- Created on 25 November 2013
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) -- A persistent knock came from inside the heavy, locked cell door.
A young U.S. Army guard strode over and leaned in to hear the detainee through a shatterproof window.
"What do you want?" the guard asked, not unkindly, in one of the many daily moments in which suspected terrorists demand to be dealt with as their lives hang in legal limbo.
During nearly 12 years of legal disputes and political battles, the United States has put off deciding the fate of al-Qaida and Taliban militants who were captured after the Sept. 11 attacks but denied quick or full access to the American justice system.
Now, as Congress considers whether to grant trials and transfers to most detainees, time may be running out on the law that allows the U.S. to hold them.
The 2001 law is known as the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or AUMF. It allowed the U.S. military to invade Afghanistan to pursue, detain and punish extremists linked to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The law has been used to justify attacks on militants in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere.
Will it remain valid if U.S. combat troops withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of 2014 - whether thousands stay as trainers or if the U.S. pulls out entirely? That's an open legal question that, officials and experts say, must be resolved over the next year.
"The jury is still out on when the AUMF might expire," said Army Lt. Col Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman. "Many argue that's not set."
If U.S. troops withdraw, "it certainly increases the pressure, as some administration officials have argued, to decide whether the AUMF should remain in effect as is, or if a new version is necessary," Breasseale said in a statement.
In 2009, on the second day of his presidency, Obama ordered the terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to be closed within one year. Obama long has derided the facility, where critics say detainees have been abused, interrogated and held illegally, as a blow to American values and credibility worldwide.
Opponents in Congress refuse to let the detainees come to the U.S. for trial, citing security risks to Americans. Lawmakers have blocked the transfer and resettlement of most of the remaining detainees to other nations, fearing they will return to terrorist havens upon their release. Nearly 30 percent of Guantanamo detainees who have been released have since resumed the fight.
Today, 164 detainees are held at Guantanamo, down from a peak of about 660 a decade ago. Most were tried, transferred or cleared for release under President George W. Bush. Seventy-eight have left since Obama took office.
The sprawling camp of barbed wire and hardened cell blocks costs U.S. taxpayers about $454 million each year; that comes to about $2.7 million per detainee.
The facility shows no signs of shutting down beyond a temporary budget freeze on the detainees' library, where well-worn copies of the Quran, the "Hunger Games" series and Obama's book, "The Audacity of Hope," are among the 6,000 titles available for reading.
New housing is being built for some of the estimated 5,500 U.S. troops and contractors at the Navy base. More than one-third of them work for the detention camp. Medical staff openly discuss how they will care for aging detainees in coming years.
The Republican-led U.S. House has written legislation that requires the Pentagon to give Congress an annual plan for Guantanamo until the youngest detainee, now in his late 20s, turns 66, meaning the detention camp could remain open for nearly 40 more years.
Early this year, as many as 100 detainees began a hunger strike to protest their uncertain fate. Guantanamo medical officials said last week that 13 detainees were so underweight that they must be force-fed if they refuse to eat, although some voluntarily accept food and nutrition drinks on any given day.
At least some detainees - Guantanamo officials won't say how many - are treated regularly for mental health issues. Others lash out at camp personnel on a near-daily basis, biting and hitting medical staff and throwing feces and other bodily fluids at military guards. Many of those guards are in their 20s and suffering from post-traumatic stress from working 12-hour shifts with openly aggressive inmates.
During a brief observation this past week, several detainees appeared listless as they shuffled under dim lights to prepare for morning Islamic prayers. They looked of normal weight and in regular health, and wore beards and prayer caps. One approached a mirrored one-way window and stood wordlessly for several moments as if he knew people were watching him on the other side of the unbreakable glass. All the detainees are men.
The decision to close Guantanamo's detention camp largely hinges on when the U.S. declares that the global fight against terrorism has come to an end.
Legal experts say the military cannot continue holding detainees if the fighting in a conflict during which they were captured is over. A 2004 Supreme Court ruling in a Guantanamo case warned of an "unraveling" understanding of long-standing laws of war if authorities creep beyond that widely accepted legal boundary.
