The LWOT: UN report issues warnings on drone strikes; Administration task force report on Guantanamo released

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Rob Jensen/USAF via Getty Images
Rob Jensen/USAF via Getty Images

UN report criticizes drone strikes

The U.N. rapporteur for extrajudicial killings, Philip Alston, issued a report June 2 critiquing the use of armed drones by the United States and recommending that the military, not the CIA, handle the strikes (NYT, AJE). Alston expressed concern about accountability for drone strikes, the increased targeting of individuals not directly involved in hostilities, and the lack of publicly-stated and uniform legal standards among countries employing targeted killings. He concluded that drone strikes perpetrated outside of active conflict zones or against individuals not directly participating in hostilities could constitute war crimes (LAT, CNN). He also called on the United States to release information about civilians killed in drone strikes.

Alston addressed the argument that CIA operatives could be charged with war crimes for their participation in drone strikes, saying that it "is not supported by international humanitarian law" (Washington Post). However, Alston noted that intelligence agents do not have immunity from prosecution for killings conducted in a conflict zone, meaning that "CIA personnel could be prosecuted for murder under the domestic law of any country in which they conduct targeted drone killings, and could also be prosecuted for violations of applicable US law."

Administration officials pushed back on Alston’s findings, citing the precision and importance of drone strikes while reiterating their position that strikes are conducted within American law and the laws of war (Newsweek). It is believed that a drone strike killed top al Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, whose death was announced this week (LAT).

Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe write this morning that the increase in drone strikes is part of a broader expansion of covert operations and the use of Special Operations Forces in the United States’ "secret war" on terrorism (Washington Post). They note in particular that Special Operations forces must get approval from the President or a designee before staging an operation in countries outside of an active combat zone, such as Yemen or Somalia; Alston’s report questions the authority of the U.S. government to order such raids.

White House task force releases detailed report on Gitmo detainees

The Washington Post on Friday posted the report from the Obama administration’s interagency task force on Guantánamo Bay, which compiled information on all 240 detainees present at the prison when President Obama took office (Washington Post, AP). There are currently 181 prisoners remaining at the detention center. The task force found that about 10 percent of prisoners were directly involved in plots against the United States, roughly 20 percent played significant roles in al Qaeda or related groups, and most of the rest were low-level fighters.

The report recommended that 126 detainees be released, 36 be tried before civilian or military courts, and 48 be held indefinitely due to suspected ties to terror plots, terrorist groups, or the fact that they expressed a desire to attack the United States (NYT). The report also recommended that 30 Yemeni detainees be held in "conditional" detention, whereby they may be sent to third countries or repatriated if the security situation in Yemen improves and the United States lifts the current moratorium on detainee transfers to the country. The report also found that over 1,000 pieces of physical evidence collected since the 9/11 attacks have still not been thoroughly catalogued.

The report’s findings will likely affect Obama’s ongoing efforts to close the prison, which faces growing congressional and public opposition (ABC). And Abu Dhabi’s The National newspaper this week went inside the "luxury" rehabilitation facility built in Kuwait for four Gitmo detainees, two of whom have already been repatriated (National).

Trials and tribulations

  • Failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, who continues to cooperate with authorities, consented this week to a three-week delay in his court case. (AFP). And Pakistani police have released a former Pakistani army major originally arrested in connection with Shahzad’s case (LAT).
  • Accused Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan appeared in military court June 1 for the first time, to hear the charges against him (AP). His lawyers won a delay in further proceedings while they sift through documents provided by the government.
  • A Washington D.C. federal court this week upheld the detention of Gitmo inmate Adham Awad, after holding closed arguments to avoid the release of sensitive information (Legal Times). There is no indication whether or not a redacted ruling in the case will be released to the public.
  • The first trial at Bagram Air Base with all Afghan personnel participating began June 1, with a hearing for four Afghans accused of manufacturing homemade bombs (Reuters).
  • A Dutch court May 31 ruled that a Somali man with U.S. residency, Mohamud Said Omar, can be extradited to Minneapolis to face charges of supplying money to the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group (AP). Omar’s lawyers announced that they intend to appeal the decision.
  • Police have arrested an Ohio couple for conspiring to send roughly $500,000 to the Lebanese group Hezbollah, by hiding the cash in a car being shipped to Lebanon (AP).
Andrew Lebovich is a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a doctoral candidate in African history at Columbia University. He is currently based in Senegal and has conducted field research in Niger and Mali.

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