Wednesday, June 27, 2007


By William Fisher

Sometime this summer, Congress will again address the question of whether “war-on-terror” prisoners should have access to Federal courts to question the basis for their detention. The debate promises to be as bitterly contentious as the current battles over immigration and Iraq, and raises the question of whether wafer-thin Democratic House and Senate majorities can muster enough votes to override a likely Presidential veto.

Center-stage in the upcoming debate are two pieces of legislation that would amend the Military Commissions Act (MCA) of 2006 to “restore” the habeas corpus rights banned by that law.

In the Senate, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and the Committee’s top Republican, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, have introduced the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2007. The measure would restore habeas corpus protections by repealing provisions of the MCA. The legislation was favorably reported out by the Judiciary Committee in May.

In the House, Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) and Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) have introduced legislation that would uphold the principle of habeas corpus by amending the MCA to allow individuals detained, often for many years without formal charges, to have their day in court.

The House bill would allow prisoners to challenge their indefinite detention without trial and permit habeas courts to review the actions of the Military Commissions established under the MCA. . Detainees being held in active combat zones, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, would continue to be barred from filing habeas petitions.

Another bill, titled the "Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007” has been introduced in the Senate by a group of Senate Democrats headed by Presidential hopeful Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut. That legislation would restore
habeas corpus rights to all detainees in US custody and narrowly define
what it means to be an "enemy combatant" against the United States.

The bill would also prevent the executive branch from making blanket
determinations about who is an enemy combatant and would restrict the
President’s authority to interpret when certain human rights standards apply to
detainees. The legislation would limit the label "enemy combatant" to a person
"who directly participates in hostilities in a zone of active combat against the
United States" or who took part in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Congress-watchers speculate that the Dodd legislation will be incorporated into the Leahy-Specter proposal before these measures move to the Senate floor for debate and votes. It is still unclear when either the Senate or the House will schedule floor debates.

The MCA was hurriedly passed by a then Republican-controlled Congress in late 2006, after the Supreme Court dealt a significant blow to the Bush Administration by ruling that, without statutory authority, the President did not have the power to designate people as “unlawful enemy combatants” and hold them indefinitely without charges.

The resulting legislation, signed by President Bush in early 2007, gave the President even greater scope to detain people as enemy combatants, since its provisions applied not only to those “captured on the battlefield” but also to legal aliens living in the US and to American citizens as well.

Jose Padilla became the “poster child” for the latter category of detainees. An American citizen, he was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in (DATE) and held incommunicado in a US Navy brig for three years (CHECK). He was transferred to Federal prison and charged only to head off a Supreme Court case that would likely have ruled his imprisonment unconstitutional.

While public officials such as then Attorney General John Ashcroft used the media to publicly accuse Padilla of conspiring to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in the US, these charges were nowhere to be found in the criminal indictment eventually obtained by the Department of Justice. Padilla is currently on trial in a Federal court in Miami, charged with conspiring to provide material support for terrorism.

In introducing his legislation, Senator Leahy said, “It is urgent that we restore our legal traditions and reestablish this fundamental check on the ability of the Government to lock someone away without meaningful judicial review of its action.”

He added: “The sweep of this habeas provision goes far beyond the few hundred detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay, and includes an estimated 12 million lawful permanent residents in the United States today.”

Representative Conyers declared, “Habeas Corpus is one of the fundamental touchstones of our constitutional democracy. We cannot preach freedom abroad if we are not willing to give prisoners the ability to establish their innocence; and, we cannot advance the cause of fighting terrorism at home if our government takes constitutionally dubious short cuts.”

His thoughts were echoed by Armed Services Committee Chairman Skelton. “The last thing that we want is to convict an individual for terrorism and then have that conviction overturned because of fatal flaws in the Military Commissions law passed in the previous Congress. Military judges have already dismissed charges against two suspected terrorists because of deficiencies in the legal framework hurriedly adopted last year. Amending the habeas provisions of the Military Commissions Act will significantly improve this law and help us stay true to our nation’s values,” he said.

The principle of habeas corpus, originally contained in the Magna Carta, has been one of the cornerstones of US law since the nation’s founding. It gives a detainee the right to go to court to challenge the authority of the prison or jail warden to continue to hold him or her.

Since the attacks of 9/11, the Bush Administration detention policies have suffered multiple legal setbacks.

In 2004, the Supreme Court in the case of Yaser Hamdi, a US citizen captured in Afghanistan, held that enemy aliens in Guantanamo may file habeas corpus petitions to challenge various aspects of their detention. The Court also noted that enemy combatants could be detained, but that some process would have to be implemented to determine these prisoners’ status and guilt. The Court recognized the power of the government to detain unlawful combatants, but ruled that detainees who are US citizens must have the ability to challenge their detention before an impartial judge.

Two years later, in an even more far-reaching ruling, the Supreme Court struck down the military commissions President Bush established to try suspected members of al-Qaeda. By a 5-3 majority (Chief Justice Roberts recused himself because of prior involvement in this case) the Court rejected the President’s key
anti-terrorism measure and the Administration’s assertion of virtually unlimited executive power.

The Court’s majority ruled that the commissions, which were outlined by Bush in a military order in November 2001, were neither authorized by federal law nor required by military necessity, and ran afoul of the Geneva Conventions.

The Military Commissions set up by the Bush Administration could not try Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former aide to Osama bin Laden. Detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, must have courts-martial, the Court ruled, or the president can ask for legislation to proceed differently.

In undertaking to try Hamdan and subject him to criminal punishment, “the Executive is bound to comply with the Rule of Law that prevails in this jurisdiction," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in the majority opinion.

The Court’s decision addressed only military commissions. But numerous legal scholars said its rejection of unbridled presidential power would likely be applied to other areas such as warrantless wiretapping. Many in the legal and human rights advocacy communities also said the Court’s reference to the Geneva Conventions could provide a basis for new legal claims by detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.

The Hamdan decision led directly to the then Republican majorities in Congress, where the President was able to muster substantial support for enactment of the MCA.

The pending Congressional measures challenging the MCA are strongly supported by most in the legal and human rights advocacy communities, which have been using the courts and the media to wage a relentless battle against what it views as President Bush’s unconstitutional and over-reaching claims of his commander-in-chief authorities in time of war.

