Obama in Germany

President Obama is in Berlin meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. The leaders are conferring as Europe struggles to respond to the rise of far-right groups exploiting the refugee crisis and economic instability. These groups’ “clash of civilizations” narrative inhibits policymaking, sows fear and societal divisions, and creates permissive conditions for violent hate crimes to occur. Far-right supporters have carried out the vast majority of attacks on refugee shelters and antisemitic incidents in 2015. This year, Germany serves as chair of the Organization for Security and Co‑operation in Europe (OSCE), and has made combating antisemitism and promoting tolerance a priority. Human Rights First is urging the Obama Administration to support the strengthening of the OSCE as a vital democratic transatlantic security organization, and to bolster Germany’s efforts to lead the fight against antisemitism and xenophobic violence with the urgency the problems demand. In advance of the trip Human Rights First called on President Obama to promote the protection of refugees and to offer support to the German government in its ongoing efforts to address the root causes of growing antisemitism and extremism in Europe..

Targeted Killing

The Obama Administration is expected to soon release its official policy document governing counterterrorism strikes–including by drone. This is a significant step in the effort to provide the American public with more transparency about the closely guarded program. The Presidential Policy Guidance (PPG) applies to all strikes outside areas of active hostilities and the administration recently said that it currently considers areas of active hostilities to be Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the nearby border region of Pakistan. The administration is also expected to release the number of civilians and combatants it says it has killed in these strikes since President Obama took office in 2009 and began ramping up the targeted killing program. President Obama signed the PPG in May 2013, and it has remained secret ever since. Human Rights First has called on the administration to provide meaningful transparency about its targeted killing program to enable more informed public debate about the lawfulness and effectiveness of lethal strikes, which is particularly important as other nations continue to acquire armed drones and President Obama prepares to transfer authority to his successor.


This Thursday the House Homeland Security Oversight and Management Efficiency Subcommittee will hold a hearing entitled, “Transferring Guantanamo Bay Detainees to the Homeland: Implications for States and Local Communities.” The hearing comes as the National Defense Authorization Act is being marked up by the House Armed Services Committee, whose chairman is seeking to include onerous restrictions that would make it difficult to close the detention facility. Meanwhile, the Pentagon continues to push Congress to support the administration’s plan to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The administration’s plan includes the accelerated transfer of detainees at Guantanamo who have been cleared for transfer by defense, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies. It also mandates expedited review, pursuant to administrative Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearings, of the remaining detainees who are not facing trial to determine if they can be cleared for transfer. The remaining detainees who will not be transferred in the near term—a number not to exceed 60—will be relocated to one of thirteen stateside detention facilities, pending Congressional approval. This will result in annual operating savings of up to $85 million compared to the cost of detention operations at Guantanamo. There are currently 80 detainees held at Guantanamo, which costs approximately $445 million per year to operate, about $5.5 million per detainee. The administration’s plan is in line with recommendations made in Human Rights First’s blueprint, “How to Close Guantanamo.”


In advance of planned protests today, Egyptian authorities spent the weekend arresting dozens of pro-democracy activists in Alexandria, Upper Egypt, and in cafes in Cairo known to be popular among prominent Egyptian protesters. The arrests came after hundreds of Egyptians took to the streets to decry President Sisi’s decision to give Saudi Arabia two uninhibited islands in the Red Sea. Today’s protests against Sisi’s government were met with tear gas and mobilized pro-government protestors. Since coming to power in a military coup and deposing Egypt’s first democratically elected civilian president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, Sisi has presided over the most severe period of repression and denial of human rights in Egypt’s modern history. Thousands of protesters and government opponents have been killed, tens of thousands jailed without due process of law.


Quote of the Week

“I’d suggest that peace with justice begins with the example we set here at home, for we know from our own histories that intolerance breeds injustice.  Whether it’s based on race, or religion, gender or sexual orientation, we are stronger when all our people–no matter who they are or what they look like–are granted opportunity, and when our wives and our daughters have the same opportunities as our husbands and our sons.

“When we respect the faiths practiced in our churches and synagogues, our mosques and our temples, we’re more secure. When we welcome the immigrant with his talents or her dreams, we are renewed. When we stand up for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and treat their love and their rights equally under the law, we defend our own liberty as well.  We are more free when all people can pursue their own happiness. And as long as walls exist in our hearts to separate us from those who don’t look like us, or think like us, or worship as we do, then we’re going to have to work harder, together, to bring those walls of division down.”

President Obama, April 25 speech in Berlin.

We’re Reading

Fox News  published an opinion piece by Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley who called on President Obama to speak out against human rights abuses committed by members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Reuters reports on President Obama’s last official visit to the region and the GCC’s focus on strategic security issues. Prior to the GCC meeting the president met separately with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, an exchange that included human rights concerns.

The Washington Post editorialized about the United States’ failures on Syrian refugee resettlement. In September of last year the administration pledged to resettle ten thousand refugees in fiscal year 2016, now, with six months to go, only 1,285 have been resettled.


We’re Watching


The New Yorker features a video of a Syrian family finding a new home on a small Swedish island in the Baltic Sea. The family struggled to find a shared space in which they could live together until a Lutheran priest opened up his home to them.

Around Town

Wednesday, April 27, 2016
The Henry L. Stimson Center will hold a conference entitled “Constructions of Terrorism: Confronting the Challenges to Global Security Created by Daesh/Islamic State,” April 27-28. 9:00, Stimson Center, 1211 Connecticut Ave NW, Eighth Floor, Washington, DC.

Thursday, April 28, 2016
The Heritage Foundation will hold a discussion entitled “Drone Regulation: For the Birds? Seeking a Better Approach to US Drone Policy.” The discussion will feature Maryland attorney John Taylor; Corey Owens, head of North America public policy at DJI Technology; Marc Scribner, research fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute; Michael Sargent, research associate at Heritage; and Jason Snead, policy analyst at Heritage. 12:00 PM, Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Ave NE, Allison Auditorium, Washington, DC.

On the Hill

Tuesday, April 26, 2016
The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) will hold an event to release “The Federal Budget & Appropriations: Democracy & Human Rights in the Middle East.” The event will feature Hisham Melham, columnist at Al Arabiya; Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution; Stephen McInerney, executive director of POMED; and Cole Bockenfeld, deputy director for policy at POMED. 1:30 PM, 2226 Rayburn House Office Building.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016
The House Armed Services Committee’s markup of HR 4909, the “National Defense Authorization Act for FY2017,” will take place at 10:00 AM in 2118 Rayburn House Office Building.

Thursday, April 28, 2016
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing entitled “Criminal Aliens Released by the Department of Homeland Security.” 9:30 AM, 2154 Rayburn House Office building.

The House Homeland Security Oversight and Management Efficiency Subcommittee will hold a hearing entitled “Transferring Guantanamo Bay Detainees to the Homeland: Implications for States and Local Communities.” The hearing will feature testimony by Gov. Nikki Haley, R-SC; Michael Bouchard, sheriff of Oakland County, Mich., on behalf of the Major County Sheriff’s Association; and Todd Thompson, county attorney in the Leavenworth County Attorney’s Office. 10:00 AM, 311 Cannon House Office Building.