The AUMF was designed to retaliate against those responsible for the 2001 attacks. But it has been stretched to permit lethal U.S. strikes against al-Qaida's many allied affiliates, including extremists and guerrilla groups that have shown little or no interest in attacking American targets.
The Obama administration has appeared reluctant to scale back those authorities, which lets it conduct drone strikes on suspected terrorists in North Africa and the Mideast.
"Make no mistake, our nation is still threatened by terrorists," Obama said last May in a speech in which he also repeated his demand that Congress allow trials and transfers for most Guantanamo detainees.
As it stands, the legal authority to hold detainees at Guantanamo will continue until either the president or Congress declares the fight over. Federal courts are gearing up to consider cases from Guantanamo detainees who, eyeing the looming end of the war in Afghanistan, will argue the law is no longer valid.
The chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services, Sen. Carl Levin, said it's unlikely that either Congress or the White House will let the 2001 law expire. "As long as there is an al-Qaida that is threatening the U.S., no one is probably going to try that," Levin, D-Mich., told The Associated Press.
Levin wants to allow some detainees to be transferred to other nations or trial in the U.S., and has included that in the 2014 Defense Department legislation that the Senate is considering after failing to approve it last week.
If any troops remain in Afghanistan even as trainers, as expected, then technically the U.S. still would be involved in active hostilities in Afghanistan, and "then at least arguably, the AUMF could still be in effect," Levin said.
For the first time in years, senior administration officials held a closed hearing of a periodic review board this past week to start reconsidering the cases of 46 detainees who earlier were deemed too dangerous to release.
Most are from Yemen, where lawmakers say al-Qaida is too strong to risk releasing a detainee who might be easily re-recruited to jihad. But many never will be tried in a U.S. court because the government is unwilling to reveal its evidence in their cases, probably because it was obtained during harsh interrogations or though other classified methods.
Obama acknowledged in his May speech that it was unclear what will happen to those detainees if he were to close Guantanamo. But he expressed confidence "that this legacy problem can be resolved, consistent with our commitment to the rule of law."
Six months later, administration officials say there's been little progress so far, and U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement to the AP that those detainees are "among some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world. They belong at Guantanamo."
He called Obama's plan to close the detention facility "irresponsible."
Pentagon lawyers have decided that an estimated 15 to 20 detainees can be tried in a military court. The cases of more than a dozen, including Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, are already being prosecuted.
An additional 84 detainees have been cleared for transfer, but are waiting for the U.S. to release them to nations that either will take them or are deemed secure enough by Congress to accept them. More than 50 of them are Yemeni.
William Lietzau, who retired from the Pentagon in August after more than three years as the deputy assistant defense secretary overseeing detainee policy, said the continued detentions puts the U.S. at risk of slipping into a perpetual state of quasi-war that has a dubious legal basis. He said the government needs to decide when it is no longer at war to keep it from relying on legal authorities that should be used only in cases of last resort.
"Guantanamo serves a useful purpose because it reminds us, 'Hey, we're still at war,'" Lietzau said in an interview. "We should not feel comfortable at war. We should seek to end that war as quickly as we possibly can. And criticism over drones and criticism over Guantanamo is what reminds us that war is hell."
- Created on 22 November 2013
Damage is visible in the daylight at a Riga, Latvia, supermarket on Friday, November 22, a day after dozens of people reportedly died in a roof collapse. Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs said authorities suspect building materials stored on the roof caused it to collapse Thursday, November 21.
(CNN) -- The death toll from the collapse of a roof at a supermarket in Latvia's capital, Riga, has climbed to 47, with six of the bodies removed from the rubble as yet unidentified, according to local media.
Latvia's national news agency LETA said a police spokesman had confirmed the latest toll. Police were using surveillance camera recordings to try to pinpoint the likely locations of victims under the rubble, it said.
The supermarket collapse is the Baltic state's deadliest accident since it won independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, LETA reported. Latvia's previous most deadly accident was a nursing home fire that killed 26 people in 2007.
