David Remes on a Human Rights Agenda for the Obama Second Term

By Benjamin Wittes
Friday, November 9, 2012, 9:40 PM

David Remes, who represents several Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay, writes in response to my comments this morning on Eric Lewis's New York Times column:

Ben chides Eric Lewis for setting goals Ben thinks "ain't gonna happen." Ben says "it would be interesting to see a more realistic effort at a human rights agenda for Obama’s second term." If realism is to be the measure, one of our challenges is tomake our goals realistic. Perhaps those goals can be realized only incrementally, but the answer is not to reduce our goals. I also challenge Ben to tell us what he thinks a realistic human rights agenda would be. Instead of cursing the darkness, my friend should light the way.

Here are two goals President Obama can realize tomorrow. First: The President has made public the identities of the 56 detainees who are approved for transfer unconditionally. Limiting disclosure to those detainees is unwarranted. He should also disclose the identities of the separate group of 30 Yemeni detainees who are also approved for transfer if certain external conditions are met. The President should also disclose the identities of the 46 other detainees he is holding indefinitely.

Second: In early January 2010, President Obama suspended transfers of Yemeni detainees to Yemen. The President should end his moratorium. Rather than freeze all transfers, he should consider transfers case-by-case. Yemenis are two-thirds of the detainees at Guantanamo who are approved for transfer. Unless the President is willing to send Yemenis home, relaxing the certification requirements Congress imposed on the President in section 1028 of NDAA FY 2012 will have limited practical effect.

David's point that I should try to identify a realistic human rights agenda is well taken---and I will give some thought to that over the next few days.

I certainly have no objection to his David's suggestion---identifying the 30 Yemenis approved for conditional transfer. Nor, actually, do I object to his second suggestion---lifting the transfer moratorium to Yemen---though I'm not sure how much good it would do given the unlikelihood of the Pentagon's being able to meet Congress's certification requirements for any transfer. To the extent that David wants Obama to act to ensure his ability to transfer detainees, I certainly agree with him on that.