The President’s critics include such groups as the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, the Center for Victims of Torture, Open Society Institute, and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Mary Shaw of Amnesty International USA, probably sums up the view of such organizations. She told Truthout, “With passage of the Military Commissions Act human rights violations perpetrated by the Bush administration in the ‘war on terror’ have in effect been given the Congressional stamp of approval. This raises serious questions about the US government's commitment to due process and the rule of law.”

She added, “The ‘war on terror’ must not be used as an excuse to deny the basic human rights of any person. Amnesty International will continue to campaign for US ‘war on terror’ detention policies and practices to be brought into full compliance with international law, and for repeal of any law that fails to meet this test.”

Multiple challenges to the MCA were filed even before President Bush signed the act into law. For example, the case of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri challenged the authority the law gives the President to declare a legal US resident as an ‘enemy combatant’ and jail him forever without pressing charges.

In another rebuke to the Bush administration, a divided federal appeals court ruled that Al-Marri -- held in a US Navy brig in South Carolina for four years in military custody – cannot be detained indefinitely without being charged.

The 2-1 decision by the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia said the accused terrorist can instead be given a criminal trial in a civilian court.

“The president cannot eliminate constitutional protections with the stroke of a pen by proclaiming a civilian, even a criminal civilian, an enemy combatant subject to indefinite military detention,'' the court said. Al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar, “can be returned to civilian prosecutors, tried on criminal charges, and, if convicted, punished severely.''

Al-Marri was in the US legally when he was arrested in December 2001 during the investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks. He was the first terrorism defendant labeled an illegal enemy combatant by the government.

The Supreme Court declined to review the lower court decision.

Many other suits were also filed even before the MCA officially became law, with defense lawyers asking federal judges to strike down key parts of the measure as unconstitutional.

For example, one suit was filed on behalf of a Guantanamo detainee, Majid Khan, one of the 14 so-called high-value Al Qaeda suspects transferred to Guantanamo from secret Central Intelligence Agency prisons. He was expected to be among the first to be tried under the new law.

The Khan suit says that despite being held in secret CIA detention for 3-1/2 years, Khan, whose family lives in Baltimore, has never had a hearing before a neutral judge or military panel to determine the legality of his detention.

It claims that as a CIA prisoner, Khan was subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and coerced into making false and unreliable statements.

Before Khan’s suit could make it to a civilian Court, his case was referred to a Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT), a body set up by the military to determine whether a detainee should be tried by a Military Commission.

According to the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which represents Khan, “The transcript of the CSRT hearing contains statements by witnesses refuting much of the unsupported government allegations presented against Majid and written and oral statements detailing his torture while imprisoned at the CIA prison and at Guantanamo. Majid continued to demand to see his attorneys and proclaim his innocence, stating that statements he made under torture while imprisoned by the CIA are “definitely not true.” Majid stated that he had “nothing to hide” and, in addition to refuting all of the government’s unclassified allegations, Majid twice volunteered to take a lie detector test.”

The CCR is demanding that Khan be granted immediate access to his attorneys to address his claims of innocence and his abusive treatment at the hands of US officials. CCR also calls for an independent investigation into their client’s
“torture and abuse both at CIA secret prisons and at Guantanamo.”

Suits like these join more than 400 other detainee cases filed on behalf of prisoners at Guantánamo that are currently pending before US district or appeals court judges in Washington.

Bush administration officials contend that the suits are a major distraction in the war on terror. They argue that Al Qaeda suspects are no more entitled to litigate legal claims against the US in American courts than were German POWs in World War II.

The defense attorneys say the new tribunal rules have put them at a disadvantage even before the trials begin. They claim that one of their greatest obstacles is their inability to speak with clients unless they travel to Guantanamo.

Marine Lt. Col. Colby Vokey, an attorney for one 20-year-old detainee, said his client refused to leave his cell last week, and they were unable to meet during his visit to Guantanamo. He said his client is not told when he visits and likely chose not to move because it is one of his only ways of resisting his jailers.

"Everything about Guantanamo is an obstruction. It's practically impossible to represent somebody down there," said Vokey, adding that he has not been able to show Khadr any evidence because guards have refused to let him bring it into their meetings.

The new rules would also tighten censorship of mail from attorneys and give the military more control over what lawyers can discuss with their clients. The number of face-to-face meetings between defense attorneys and detainees would be limited to a total of four. There are now no restrictions on the number of times they can meet.

The government says current rules have allowed detainees to receive books or articles about terrorist attacks in Iraq, London and Israel, as well as details of the prisoner abuse investigation at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

The Combat Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) have also been the subject of widespread criticism as “kangaroo courts.” The most recent attack on these bodies has come from Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, a 26-year veteran of military intelligence who is an Army reserve officer and a California lawyer. He is a former member of a CRST.

In a court affidavit, Abraham wrote that military prosecutors were provided with only “generic” material that didn’t hold up to the most basic legal challenges. Despite repeated requests, intelligence agencies arbitrarily refused to provide specific information that could have helped either side in the tribunals, according to Abraham, who said he served as a main liaison between the Combat Status Review Tribunals and those intelligence agencies.

“What were purported to be specific statements of fact lacked even the most fundamental earmarks of objectively credible evidence,” Abraham said in the affidavit, filed in a Washington appeals court on behalf of a Kuwaiti detainee, Fawzi al-Odah, who is challenging his classification as an “enemy combatant.”

These are some of the issues likely to be fiercely debated when Congress brings the proposed new anti-MCA legislation to the floors of the House and Senate. While Democrats enjoy a tiny minority in the Senate, the habeas corpus issue is sure to face stiff opposition from such Senators as Lindsey Graham, (R-SC), an Air Force Reserve Officer who has served as a military lawyer and judge for many years. Graham does not believe enemy combatants have ever had a right to file habeas writs.

The MCA debate is likely to be even more raucous in the House. While Reps. Conyers and Skelton chair two of the body’s most powerful committees – and both are close allies of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) – House members up for reelection in 2008 will be wary of casting any votes that could make them vulnerable to charges of being “soft on terrorism.”