Rescue Service spokeswoman Viktorija Sembele earlier said 35 people had also been injured in Thursday's collapse at the Maxima supermarket, in western Riga.
Three firefighters were among the dead. Latvia's Interior Ministry said their families would receive 50,000 LVL ($95,600) in compensation. The treatment of rescue workers injured in the operation would also be paid for, it said.
Search teams continue to comb the rubble for more bodies, with the number of dead expected to rise, Sembele said.
"The firefighters are still working to find people. They are putting away the constructions and still approximately 600 square meters of this collapsed area should be searched through," she said.
Sembele declined to speculate on the cause of the collapse.
"There are a lot of versions, a lot of stories. The real cause of this tragic accident will be investigated by state police and other authorities once the rescue is finished."
Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs told CNN that authorities think building materials stored on the roof caused it to collapse.
Latvia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said some of the victims of the collapse had not yet been identified.
"Police (are) currently working at the scene to identify the dead; for victim identification, police officers are also cooperating with relatives who gather on the site," a ministry statement said. It asked relatives of anyone missing to call emergency services.
It said a condolence book has been opened in its embassy in Russia, which has received flowers and messages of sympathy.
European Commission President Jose Barroso issued a message of condolence after the collapse.
"I am deeply saddened by the terrible tragedy," he said. "Please convey my expression of deepest sympathy and solidarity to the families of the victims and those who lost their lives in rescuing people as well as to all those affected by this tragic accident."
- Created on 21 November 2013
AP Photo/Stuart Price
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- Central African Republic's government said Thursday that Joseph Kony, an accused war criminal hunted by African troops and U.S. advisers, is believed to be in the country's remote southeast and has been talking with the president. U.S. officials and others expressed doubt the reported talks represent a breakthrough in efforts to bring him to justice.
Kony, who has been indicted on charges of crimes against humanity, has evaded capture for decades and was the subject of viral video seen by more than 100 million people last year produced by the advocacy group Invisible Children. His fighters with the Lord's Resistance Army are known for hacking off the lips and ears of their victims, and turning young girls into sex slaves.
Reports over the years have claimed that the brutal jungle gangster was hiding in Sudan's Darfur region or in a remote corner of volatile Central African Republic, where LRA fighters have killed at least 33 people since January and abducted more than 100 others.
Central African Republic government spokesman Gaston Mackouzangba said Thursday that Kony is now believed to be in the town of Nzako. None of the groups searching for Kony reported any indication that Kony was really there.
"The president said he had spoken by telephone with Joseph Kony who wants to lay down his arms," Mackouzangba told The Associated Press. "The negotiations are ongoing."
The government also said it had sent medicine to Kony at his request. The African Union envoy in charge of pursuing the LRA said Wednesday that many reports indicate Kony is seriously ill.
The State Department said Thursday that U.S. authorities are aware that CAR officials have been in contact "for several months" with a small LRA group "that has expressed interest in surrendering." The U.S. said it's clear the LRA is facing significant pressure from African military forces hunting for LRA fighters and Kony.
"At this time, we have little reason to believe that Joseph Kony is part of this group," the State Department said, adding that Kony and his senior commanders have used "any and every pretext to rest, regroup, and rearm, ultimately returning to kidnapping, killing, displacing and otherwise abusing civilian populations."
The Resolve, a U.S. aid group that carries out anti-LRA work, said the report of talks with Kony is based on a series of engagements between an LRA group near Nzako and local authorities. A few mid-level LRA leaders say they are interested in settling peacefully in the area, said spokesman Michael Poffenberger.
"They have referred to involvement from 'the big boss' but there has been no evidence of actual involvement from Kony in this process. On the contrary, there is some indication that the group may be acting independent of his direction," said Poffenberger, whose group helps run the LRA Crisis Tracker, a website that charts LRA attacks.
The spokesman for Uganda's military also said Thursday that he's pessimistic that the reported contact with Kony or his fighters will bear fruit. Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda said Uganda supports in principle any initiative by Central African Republic to engage in talks with Kony, but he noted that it's the third time there have been reports of such efforts.
