Obama Administration Releases Presidential Report on Counterterrorism Framework

Washington, D.C. Human Rights First today said that the Obama Administration’s release of a presidential report and memorandum—and related policy documents—on the legal and policy frameworks for counterterrorism operations, demonstrates a commitment to the rule of law and to upholding human rights norms.

“We welcome today’s report that helps provide a comprehensive picture of the Obama Administration’s legal and policy approach to countering terrorism.  The administration’s approach has laudably aimed to reflect a commitment to the rule of law, human rights norms, and American ideals.  We hope President-elect Trump  will see the wisdom in continuing key aspects of this administration’s counterterrorism policy that enhance our security by upholding human rights,” said Human Rights First’s Raha Wala.

Rear Admiral John Hutson (ret.), the former Judge Advocate General of the United States Navy, said: “Key aspects of the administration’s policy—such as ending torture, closing Guantanamo, and trying terrorism suspects in civilian courts—reflect a policy consensus developed since 9/11 that has strong support from within the national security community. Any effort or even suggestion that the United States should revive torture or expand Guantanamo will only play into the hands of groups like ISIS, and will be met by legal challenges and opposition from national security leaders and allies around the world whose cooperation the United States needs in the fight against terror.”

The Obama Administration’s report describes the legal and policy frameworks and rules that govern use of force, capture, detention, interrogation, transfer, and prosecution in the counterterrorism context; it comes as the administration is briefing President-elect Trump’s transition team on the government’s counterterrorism efforts. The president also issued a memorandum that directs the National Security Council staff to update the report on an annual basis and make it available to the public. The report describes key counterterrorism policy efforts that reflect an emerging consensus in favor of approaches that comply with human rights norms and the rule of law.

“President George W. Bush first tried to close Guantanamo, and rightly so, as its continued operation undermines our national security,” said Rear Admiral Hutson. “Torture and cruel treatment are categorically prohibited under domestic and international law, and are opposed by our nation’s most respected military leaders and professional interrogators.  When we use force abroad, its critically important that we do everything we can to minimize civilian casualties and comply with international law.”

While President George W. Bush opened the detention facilities at Guantanamo, he eventually determined it should be closed because it had become, in his words, “a propaganda tool for our enemies and a distraction for our allies.” President Bush transferred over 500 detainees from Guantanamo and President Obama has continued forward with this effort. The population was reduced to 59 detainees with the transfer, announced yesterday, of a Yemeni man, Shawki Awad Balzuhair, who had been held at Guantanamo for more than 14 years without charge or trial. Earlier this year, dozens of our nation’s most respected retired generals and admirals, including General Michael Lehnert, the first commander of the Guantanamo detention facility after 9/11, wrote to Congress urging that it work with President Obama to close Guantanamo.

The use of torture and cruel treatment, such as waterboarding and other so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” is unlawful under domestic and international law, as General Joseph Dunford, current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently recognized. Last year Congress reaffirmed the prohibitions on torture and cruel treatment by limiting all national security interrogations to approaches in the Army Field Manual with a strong, bipartisan vote of 78-21 that included support from the chairs and ranking members of the Senate intelligence, armed services, foreign affairs, homeland security, and judiciary committees. It has been reported that General James Mattis, President-elect Trump’s nominee to be the next secretary of defense, advised the president-elect against the use of waterboarding.

Earlier this year the president issued an executive order to bolster government efforts to minimize civilian harm when it uses force abroad, including with drone strikes. The executive order supplements Presidential Policy Guidance that imposes limits on the use of force outside of areas of active hostilities, including by requiring that there be near certainty of zero civilian casualties before using force. These executive actions have support from, and are integrated within, the various national security agencies and departments, including the Department of Defense, Department of State, and Central Intelligence Agency.


Published on December 5, 2016


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