Finally, the White House has signaled its intention to veto any legislation that “weakens” the MCA, and it remains unclear that either body could garner the votes needed to override a veto.

Friday, June 22, 2007


By William Fisher

The Bush Administration is seeking to recruit foreigners to fill 16 critical jobs at the massive new American Embassy in Baghdad while close to 50 experienced American Foreign Service Officers remain in legal limbo at the State Department in Washington.

This is the claim being made by an organization known as Concerned Foreign Service Officers (CFSO). It comes on the heels of an urgent memo to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice from the US Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, who complained that his embassy was seriously understaffed and asserted that too many of its personnel were inexperienced.

The pool of up to 50 consists of seasoned Foreign Service Officers who have had their security clearances suspended by State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS). CFSO says DS frequently suspends security clearances based on bogus allegations, without due process, and often takes years to complete its investigations. During that time, experienced diplomats cannot serve abroad and are given make-work assignments in Washington.

One senior State Department official, not a member of CFSO, says the practices of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security have turned it into "the State Department's own version of Guantanamo."

In a statement, the CFSO said that, "as part of its efforts to staff critical positions in the American Embassy in Baghdad, the State Department sent a telegram to all American diplomatic and consular posts worldwide, seeking to recruit locally-employed staff to serve in temporary duty assignments in Iraq."

The organization noted that "locally-employed staff are foreign nationals who do not hold security clearances."

At the same time, the group charged, "The State Department has a pool of nearly fifty career Foreign Service Officers 'in limbo', pending resolution of security clearance suspensions," adding, "Like the locally employed staff being solicited, they do not have security clearances. Unlike the locally employed staff, they are all American citizens, and all have held Top Secret or higher clearances in the past. The list includes officers with years or even decades of experience performing or supervising the jobs being offered. Many are more than willing to go to Iraq and indeed, many have repeatedly bid on other Iraq positions and been turned down due to their security clearance status."

According to CFSO, "None of the officers in question is accused of any crime, nor any act against the interests of the United States. Almost all of them are accused of technical violations of a security regulation; the vast majority having to do with a decades-out-of-date cold-war-era contact-reporting policy that even the Department itself has acknowledged is contradictory and obsolete."

CFSO, a group of some 60 diplomats including several ambassadors, has been sharply critical of the State Department's Diplomatic Security apparatus for what it terms is its cavalier approach to what often proves to be career-ending actions because of the protracted periods before a suspension is investigated and resolved. This process, it says, often takes years.

In a May 31 cable, Ambassador Crocker told Secretary that the embassy in Baghdad -- the largest and most expensive U.S. embassy -- lacks enough well-qualified staff members and that its security rules are too restrictive for Foreign Service officers to do their jobs.

"Simply put, we cannot do the nation's most important work if we do not have the Department's best people," Crocker said in the memo.

The Baghdad embassy has a budget of more than $1 billion and a staff that has expanded to more than 1,000 Americans and 4,000 third-country nationals.

The State Department claims that 99 percent of the positions in the embassy and in regional reconstruction teams have been filled. But State officials have privately conceded that in the rush to fill slots -- each person serves only one year -- not enough attention has been paid to the management of the flux of people.

CFSO says the Foreign Service Officers whose security clearances have been suspended could be part of the solution. It points out that none of these FSOs have been accused of "any act related to their job performance or their ability to perform the duties of the jobs being offered" to third country national. It says most "have received numerous awards and commendations for their job performance. Six have received Department-wide awards for excellence and three have received the Department's award for Heroism."

CFSO adds that, "Despite the fact that their State Department security clearances are suspended, several still hold valid clearances, at the Secret level or above, from the Department of Defense or other agencies. To assert that these uncleared American Foreign Service Officers are somehow less trustworthy or less capable than equally uncleared foreign-citizen staff would be absurd."

Most of the FSOs with suspended clearances "are employed in clerical positions well below their level of experience and expertise, some are doing nothing at all, and some are performing support work very similar to the work being offered in Iraq," says the CSFO, adding, "It is hard to understand how xeroxing and scanning documents eight hours a day, five days a week, at a Department of State annex, is a better use of a senior-level Foreign Service Officer's time and salary, than working within his or her field, albeit at a lower level of responsibility, in Embassy Iraq."

CFSO says that once a security clearance is suspended, it often takes years to complete an investigation, and most suspensions ultimately lead to revocation. "For a Foreign Service Officer, losing a security clearance is tantamount to losing a job. Diplomats with suspended clearances are given desk jobs in Washington that require little or none of their expertise and experience. Experienced officers in whom the agency has invested large amounts of training are sidelined and unavailable for use by the agency."

CFSO charges that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) within the State Department is "increasingly misusing a poorly managed and poorly regulated security clearance process to circumvent personnel regulations, to bypass equal employment opportunity and other civil-rights laws, to avoid due process in the established discipline and suitability processes and to punish dissenters and whistleblowers within the agency."

It claims that security clearance investigations are increasingly being carried out in a military-type environment by inexperienced personnel, "thus greatly extending the period during which a diplomat with a suspended clearance is unable to do any meaningful work."

The organization adds that these "acts of diplomatic security misfeasance and incompetence threaten the national security of the United States by reducing the reliability and integrity of State Department security operations...."

In a related development, the Bush Administration is urging Congress to give the State Department the authority to place diplomats with suspended security clearances on "leave without pay" (LWOP) - thus effectively ending most of their careers.
In a June 11 letter to House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Lantos (D-CA), the influential American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) - the diplomats' union - said it strongly opposed the State Department's proposal to permit it to suspend a member of the Foreign Service without pay when there is reasonable cause to believe that the member has committed a crime, even if there is no connection between the alleged crime and the member's position as a Foreign Service employee, or when the member's security clearance has been suspended."

AFSA said "the change would be profoundly unfair to employees."
It charged that the provision "would permit the Department to place on leave without pay an employee who committed an off-duty misdemeanor that has no connection to his or her job as a Foreign Service Officer (for example, driving under the influence of alcohol)."