Uganda has about 2,500 troops working to find Kony in CAR and the surrounding region, Ankunda said. The U.S. also has about 100 special forces stationed across central Africa who are helping advise in the hunt for Kony. The LRA leader was the subject of viral video seen by more than 100 million people last year produced by the advocacy group Invisible Children.
Uganda's military is the principal player in the multi-country hunt for Kony, who kidnaps men, women and children, forcing some to become fighters and others to become sex slaves. The LRA, which originated in Uganda in the 1980s as a popular tribal uprising against the government, has waged one of Africa's longest and most brutal rebellions.
The U.S. military's Africa Command says the LRA has "murdered, raped and kidnapped tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children" and that more than 380,000 people across three African countries have been displaced while fleeing the violence. The State Department is offering a $5 million reward - up to $15 million total - for help in the arrest of Kony and two of his lieutenants.
Kony and two top commanders are wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
The State Department said that nearly 100 men, women and children have successfully left the LRA since 2012. U.S. military advisers work with the African Union Regional Task Force and local communities to encourage and facilitate defections from the LRA.
"We will continue to welcome those who are serious about putting down their arms and surrendering," the State Department said.
- Created on 18 November 2013
In this Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008 file photo former president Nelson Mandela, left, and his ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, right, during the unveiling of a statue of Mandela at the Drakenstein Prison near Franschhoek, South Africa. (AP Photo / Schalk van Zuydam-File)
JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- Most of Nelson Mandela's handwriting is neat, but it harbors a few mysteries. Archivists sometimes struggle to decipher words in the vast body of documents that Mandela penned, and he often jotted an acronym that nobody, not even the former South African president in later years, has been able to explain.
Now, some of the words that Mandela wrote, which help define the man who led the fight against white rule and became president after apartheid, are on display at the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which on Monday unveiled a public facility.
Mandela, now 95 and critically ill, wrote prolifically during his storied career.
In jail, Mandela's associates wrote some things in tiny script, reducing the amount of paper used so that it could be smuggled out of prison more easily. In his autobiography, "Long Walk to Freedom," Mandela notes his copy of the book manuscript was confiscated by authorities, but applauds fellow prisoners with "unique calligraphic skills" who helped get the original manuscript out of prison.
Mandela was a lawyer early in his career, and some letters to family from prison balance sadness with hope and optimism, with carefully chosen words.
"He doesn't shoot from the hip," said Razia Saleh, a senior archivist at the foundation.
Mandela, also known by his clan name Madiba, was released in 1990 after 27 years in apartheid prisons, and many of the notes he wrote since then include the initials KLM. Nobody at the foundation can figure out its meaning.
"Madiba hasn't been able to tell us what it means," Saleh said. "So that's a mystery. Maybe somebody can solve it at some point."
The former president's orderly handwriting stems from his education in Christian mission schools, though it's sometimes hard for archivists to make out letters such as "s" and "h" in Mandela missives.
"We've transcribed his desk calendars, and sometimes we battle to make out words," Saleh said.
The display at the non-profit Nelson Mandela Foundation is open by appointment and includes a small piece of stone from the hut where Mandela was born in the rural village of Mvezo in Eastern Cape province. The hut was demolished a few years ago to make way for new construction.
"There isn't much that survived from his early childhood. There's no photograph. We don't have a birth certificate," said Saleh. The stone, she added, is "one of the few things that's tangible, that links us to Madiba's early life."
The opening of the public facility coincides with the 20th anniversary of the approval of an interim constitution and an electoral bill that set the stage for South Africa's first all-race elections in 1994.
Mandela now stays in a big house in a Johannesburg neighborhood near the center named after him, attended by doctors. President Jacob Zuma visited him on Monday, and the president's office said Mandela remains in stable but critical condition.
The Sunday Independent, a South African newspaper, quoted Mandela's former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, as saying he is unable to speak because of tubes that keep his lungs clear of fluid. Mandela has been in intensive medical care at his home since Sept. 1, when he was discharged after nearly three months in a hospital for a recurring lung infection.