Earlier today, the Iraqi government announced that it has shut down the Abu Ghraib prison. According to Iraqi officials, the closure is due to growing concerns that Sunni insurgents in the area may have the capabilities to launch an attack against the prison, possibly freeing some of the roughly 2,400 prisoners. Those prisoners have now been moved to more secure locations in central and northern Iraq. It is unclear at this point whether Abu Ghraib will reopen if the Iraqi government is able to secure the area. Continue reading
The Obama administration may be facing another setback in the quest to close Guantanamo Bay. On Tuesday, several news outlets reported that Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo detainee, has again been placed in custody for terrorism-related offenses linked to the crisis in Syria. Begg, a citizen of the UK, was initially arrested in Islamabad in 2002 and transferred to Guantanamo Bay before being released in 2005. He has maintained that he was involved in charity work and was not a member of any terrorist organization. Continue reading
In a recently released December 11th letter, 13 international news organizations called for Syrian rebels to halt the kidnapping of their journalists. The letter pleads, “Over the past 12 months, we have witnessed the disturbing rise in the kidnapping of journalists while on assignment within the northern provinces of Aleppo, Idlib and al-Raqqa as well as elsewhere in Syria. By our estimate, more than thirty journalists are now being held. As a result of these kidnappings, a growing number of news organizations no longer feel that it is safe for their reporters and photographers to enter Syria, and many have decided to limit their coverage of the war, unwilling to have their staff members subjected to the increasingly common risk of abduction.” Continue reading
As Americans swarmed to theaters to see the new Superman movie, President Obama once again flew to Ireland for the G-8 summit to try and save the world. Russian President Vladimir Putin clung to his support of Bashir Al Assad’s Syrian regime in the faces of seven frustrated Western leaders. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the conference “G-7 plus one,” and berated Putin for supporting Assad’s “thugs” (Whoever said Canadians were non-confrontational?).
Putin’s Senior Political Advisor, Yuri Ushakov, supported the claim that Assad using chemical weapons “does not look convincing” in defense of Russia’s continued aid to Assad’s forces. However, while the planes were landing in Ireland, Assad’s representatives were shopping for aircraft in Russia (Don’t worry. Russia only gave them 10 new MiG jet fighters that they implied should be used for defense only – defense from all that rebel aircraft that doesn’t exist).
Once again the US finds itself now a little more battle weary by stepping up to fight the bad guys. Though Britain and France threw their support behind the rebels long ago, they have gladly ceded the reigns of control of the operation to the US. In short, here we go again. But this time, let’s actually be the good guys. As Angelina Jolie reported to the UN this week, every 14 seconds a citizen crosses the Syrian border and becomes a refuge (half of them are children). Something obviously needs to be done here.
Robert Springborg, professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in CA, opined, “This is the story of two drowning men clutching on to one another. We have every interest to ensure both drown.” What better movie plot is there? Two dictators, political oppression with military force, displacement of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians – practically an invitation for Superman US to save the day. Time to take the identity-confounding glasses off Clark and show them who the men (and women) of steel really are!
Chelsea Perdue, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research
Syria, a country scarred by decades of violent repression, erupted into civil war in mid-2011. Students were tortured for anti-government sentiments and live ammunition was routinely fired into crowds of protesters. The Human Rights Watch revealed in July 2012 that the Syrian government maintained at least 27 torture centers. In time, an insurgency arose, resorting to militant means to overthrow the Assad government.
The US has been reluctant to intervene in Syria’s affairs, though the plea for help has grown stronger with each passing month. Despite the $515 million in humanitarian assistance delivered to the Syrian opposition, Congress has been pressuring the Obama administration to provide munitions (including missiles) and to declare of a no-fly zone. The most notable opposition derives from Republican Sen. McCain: “This is not only a humanitarian issue. It is a national security issue. If Iran succeeds in keeping Bashar al Assad in power, that will send a message throughout the Middle East of Iranian power.” In addition, Democratic Sen. Casey urges that even provision of heavy weaponry may not be enough support for the Syrian opposition.
On June 13, 2013, intelligence confirmed the use of chemical weapons by the Assad government on at least four occasions. The weapons have reportedly killed between 100 and 150 people. In response, President Obama announced that the Assad regime had crossed the “red line” the US had drawn and authorized direct military aid to rebel forces. The White House Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications stated, “The President has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has.”
So begins a new chapter in the Syrian civil war: Hope. A chapter the U.S. will help write.