AFSA said it "strenuously objects" to the provision because it would permit the Department to place an employee on indefinite leave without pay when the employee's security clearance is suspended. The Department's Diplomatic Security (DS) bureau, it says, has absolute discretion to suspend an employee's clearance. "The employee is not entitled to any details or documents regarding the basis for the suspension and has no right of response," AFSA says.

The organization pointed out that the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit recently overturned the Department of Justice's indefinite suspension of a DEA employee based on the suspension of his security clearance, finding "the employee had been denied due process because he did not have a meaningful opportunity to respond to the basis of the proposed LWOP."

AFSA added, "In addition to our concerns about due process, we are also very concerned about the lengthy period of time that an employee could be placed in a leave without pay status. Although the Foreign Affairs Manual states that DS will seek to investigate the underlying allegations and make a decision to either reinstate or move to revoke the clearance within 90 days, in reality, these cases take much longer. In AFSA's experience, most of these cases take two to three years to process, and on occasion four, five, or even more years before a final decision is rendered."

It cited one case where the employee's clearance was suspended in April 2004, saying, "DS has interviewed the employee on a number of occasions but has taken no further action regarding his security clearance. Another employee's clearance was suspended in November 2002. The employee is still waiting for a decision from DS regarding his clearance. Numerous other cases have taken two to three years to resolve."

"The scant information provided to an employee when his or her clearance is suspended and the lengthy time it takes before a final decision is made makes it profoundly unfair to place an employee on LWOP, particularly when one recognizes that many of these employees ultimately have their clearances reinstated because the allegations were unsubstantiated or did not warranted revocation of their clearance. To force employees onto LWOP during this period would amount to a presumption of guilt, without affording the employee even minimal due process. It would impose a severe penalty on employees before the investigation and adjudication of their cases are even completed," AFSA's letter stated.

State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security did not respond to telephone messages left by Truthout.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


By William Fisher

A New York-based human rights advocacy group is trying to halt the imminent transfer to Libya of a Guantanamo Bay detainee, imprisoned for more than five years without charge or trial, because his lawyers claim he will "likely be tortured and possibly killed."

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which represents Abdul Ra'ouf, says that despite "diplomatic assurances" received by the US, "the fact of Abdul Ra'ouf's detention at Guantánamo - and the US government's false and unsubstantiated allegations that he was associated with a group hostile to the Qadhafi regime - put him at grave risk of indefinite detention, torture and death if forcibly returned to Libya."

CCR attorney Shayana Kadidal said, "We cannot allow the US government to facilitate the torture of another innocent man."

In December 2006, and again in February 2007, the US government publicly declared its intention to transfer Ra'ouf to Libya, notwithstanding his fears of severe persecution if he were forcibly returned. Legal action by his CCR lawyers initially delayed the transfer to Libya because of his fear of torture. However, in May 2007, the US Supreme Court refused to intervene in Ra'ouf's case to prevent the transfer.

Since he has been imprisoned in Guantánamo, the US government has claimed that Abdul Ra'ouf is associated with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a group opposed to the Qadhafi regime. But according to the CCR, "The only link to the group the government has stated is that he stayed once in the home of some men who have been accused of being LIFG members. Though he has no connection with this group, the allegation of his association with LIFG virtually guarantees that he will be severely persecuted if forcibly returned to Libya. Suspected political opponents of the Qadhafi regime face brutal repression by Libyan authorities.

Said CCR Executive Director Vince Warren, "Diplomatic assurances from countries known to torture are utterly worthless. They are fig leaves for the US government."

The US State Department has listed Libya among the world's leading human rights violators, most recently in its 2006 Human Rights Report.

But relations between the US and Libya have warmed noticeably since 2003, when Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi renounced a nuclear weapons program his country had been developing over several decades. After protracted negotiations with British and US leaders dating back to the Clinton Administration, Libya agreed to dismantle the program and allow international inspectors to verify the elimination of nuclear materials.

The imminent transfer of Abdul Ra'ouf is the latest sign of the US government campaign to repatriate Guantanamo detainees. In 2005, then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld described all these detainees as "the worst of the worst." Over time, however, more than 500 prisoners have been released. Some have been sent back to their home countries, where they have either been freed or imprisoned. Others, like a few members of the Uighurs - a Chinese Muslim minority outlawed by China - have been sent to third countries such as Albania, where they live in a refugee camp, unable to work, and supported by international aid contributions.

In late 2003, the Pentagon quietly decided that the 15 of 17 detained Chinese Muslims could be released. Five had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, some of them picked up by Pakistani bounty hunters for US payoffs. Ten were considered low-risk detainees.

After requests to more than 100 countries, Albania agreed to accept five of these men. The others continue to languish at Guantanamo, imprisoned and sometimes shackled, with most of their families unaware whether they are even alive.

Human rights groups have charged that the characterization of GITMO detainees as "the worst of the worst" has made it more difficult for the US to find countries willing to accept released prisoners.

Since the detention center was opened in 2002, some 775 detainees have been brought to Guantanamo. Approximately 400 have already been released. Of the approximately 375 detainees remaining, more than 100 have been labeled as ready for release, but the State Department has been unable to find countries prepared to accept them.

On June 19, 2007, the Defense Department (DoD) announced the transfer of two detainees to Tunisia and another two to Yemen.

Since enactment of the Military Commissions Act, hurriedly passed by Congress in late 2006 to comply with a Supreme Court decision demanding a statutory basis for Bush Administration policy decisions, there have been no trials of Guantanamo detainees.

There has been one conviction, based on a guilty plea by Australian detainee David Hicks. Hicks was arrested by US forces in Afghanistan in 2001 and spent five years at Guantanamo Bay, much of it without charge and in solitary confinement. He pleaded guilty before a military commission in March to providing material support for terrorism. He was released in May, to serve the remaining seven months of his seven-year sentence in an Australian jail.

Earlier this year, President Bush announced that the US would arrange to try 14 "high-value" prisoners, who had been transferred to Guantanamo from secret prisons run by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), reportedly in Eastern Europe. It was the first time the Bush Administration acknowledged the existence of the CIA prisons, first reported by the Washington Post. None of these detainees has yet been tried.

Meanwhile, there currently are moves in Congress to repeal or amend the Military Commissions Act, which, among other things, stipulates that Guantanamo detainees may not use the habeas corpus writ to challenge the basis for their detention.

