Obama commutes sentences of 330 prisoners, mostly drug offenders, on last day


The commutations by outgoing President Obama, the most done in a single day, brought the total number of sentences reduced to 1,715, more than any other U.S. president in history.
Obama also scurried to releases 4 more terror detainees from Guantanamo Bay, flying 3 to the United Arab Emirates and 1 to Saudi Arabia.

By Ynet & Reuters


President Barack Obama commuted the prison sentences of 330 federal inmates, particularly drug offenders, on Thursday, making his quest to reduce what he viewed as overly harsh punishments one of his final acts in office. He also called German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with whom he has had a warm relationship over their years. The two agreed on the importance of maintaining close ties between the two nations.

Obama on the phone – White House photo

Obama leaves the White House on Friday, when Republican President-elect Donald Trump will succeed him.The commutations were the most done in a single day, the White House said, and brought the total number of sentences reduced by Obama to 1,715.

“The vast majority of these men and women are serving unduly long sentences for drug crimes,” White House counsel Neil Eggleston said in a statement.

The move means Obama has granted more commutations than any other U.S. president in history and, Eggleston said, surpassed the number granted by the past 13 presidents combined.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said the Office of the Pardon Attorney had processed more than 16,000 petitions since a clemency initiative was launched in April 2014.

“By restoring proportionality to unnecessarily long drug sentences, this Administration has made a lasting impact on our criminal justice system,” she said.

Stymied by Congress in efforts to pass comprehensive criminal justice reform, Obama focused on reducing the sentences of drug offenders who would have served less time if convicted under current laws.

Eggleston said he hoped the people whose sentences were commuted would set an example for others.

“As the President has written to you, your example will influence whether someone in similar circumstances will get his or her own second chance in the future,” he said.


Obama says history to judge those who blocked closing Guantanamo

The United States sent four detainees from the Guantanamo Bay military prison to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia on Thursday, marking President Barack Obama’s final prisoner transfers from a facility whose continued existence he said would be judged harshly by history.

The entrance to Camp 1 in Guantanamo Bay’s Camp Delta. – Photo: Wikimedia Commons/US Dept of Defense

With Republican Donald Trump to be sworn in as president on Friday and vowing to keep the prison open, Democrat Obama whittled down the inmate population there to only 41, far short of fulfilling his promise to close the jail dating back to his 2008 presidential campaign.

In a parting shot on an issue seen tarnishing his legacy, Obama said US lawmakers who have thwarted his efforts to shut the prison at the US naval base in Cuba “have abdicated their responsibility to the American people.”

“History will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism and those of us who fail to bring it to a responsible end,” he said in a letter to the Republican-controlled Congress. “Once again, I encourage the Congress to close the facility.”

Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said: “We are extremely concerned that President-elect Trump will make good on his threat to subject more people to indefinite detention without charge or trial.”

The offshore prison was opened by Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush to hold terrorism suspects rounded up overseas after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Under Bush, it came to symbolize harsh detention practices that opened the United States to accusations of torture.

The latest transfers included three detainees sent to the UAE, including the last Russian held at the prison, and an Afghan and a Yemeni, U.S. officials said. A Saudi prisoner was sent home. It marked the completion of Obama’s final flurry of releases.

Trump said during the election campaign that he not only wants to keep the prison open but “load it up with some bad dudes.”

Obama pressed ahead, however, moving out most of the prisoners on a list of low-level detainees deemed by parole-style inter-agency reviews to be safe for transfer. There were 242 prisoners when he took office.

His efforts were blocked by mostly Republican opposition in Congress, which barred him from moving prisoners to the US mainland. Pentagon foot-dragging has also been blamed.

Obama lamented that his opponents had “placed politics above the ongoing costs to taxpayers, our relationships with our allies and the threat posed to US national security.”

Trump said this month that all those held at Guantanamo should stay. “These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield,” he tweeted.

However, the Obama administration has insisted that intelligence shows only a very small percentage of the prisoners it has released have returned to militant activities.

Among the three sent to the UAE was Ravil Mingazov, reported to be an ethnic Tatar and Russian army veteran captured in Pakistan in 2002. Also sent to UAE were Haji Wali Muhammed and Yassim Qasim Mohammed Ismail Qasim, while Jabran al Qahtani was flown to Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon said.

Of the prisoners left at Guantanamo, 10 face charges in military commissions, including people accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks. About two dozen have not been charged but have been deemed too dangerous to release.

A handful of inmates previously cleared for transfer will remain after the administration was unable to make arrangements in time for relocation. Lawyers for two of those detainees, an Algerian and a Moroccan, mounted last-ditch court challenges seeking their repatriation but the Justice Department objected.

As a final symbolic act, Obama’s administration made public three sets of documents belonging to Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, which were confiscated during the US raid that ended in his death in 2011. Bin Laden’s death was one of Obama’s most public achievements.


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