Head of state and government: Barack H. Obama
Death penalty: retentionist
Population: 317.6 million
Life expectancy: 79.6 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 7/8 per 1,000
Forty-six people were executed during the year, and reports of excessive use of force and cruel prison conditions continued. Scores of men remained in indefinite military detention in Guantánamo as President Obama's one-year deadline for closure of the facility there came and went. Military commission proceedings were conducted in a handful of cases, and the only Guantánamo detainee so far transferred to the US mainland for prosecution in a federal court was tried and convicted. Hundreds of people remained held in US military custody in the US detention facility on the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. The US authorities blocked efforts to secure accountability and remedy for crimes under international law committed against detainees previously subjected to the USA's secret detention and rendition programme.
In November, the USA's human rights record was assessed under the UN Universal Periodic Review. The US delegation stated that the USA would conduct a "considered, interagency examination of all 228 recommendations" that came out of the process and would provide a formal response in March 2011.
Detentions at Guantánamo
On 22 January, President Obama's one-year deadline for closure of the Guantánamo detention facility passed with 198 detainees still held in the base, about half of them Yemeni nationals. By the end of the year, there were still 174 men held there, including three who had been convicted under a military commission system which failed to meet international fair trial standards.
On 5 January, the White House announced that the decision had been taken to suspend transfers of Yemeni detainees from Guantánamo to Yemen, following an attempted bombing of a commercial airliner over Detroit two weeks earlier in which the suspect had alleged links with militants in Yemen. The suspension remained in force throughout the year.
On 22 January, the Guantánamo Review Task Force issued its final report of an interagency review - ordered as part of President Obama's executive order of 22 January 2009 - of the cases of 240 Guantánamo detainees. The Task Force concluded that 48 detainees could neither be prosecuted nor released by the USA. It also revealed that 36 detainees had been referred for possible prosecution, either in a federal court or by military commission, and approved the transfer or release of 126 detainees "subject to appropriate security measures". The 126 included 29 Yemeni nationals. A further 30 Yemenis were approved for "conditional" detention, a designation which meant they could not be released from Guantánamo unless the "security situation improves in Yemen"; or "an appropriate rehabilitation program becomes available"; or "an appropriate third-country resettlement option becomes available".
Trials of Guantánamo detainees
In April, the Pentagon released the rules governing military commission proceedings. The new manual confirmed that the US administration - like its predecessor - reserved the right to continue to detain individuals indefinitely even if they were acquitted by military commission.
Two Guantánamo detainees were convicted by military commission during the year, bringing to five the total number of people convicted by military commission since 2001, three of whom had pleaded guilty. In July, Sudanese national Ibrahim al-Qosi pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges and was sentenced the following month to 14 years' imprisonment. In October, Canadian national Omar Khadr, who was 15 years old at the time he was taken into US military custody in Afghanistan in July 2002, pleaded guilty to five "war crimes" charges. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison by a military commission "jury", but under a plea trial agreement this was limited to eight years. The Canadian and US authorities agreed to support his transfer to Canada after he serves one year in US custody.