According the CCR, Abdul Ra'ouf was conscripted into the Libyan Army when he was 18 years old. He deserted and fled Libya for fear of persecution, both for leaving the army and because he was an observant Muslim and knew that men were persecuted by the Qadhafi government for wearing long beards and practicing their religion.

During the next ten years, Ra'ouf lived abroad as a refugee to avoid being returned to Libya. In 2000, he married an Afghan woman and settled in the Afghan capital of Kabul before the US bombardment began in October 2001. Ra'ouf fled with his pregnant wife to seek refuge in Pakistan. They now have a daughter who is also an Afghan citizen.

Soon after the family arrived in Pakistan, however, Ra'ouf fell victim to Pakistanis who turned him over to Americans at a time when the US military was offering large sums of money - $5,000 or more - to anyone who handed over alleged terrorists. He was later brought to Guantánamo, where he has been detained for more than five years without charge or trial.

In December 2006, the U.S. returned another Guantánamo detainee to Libya against his will. He was transferred despite his urgent protests to officials at Guantánamo that he would be subjected to torture or worse if forcibly returned. According to one account, this man was reportedly interviewed by Libyan officials in Guantánamo who threatened to torture and perhaps kill him. As with Ra'ouf, the US government alleged that this man was associated with the LIFG, despite his repeated denials. This man is currently imprisoned in Libya, despite earlier public statements that the Libyan government had no interest in imprisoning him.

The State Department's 2006 Human Rights Report states that Libya's human rights record "remained poor."

The report charged that "Citizens did not have the right to change their government. Reported torture, arbitrary arrest, and incommunicado detention remained problems. The government restricted civil liberties and freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association. The government did not fully protect the rights of migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees. Other problems included poor prison conditions; impunity for government officials; lengthy political detention; denial of fair public trial; infringement of privacy rights; restrictions of freedom of religion; corruption and lack of transparency; societal discrimination against women, ethnic minorities, and foreign workers; trafficking in persons; and restriction of labor rights... Security forces reportedly subjected detainees to cruel, inhuman, or degrading conditions and denied adequate medical care, which led to several deaths in custody."

According to advocacy group Human Rights Watch, Libyan "security personnel routinely tortured prisoners during interrogations or as punishment. Government agents reportedly detained and tortured foreign workers, particularly those from sub-Saharan Africa.

"The reported methods of torture and abuse included chaining prisoners to a wall for hours, clubbing, applying electric shock, applying corkscrews to the back, pouring lemon juice in open wounds, breaking fingers and allowing the joints to heal without medical care, suffocating with plastic bags, prolonged deprivation of sleep, food, and water, hanging by the wrists, suspension from a pole inserted between the knees and elbows, cigarette burns, threats of dog attacks, and beatings on the soles of the feet."

The State Department's report also cited "Incommunicado detention" by Libyan authorities as a problem. "The government held many political detainees incommunicado for unlimited periods in unofficial detention centers controlled by members of the revolutionary committees. The government reportedly held hundreds of political detainees, many associated with banned Islamic groups, in prisons throughout the country, but mainly in the Abu Salim prison. Some human rights organizations estimated there were approximately two thousand political detainees, many held for years without trial. Hundreds of other detainees may have been held for periods too brief (three to four months) to permit confirmation by outside observers," the report said.

Friday, June 15, 2007


By William Fisher

As the US struggles to fill critical posts in its diplomatic missions overseas - including its massive new embassy in Baghdad -- the State Department is suspending the security clearances of dozens of experienced Foreign Service Officers based on flimsy allegations or bogus accusations.

This is the charge being made by an organization known as Concerned Foreign Service Officers (CFSO), which charges that security clearances often remain suspended for years, thus preventing the employee from doing the work for which he or she has been trained. CFSO is calling for an overhaul of the Department's diplomatic security management and practices.

And another State Department official says the practices of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security have turned it into "the State Department's own version of Guantanamo."

CFSO says that once a security clearance is suspended, it often takes years to complete an investigation, and most suspensions ultimately lead to revocation. "For a Foreign Service Officer, losing a security clearance is tantamount to losing a job. Diplomats with suspended clearances are given desk jobs in Washington that require little or none of their expertise and experience. Experienced officers in whom the agency has invested large amounts of training are sidelined and unavailable for use by the agency."

CFSO charges that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) within the State Department is "increasingly misusing a poorly managed and poorly regulated security clearance process to circumvent personnel regulations, to bypass equal employment opportunity and other civil-rights laws, to avoid due process in the established discipline and suitability processes and to punish dissenters and whistleblowers within the agency."

It claims that security clearance investigations are increasingly being carried out by inexperienced personnel, thus greatly extending the period during which a diplomat with a suspended clearance is unable to do any meaningful work.

The organization adds that these "acts of diplomatic security misfeasance and incompetence threaten the national security of the United States by reducing the reliability and integrity of State Department security operations...."

Other officials at State corroborate the situation. One of them is David Firestein. During his successful candidacy for a seat on the Board of Governers of the influential American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the professional association of the US Foreign Service, Firestein wrote that the tactics at the DS Bureau are analogous to the those used at the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

He wrote that "... Even in the absence of a single DS allegation of wrongdoing whatsoever, the employee is nevertheless: barred from bidding (at least, in the normal sense); barred from getting an overseas posting...; barred from taking long-term training (which virtually never requires a security clearances to undertake); barred from getting promoted; barred from being considered for certain major awards; and, generally, relegated to an altogether marginal and meager professional existence. And again, this is in the absence of even one allegation of wrongdoing!"

He added that an employee whose security clearances has been suspended has "no rights during this period of professional limbo: no right to know what charge, if any, is being leveled against him; no right to know when such a charge (if there ultimately is one) will be brought against him; no right to know where the 'investigation' stands procedurally; no right to discovery or due process of any kind; no access to the grievance process; and, in many cases, no right even to see the evidence that DS is marshalling against the employee (which is often classified). And, once again, all this, in the absence of even a single allegation - let alone hard proof! - of wrongdoing on the part of the employee."

Firestein asked, "Does all this have a familiar ring to it? He wrote, "If you've followed the news out of a certain base in Cuba, it should. This is the State Department's own version of Guantanamo."