Chelsea Perdue, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research
After spending several months fighting with Syrian foces, 30-year old former US soldier Eric Harroun of Pheonix, AZ joined the al-Qaeda linked terrorist organization Jabhat al-Nusra. Harroun was arrested by US officials last week and charged with participating in terrorist activities, particularly conspiring to use a rocket-propelled grenade will fighting on behalf of his organization in Syria. If convicted, Harroun faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Harroun discusses his activities in a string of posts on the social media sites Facebook and Youtube. He chronicles his dedication to defeating the Assad regime in Syria, is often smiling in photos, and posts strongly-worded, opinionated responses to anyone who may voice their disagreement with his efforts. Harroun has been quite open about his activities with al-Nusra, making statements to American media outlets and often posting publicly on internet forums. He only recently attracted the attention of the US government after his association with al-Nusra became clear.
Harroun explained, “I was separated in a battle, and most of my group was K.I.A. And Al-Nusra picked me up,” Harroun told FoxNews.com, adding, “Getting into Al-Nusra is not rocket science. It just takes balls and brains.”
Very few high-profile cases of “rogue” US military veterans have been tried thus far, and it will be interesting to track the tactics the defense uses throughout this trial. In the few cases that have garnered significant press, there is often emphasis placed on PTSD and combat-related stressors that triggered the Defendant’s alleged criminal behavior.
In a case, however, that seems so clearly to be an instance of a citizen with strong beliefs determined to fight for his cause no matter what the stakes, it would undoubtedly be difficult for Harroun’s military experience to play a significant role in the trial.
Harroun made his first court appearance in Virginia this past week.
Kelly Ann Taddonio, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research
The Uighurs are of a Chinese ethnic minority that has been subject to persecution in China. As a result, no released Uighur detainees have been returned to China and have instead been sent to Albania, Bermuda, El Salvador, Switzerland and Palau. As previously examined in the Center’s National Security Deserves Better: “Odd” Recidivism Numbers Undermine the Guantanamo Policy Debate, the Uighurs in Bermuda have been resettled successfully.
We also now know that at least one other Uighur former detainee, Abu Bakker Qassim, has been somewhat-successfully resettled in Albania. Qassim initially had difficulty learning the Albanian language and reconciling his idea of Albania with the reality. However, he has managed to bridge the gap by becoming a pizza-maker. Qassim notes that while he had never even heard of pizza before he arrived in Tirana, Albania, his work has greatly improved his grasp on Albanian. However, Qassim notes that it isn’t easy for him to make ends meet; he only works part-time, and the state aid he receives isn’t enough to support him, his wife and infant daughter. The stigma of Guantanamo remains with him, making it difficult to find a better job. Because Qassim is not an Albania citizen, he cannot obtain a passport. Without a passport, however, Qassim must remain in Albania or return to China and face almost-certain persecution and arrest.
The challenges faces by Qassim are mirrored by the Uighur former detainees in Palau. Six Uighurs in total were sent from Guantanamo Bay to Palau in late 2009, in what was intended to be a temporary stop before a permanent home was found for the former detainees. However, the years have passed and Palau has been increasingly unable to support its charges. Although the US and Palauan governments aided the former detainees in obtaining minimum-wage jobs, they struggle to pay for utilities and food. Even the President of Palau, Tommy Remengesau, has expressed regret over the situation, noting the unfairness of their situation.
The recent shuttering of the U.S. State Department Guantanamo Closure office has made these six question whether they will ever leave Palau and settle in a permanent home. Like Qassim in Albania, these six are not Palauan citizens and therefore cannot obtain passports in order to leave. Ambassador Daniel Fried, who had run the Guantanamo Closure office up until its end, has stated he will continue to negotiate for permanent settlement of the Uighurs, even though he was reassigned to a position overseeing sanctions for Iran and Syria.
In 2008 a Washington federal court judge ordered all Uighurs to be released. However, three Uighurs remain at Guantanamo Bay, because as with the former detainees in Palau, the U.S. has been unable to find a country to accept them. Many countries fear the Chinese response to acceptance of Uighur former detainees. As a world power, the U.S. is seemingly in a position to accept all of the Uighurs and withstand China’s response. However, the public outcry that has accompanied any talk of bringing detainees to the U.S. to be held in prisons, never mind bringing detainees here for release, has completely shut down any likelihood of this happening.
Both the U.S. courts and the U.S. government have accepted that the Uighurs were never a threat to U.S. interests or forces. However, if the U.S. government won’t stand and accept these clearly innocent men in our country, it is hard to imagine how we will convince any other country to do so.
Kelly Ross, Research Fellow
Center for Policy & Research
 Michelle Shephard, Uighurs who went from Guantanamo to paradise running out of money and patience, The Star (Toronto), Feb. 7, 2013, http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2013/02/07/uighurs_who_went_from_guantanamo_to_paradise_running_out_of_money_and_patience.html.
 Nate Tabak, Former Guantanamo Detainee Now Making Pizza in Albania, PRI’s The World, Feb. 7, 2013, http://www.theworld.org/2013/02/uighur-guantanamo-detainee-albania/.