Two detainees were recently transferred out of the Guantanamo Bay prison facility, with one Yemeni captive sent to Spain and another man placed in the custody of the Bulgarian government.
The Justice Department first began sending out news releases in January 2009 after the formation of the Guantanamo Review Task Force. Before 2009, the Defense Department issued all news releases on transfers from Guantanamo Bay.
The transfer of the news release duty back to DOD was noted by Miami Herald Guantanamo reporter Carol Rosenberg on Twitter.
“The Guantanamo Review Task Force, which was led by the Justice Department, completed its work reviewing Guantanamo Bay detainees in January 2010. As a result, the Justice Department has no current or ongoing role in Guantanamo detainee transfers to foreign nations, which are negotiated by the State Department and carried out by the Defense Department,” DOJ spokesman Dean Boyd said in a statement to Main Justice.
According to the Department of Defense, the current population of the Guantanamo detention facility stands at 181. The Obama administration missed a self-imposed January deadline to close the facility.
The Justice Department in a Monday court filing said it can’t find 10 documents that are supposed to be released as part of a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Al Kamen reported in The Washington Post.
The ACLU’s five-year FOIA battle seeks to illuminate the process that led to a policy of harsh interrogations of terrorism suspects during the Bush administration. One of the 10 missing documents is a 59-page exchange in 2002 between the Office of Legal Counsel and the Pentagon on the eve of a decision to increase the intensity of the interrogations, Kamen reported.
The Justice Department was able to find an additional 224 documents relevant to the ACLU’s 2005 request, Kamen said. They were found in three safes and in “the back of a third drawer” inside OLC’s room for highly classified documents. The documents were located by two visiting Assistant U.S. Attorneys from New York and one DOJ attorney.
Acting Assistant Attorney General for the OLC David J. Barron had to explain the loss to a federal judge in New York. He wrote: “Due to their extreme sensitivity at the time,” the relevant document set was not copied and its contents were “intermingled” with other files in the room. The documents then took the scenic tour of Washington, D.C., first going to another special room at DOJ, then to the CIA in 2007 and stopping at the Office of Professional Responsibility until March.
Kamen reported there is no word on if or when the documents might be made public.
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The Obama administration is considering a court-room-within-a-prison complex to house and try suspected terrorists, The Associated Press reported on Sunday. The plans would combine civilian and military detention facilities under one roof, officials told the AP. The operation would be jointly run by the departments of the Defense, Homeland Security and Justice.
Possible sites include the soon-to-be-shuttered state maximum security prison in Michigan and the military penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said told the AP that no decisions have been made about the proposal. And The Washington Post reports in today’s paper that the ideas have been debated by an interagency task force examining detention policy but have not moved beyond that stage.
The administration’s plan, three government officials told the AP, calls for following measures:
- Moving all the Guantanamo detainees to a single U.S. prison. The Justice Department has identified between 60 and 80 who could be prosecuted, either in military or federal criminal courts. The Pentagon would oversee the detainees who would face trial in military tribunals. The Bureau of Prisons, an arm of the Justice Department, would manage defendants in federal courts.
- Building a court facility within the prison site where military or criminal defendants would be tried. Doing so would create a single venue for almost all the criminal defendants, ending the need to transport them elsewhere in the U.S. for trial.
- Providing long-term holding cells for a small but still undetermined number of detainees who will not face trial because intelligence and counterterror officials conclude they are too dangerous to risk being freed.
- Building immigration detention cells for detainees ordered released by courts but still behind bars because countries are unwilling to take them.
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The Justice Department said today that it transferred Guantanamo Bay detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani to Manhattan this morning — the first time a prisoner from the military prison has been brought to the continental U.S. to stand trial.
Ghailani, a suspect in the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings, had been detained at the Cuban facility since September 2006. He left the custody of the Defense Department this morning and was brought to the Southern District of New York by the U.S. Marshals Service, the Justice Department said. The former Guantanamo Bay prisoner is currently in the Metropolitan Correctional Center where he is waiting to make his first appearance before a New York federal court today, according to the Justice Department.
“With his appearance in federal court today, Ahmed Ghailani is being held accountable for his alleged role in the bombing of U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and the murder of 224 people,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. “The Justice Department has a long history of securely detaining and successfully prosecuting terror suspects through the criminal justice system, and we will bring that experience to bear in seeking justice in this case.”
The DOJ fact sheet on handling terrorism suspects in the United States is here.
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A human rights group is claiming that an Afghan detained at the Guantanamo Bay military prison was only about 12 years old when he was brought there by U.S. officials, Reuters reported today.
Official records indicate Mohammed Jawad, who was brought to the military brig almost seven years ago, was 16 or 17 when he came to Guantanamo Bay, Reuters said. His family does not have official documents that give his exact birth date, but Afghan human rights commissioner Nader Nadery said his group has determined that Jawad was born around 1991, according to Reuters.
The Defense Department has denied the claims, but Major Eric Montalvo, a Pentagon-appointed U.S. Marine Corps lawyer representing Jawad, wants him released, Reuters said.
“We have a child of Afghanistan that was wrongfully taken from this country and he needs to be returned,” Montalvo said at a press conference. “He was tortured, he was abused over seven years of custody.”
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The American Civil Liberties Union and the Pentagon have struck a deal for the May 28 release of many Bush-era photos documenting prisoner abuse at military prisons, TIME reported today. A journalist friend of ours who knows this story well reports the photos are expected to show abuse in Afghanistan and other locations in Iraq.
The collection includes official photos and informal pictures taken by soldiers, TIME said. The pictures, which were obtained during Defense Department investigations of military prisons, will show abuse that is “far beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib,” ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh told TIME.
“We know this could make things tougher for our troops, but the court decisions really don’t leave us with any other option,” a senior Pentagon official told TIME.
Release of the photos is a big victory for the ACLU, which has long been pressing the Pentagon for them.