Firestein has also written: "Though we all understand that DS has a legitimate and important role to play in securing our Department, its personnel and the sensitive information those personnel are charged to handle, this bureau's documented propensity to flout Department rules and, in particular, punitively drag out clearance adjudications for many years should trouble all of us."

Firestein joined the Foreign Service in 1992, and served at US embassies in Beijing and Moscow, as well as at State's headquarters in Washington.

Many members of CFSO are victims of this process. CFSO is a group of current and former State Department employees concerned about recent abuses of the security clearance process in the department. The organization was created in 2005 to investigate, document and expose apparent misuse of the security clearance process to circumvent federal labor laws and established personnel practices.

CFSO has slightly more than 60 members, of whom about half have either had their clearances suspended or revoked. Eight of its members are retired, including two former ambassadors. The rest are State Department employees in good standing.

CFSO says it has documented "improper and coercive interview techniques, fraudulent statements in investigative reports, suppression or destruction of evidence, improper seizure of personal property, misapplication of security regulations and numerous other improprieties in DS security clearance cases."

The group charges that there are "numerous cases of security clearance suspension or revocation for minor alleged infractions bearing no relation to the security of the United States. Often the allegations leading to clearance suspension or revocation are decades old, identified or resurrected during lengthy DS fishing expeditions directed at targeted individuals."

The prevailing "get-em" culture of the DS means that "any allegation, no matter how minor, how spurious, how irrational, or however motivated, initiates an investigative process that will terminate only when an actionable derogatory charge can be identified," the group says.

Daniel Hirsch, a member of CFSO's Executive Committee, is an example. A Foreign Service Officer for 21 years, Hirsch requested an assignment in Iraq or Afghanistan in 2002. Previously he had worked in hardship posts in Africa, Central Asia and the Balkans. In 2003, DS began a security clearance investigation into Hirsch's life based on he and his wife having sought marital counseling at their last post in Turkmenistan. That counseling prompted suspicions of spousal abuse, even though his wife has repeatedly denied any such abuse in writing.

Hirsch's security clearance remains suspended while the State Department continues its investigation. Meanwhile, he is ineligible to serve in any overseas post.

Hirsch says he has been kept in the dark about the investigation's findings and possible outcome. "DS maintains that they do not even have to establish any facts in order to revoke a clearance, much less suspend one," he says.
"I'm just waiting while my career is being destroyed."

Hirsch estimates that security clearances have been suspended at the rate of two or three per month during the past five years.

Les Hickman, a Foreign Service Officer since 1978, had his clearance suspended in November 2002, based, he says, on "allegations, nothing factual."

At that time, Hickman was the US consul in Amman, Jordan. The State Department discovered that one of his local Jordanian employees was accepting bribes to rush through the paperwork for visa applications from Iraqis, who required special screening following the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Hickman had issued instructions that all Iraqi cases be referred to him, because his junior officers did not understand the State's new instructions and were making mistakes. But because only he and the local employee had access to those applications, the State Department suspected the consul might be involved in the fraud scheme as well. His clearance was suspended, and he was relieved of his duties.

The investigation found that bribes had been taken only from Jordanians and not Iraqis, and it produced no evidence that Hickman played any part in the scheme. Hickman contended he knew nothing about it, and the Jordanian employee said he had acted alone.

But State then accused Hickman of abusing his power by forbidding anyone else in the consulate to handle the Iraqi applications.

Hickman was last interviewed by DS in June 2004, and says he cannot understand why State allows cases like his to drag on for years when critical diplomatic posts remain vacant.

Bruce Knotts, a 23-year veteran of the Foreign Service, was the deputy chief of mission in Banjul, Gambia. In February 2004, a local security guard accused him of making a sexual pass at him. "That never happened, although I am gay," Knotts says, "but the guard's story was that he refused, and I turned around and left. Nevertheless, they gave me 24 hours to leave the embassy."

Last December, DS recommended that his clearance be revoked. It denied his first appeal, and he retired in March of this year, rather than prolong the appeals process.

In an open letter to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Knotts recalled how the State Department once used the Cold War as an excuse to purge gay and lesbian Foreign Service Officers. He wrote:

"Since the 1980s the State Department made significant strides to promote diversity among its staff. Ironically, under your administration, at a time when the Department is publicly unveiling new initiatives allegedly aimed at further increasing diversity, the Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security has once again begun using an open-ended political war, this time the War on Terror, as a similar cover to once again attack gays, lesbians and others it doesn't like."

One of the "catch-22s" involved in DS investigations is that once a diplomat's security clearance is suspended, he or she may be unable to see the evidence that is being considered by the State Department. A second problem is that investigations are increasingly being carried out by inexperienced personnel.

The State Department says there are up to 30 security clearance suspensions every year from among the approximately 40,000 State Department employees and contractors who hold security clearances at any given time. CFSO claims there have been more than 200 security clearance suspensions over the past five years, many affecting its own members. But it adds that the number of employees with suspensions at any one time is larger than the number suspended each year, because many cases go unresolved for years.

In addition to potential abuse of the clearance system to punish dissenters and whistleblowers, CFSO says it has identified cases involving ethnic, religious, sexual orientation and other biases, use of clearance suspension to avoid due process in disciplinary cases, and serious improprieties in the investigative and adjudication processes.

"These actions, increasingly conducted by newly-hired and minimally-trained security agents, directly impact ongoing activities in every area of State Department operations and are conducted without regard to their impact on operations, resource management, national security and foreign-relations activities," the organization charges.

CFSO says the cases of primary interest to them involve a DS decision to suspend or revoke clearances of employees who have been cleared previously, and may have held a security clearance for years or decades. It contends that there are many cases where, in response to allegations of such actions as whistleblowing, expressing dissenting viewpoints, or committing minor acts of possible misfeasance unrelated to national security, DS suspends clearances in order to conduct long-term investigations -- almost always culminating in a recommendation to revoke the clearance.

Hirsch contends that State's security clearance problems began with a "massive buildup" of DS engineered by Frank Taylor, tapped by then Secretary of State Colin Powell and appointed by President Bush in 2002 as Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security and Director of the Office of Foreign Missions. Taylor, who is now a senior security officer for the General Electric Company, served as a military officer for more than 30 years.

Hirsch says Taylor "brought in a large number of untrained and inexperienced security agents, leading to a situation in which five out of every six agents have been with the Department for less than five years." Hirsch contends that Taylor and his deputy, Don Reid, "together fostered a military security mentality based on a military code of conduct that does not apply to the Foreign Service."

Today the DS is supervised by Richard J. Griffin, who has the rank of Ambassador, and who came to State from the Secret Service. Of the top leadership in DS, there is only one career officer.

The DS Bureau did not return phone calls seeking to arrange for an interview for this article.

According to Hirsch, the adjudication process is still takes far too much time. "We are aware of six cases that have been open more than four years, roughly 20 cases that have been pending more than three years, and another 20 or so currently open cases that are less than three years old. We know of eighteen cases where people have resigned rather than go through the process, and three cases where people have been fired after losing their clearances," he says.

But CFSO maintains, "There is a lot of evidence that the process is being abused as a 'special' personnel tool, to enable the agency to circumvent prohibited personnel practices. We have also noted many improprieties in other areas of the process," the organization says.

It adds, "It is easy to underestimate the pain and suffering this process causes to the subjects of this process. Nobody has been killed. Nobody has lost a limb. Nobody has been falsely imprisoned. On the other hand, people who have worked all their lives in the service of our country have lost their life's savings, have been forced to liquidate their retirement accounts or sell their family homes to pay legal fees; people who have served our country well and faithfully have been falsely branded as untrustworthy and have lost not only their jobs but also the possibility of ever getting any other job with any government agency, or with anyone who checks on the reason why they left their government careers before retirement age."

According to the CFSO, "The vast majority of victims continue their lives dramatically impoverished, and must often restart their lives from scratch, learning new skills and professions after years or decades of building a profession in what had been their chosen field. Lives have been devastated, reputations permanently destroyed, families uprooted, and marriages often destroyed in the process. The process has been described as 'a slow motion friendly-fire incident', but unlike friendly fire, which is always investigated and taken seriously, cases of security clearance abuse are never investigated, and 'national security' or 'the employee's privacy' is inevitably invoked as a means of hiding the truth. Even when criminal actions have been demonstrated in the processing of individual cases, no DS agent has ever been disciplined or held accountable for such actions."

In addition to potential abuse of the clearance system to punish dissenters and whistleblowers, CFSO claims it has identified cases involving ethnic, religious, sexual orientation and other biases, use of clearance suspension to avoid due process in disciplinary cases, and serious improprieties in the investigative and adjudication processes."

The organization says that four out of every six DS agents is new. "The State Department provides them a brief orientation course -- and basic training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco Ga. where they learn generalized professional skills preparing them to 'develop a case, write and execute search warrants, write a criminal complaint, obtain an indictment, arrest a defendant, and testify in a suppression hearing', but does not train them in the specialized knowledge needed to conduct unbiased background investigations in a complex overseas setting," the CFSO says, adding:

"It is as if the State Department were to send out consular officers who had been fully trained to use the consular computer systems and visa machines, but not trained either in the Immigration and Naturalization Act, nor in the culture/economics of the region or country of service). Their background prepares them to conduct focused investigations aimed at criminal cases, not objective, unbiased collection of data for clearance adjudication."

AFSA's Foreign Affairs Council, an influential non-partisan umbrella group of 11 organizations concerned about US diplomatic readiness, concurs. In a report, the Council charged that "Serious due-process problems plague a number of officers whose security clearances have been suspended. It usually takes several years for DS to decide whether to revoke the clearance or not. During these years the officers languish in make-work positions. For reasons related to both managerial efficiency and humane treatment of employees, this security clearance revocation process needs a much higher priority and a much shorter duration."

Truthout asked a senior State Department official about the motivation of DS Bureau personnel. Speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss this subject publicly, he said, "The DS Bureau is the most conservative of all bureaus at State. The Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) envisages that, in normal cases, the maximum duration of security clearance suspensions should be 90 days. But DS consistently flouts the Department's rules and is rarely challenged. It has created its own subculture.

"To those responsible for investigating 'wrongdoing' by suspending security clearances, the basic mentality is that a Foreign Service Officer overseas talking with any foreigner is suspect - even though these contacts are an essential part of their responsibilities. And once a security clearance is suspended, it is simply safer to leave it suspended - often for years.

"The reason is that decision to revoke a security clearance gives the aggrieved employee some real rights for the first time in the process. He or she can question the basis for the suspension, demand to see DS's evidence, confront his or her accuser, if there is one, and begin a formal appeals process. If that process results in a DS decision being reversed, DS is left with egg on its face. So it's a lot safer just to leave the employee in limbo."

He added, "These are the kinds of tactics we would expect to find in a dictatorship or in a police state, not in a service dedicated to introducing transparency into such governments. It is a travesty that this is happening to so many of our dedicated public servants."

Monday, June 11, 2007


By William Fisher

Six prominent human rights groups are charging that US authorities are secretly holding 39 terror suspects. One of the groups, the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, has filed a lawsuit in US federal court demanding the disclosure of information concerning disappeared detainees, including ghost detainees and unregistered prisoners

"What we're asking is where are these 39 people now, and what's happened to them since they 'disappeared'?" said Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch, one of the organizations in the coalition. .

The new report, titled "Off the Record: U.S. Responsibility for Enforced Disappearances in the 'War on Terror' -- reveals the names of "the disappeared" - some for the first time. The organizations said their information was based on interviews with former prisoners and officials in the US, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) declined to comment specifically about the report, but a spokesman said, "We act in strict accord with American law, and... our counterterror initiatives -- which are subject to careful review and oversight -- have been very effective in disrupting plots and saving lives."

The spokesman added, "The United States does not conduct or condone torture."

The report acknowledged that information on the missing detainees was incomplete in some cases.

For example, some detainees had been added to the list after Marwan Jabour, an Islamic militant who claims to have spent two years in CIA custody, recalled being shown photos of them during interrogations, the report said. It added that others were identified only by their first or last names, such as "al-Rubaia," who was added to the list after a fellow inmate reported seeing the name scribbled
onto the wall of his cell.

But coalition spokespersons said information on at least 21 of the detainees had been confirmed by two or more independent sources.

President Bush acknowledged the existence of secret detention centers in September 2006, after The Washington Post newspaper revealed their existence. But the President said that the prisons were then empty, adding that 14 terrorism suspects the CIA had been holding, including the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US, had been transferred to military custody at Guantanamo Bay for trials.

The Post's article, whose authors were awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2007, did not identify the locations of the secret prisons, but it has been widely reported that the so-called "black sites" were in former USSR-client countries in Eastern Europe.

But a spokesperson for the human rights coalition said she wasn't convinced the sites were ever emptied, and claimed a program of secret detentions was ongoing.

She said, "We wanted (the detainees') names in the public eye because of the impression that this is over, this is finished, and they're not doing this anymore.
That's clearly not the case."

Detainees on the list include Hassan Ghul and Ali Abd al-Rahman al-Faqasi
al-Ghamdi, both of whom were named in the 9/11 Commission report as al-Qaida

Another is Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, a jihadist ideologue who has been named as one of the FBI's "Most Wanted Terrorists." US officials have confirmed that Nasar was seized in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta in November 2005, and the activists' report said that he was taken into US custody after his arrest, citing unnamed Pakistani officials. His current location is unknown.

Also missing is Mohammed Omar Abdel-Rahman, the son of the Omar Abdel-Rahman, the "Blind Sheik" behind the first plot against the World Trade Center in New York, the report said.

Most of the 35 other detainees mentioned in the report have been previously
identified, with the exception of four Libyans, who are alleged to be members of the al-Qaida-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.

The report says they were handed to US authorities and have not been heard
from since.

It also highlights aspects of the CIA detention program that it claims the US government has actively tried to conceal, such as the locations where prisoners may have been held, the mistreatment they endured, the countries to which they may have been transferred for proxy detention, and the detention and abuse of spouses and children to gain information.

The other groups involved in preparing the report are the Center for
Constitutional Rights in New York, Amnesty, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University's School of Law, Human Rights Watch, all based in the US, and Reprieve and Cageprisoners, both based in the UK.

The issue of "ghost prisoners" has been a consistent source of criticism of the Bush Administration's detention policies and practices by the human rights and legal communities since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001.

The Administration denied it was holding "ghost prisoners", but during a 2004 press briefing, then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld disclosed for the first time that, in response to a personal request from then CIA director George Tenet, he had instructed the US military to hold a prisoner at Iraq's infamous Abu Ghraib prison without recording his name.

This practice is banned by the terms of the Geneva Conventions and was fiercely criticized at the time by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is supposed to have identification of and access to all detainees.

The CCR lawsuit, filed after the government refused to comply with several Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, seeks documents that provide information about government authorization of secret detention and extraordinary rendition policies and practices, the involvement of private contractors and non-governmental actors, the location of the prisons and identity of the prisoners, the types of interrogation methods used at the sites, and injuries suffered by detainees.

In a related development, the Italian Government opened the trial of 33 suspected US and Italian intelligence agents for allegedly kidnapping an Egyptian cleric.

Twenty-five suspected CIA operatives, a US military officer, Italy's former spy chief, Nicolo Pollari, and six other Italians, are accused of kidnapping Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr in 2003. The case is the first over a practice called extraordinary rendition, in which the US sends suspected terrorists to other countries without trial.

The US Government says it will not extradite the Americans allegedly involved to Italy to stand trial.

Defense lawyers have asked the Milan judge hearing the case to delay proceedings pending a ruling from Italy's constitutional court. Judge Oscar Magi said he will rule on June 18, the trial's next meeting date, whether to proceed with the case or wait for the high court to determine if documents and testimony used as evidence are covered by state secrecy rules.

The defendants are accused by prosecutors of involvement in the abduction of Nasr, also known as Abu Omar. The cleric was flown to Egypt and tortured during questioning, prosecutors say.

Meanwhile, The Bush Administration's attempts to invent a new legal system for holding and trying terrorism suspects suffered another setback, when war crimes charges against two al-Qaeda suspects held at the Guantanamo Bay prison were dismissed by two different military judges.

The judges ruled that the Administration had not legally established that the accused were "unlawful enemy combatants" and thus subject to trial by Guantanamo's military commissions. More than five years after President Bush rejected the Geneva Conventions and the US court-martial system for handling al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners, the first trial of a detainee once again has been put off indefinitely.

The judges' decisions opened the way for Congress to revisit the Military Commission Act, hurriedly passed in 2006 after the Supreme Court ruled that the Administration had no authority to hold prisoners in the absence of a basis in law.

The Administration's latest difficulty stems from the fact that the two men it
was trying to put on trial, Salim Ahmed Hamdan and Omar Khadr, had been judged by Guantanamo's parallel system of Combatant Status Review Tribunals to be "enemy combatants" only, without the designation "unlawful."

Capt. Keith J. Allred, one of the military judges, ruled that Hamdan had
never received "an individualized determination" that he was an unlawful
combatant, as required under Geneva. Without that, detainees are entitled to be
treated as prisoners of war. The judge also found that the standard for "enemy
combatant" used by the status tribunals was broader than that for "unlawful
combatant" as established by Congress for purposes of the military commissions.

Congress is currently considering two new pieces of legislation to mitigate the legal quagmire at Guantanamo. One, already voted out favorably by the Senate Judiciary Committee under the bipartisan sponsorship of Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Patrick Leahy, (D-Vt.), would restore the right of habeas corpus to Guantanamo prisoners, allowing them to appeal their detentions to US federal courts.

The other, which has been attached to the Senate's version of the annual defense authorization bill by Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), would reform the tribunal process at Guantanamo by requiring that detainees be represented by lawyers and have access to the evidence against them. The measure would also curtail the use of evidence obtained by coercion and require that the tribunals
be headed by judges.

Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press" program Sunday, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said he thought Guantanamo should be closed immediately and its remaining approximately 380 prisoners detained and tried either through the courts martial process or through regular civilian courts.

President Bush has also said he would like to see Guantanamo closed, but has thus far taken no action to do so.