more on possible AQI links to the Stockholm Attack, see Brian Fishman, "Al Qaeda in Iraq’s Swedish Connections" (FP). The Telegraph this week interviews al-Abdaly’s widow, and reveals that a slideshow and recording of al-Abdaly’s suicide message was posted to his YouTube account after his death (Telegraph).

And during the opening day of a Paris trial for eight men alleged to have been involved in armed robberies to fund terrorist groups, court documents reported that one of the defendants, Farid Boukemiche, sheltered many British extremists at a café he owned in the French city of Roubaix (Telegraph).The café allegedly served as a safe house for British al Qaeda militants, part of a network of men Boukemiche reportedly met while in Britain in the 1990’s.

Trials and Tribulations

  •  The New York Times has a must-read story about 19-year old American Gulet Mohamed, who has been detained for two weeks in Kuwait and allegedly beaten, while being reportedly threatened and questioned repeatedly with regards to his travels in Yemen and Somalia in 2009 (NYT).
  • On Jan. 4 Rep. Peter King (R-NY), the incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, hit back at the New York Times for an op-ed critical of King’s plans to hold hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims and the cooperation of Muslim leaders (The Hill). And the Department of Justice is readying itself for an expected onslaught of oversight from incoming House Republicans (CNN, Washington Post).
  • The AP reports this week on a new military targeting center being set up by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) to coordinate intelligence and operations for targeting terrorists around the world (AP).
  • Moroccan authorities claimed this week to have broken up a terror cell linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) planning bank robberies and attacks on Moroccan security forces, in addition to setting up a "rear base" for operations in the disputed territory of Western Sahara (NYT, AP).
  • A federal grand jury on Jan. 5 indicted Virginia man Awais Younis on charges of interstate threatening communication after he posted threats to bomb Washington’s Metro on Facebook (Washington Post).
  • Passengers on a flight from Oslo to Istanbul this week subdued an attempted hijacker, who reportedly tried to force entry into the plane’s cockpit and claimed to have a bomb (Reuters). Police have not identified the motives for the attempted hijacking.
  • Serdar Tatar, convicted in 2008 of plotting to attack the Fort Dix military base and training in the Pocono Mountains, is suing prison officials in New Jersey on the grounds that they allowed Tatar to be attacked by his then-cellmate and co-conspirator, Dritan Duka, in 2008 (AP).

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola