Friday, January 28, 2005

The Ghost Detainees

The AFP reports on the existance of CIA "ghost detainees," high profile detainees who the Intelligence Agency believes it can interrogate in full secrecy for more information. The number of these detainees is unknown, although some are held at Bagram air base in Afghanistan, on the remote Diego Garcia island in the Indian Ocean, and a restricted zone at Guantanamo Bay. Rights groups are clamoring for more information about these men, who they believe many be subjected to torture.

"Unless we can get access to information about who these people are and where they are being held, they will remain completely vulnerable to abuse and even torture," said Rachel Meeropol, a Center for Constitutional Rights lawyer.

The CCR delivered an official request to the US Government in December, based upon a US freedom of information law, seeking the identities of the CIA prisoners, which also sought where they were being held and under what conditions.[...]

However, she said the CCR's information request was a first step, and that it may well be followed up by a lawsuit.[...]

The rights' advocate also believes, however, that information requests by groups like the CCR may only create greater secrecy around the CIA's holding of off-the-books prisoners.

"I fear that their solution is to move towards greater secrecy," she said.

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Sunday, January 23, 2005

Nuremberg: relevant to Abu Ghraib?

In the LA Times, Human Rights attorney Scott Horton argues that the same principles which led to the conviction of high-ranking Nazis, specifically for abuses of Soviet prisoners of war, apply to the abuses committed in Abu Ghraib. (Read it at Z-Mag.) He is of course, skating on thin ice for comparing American and Nazi abuses, but he is attempting to make the link between the policies which allow for "contemplation" of abuses and the abuses themselves.

At Nuremberg, U.S. prosecutors held German officials accountable for the consequences of their policy decisions without offering proof that these decisions were implemented with the knowledge of the policymakers. The existence of the policies and evidence that the conduct contemplated in them occurred was taken as proof enough.

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Friday, January 21, 2005

An "interrogation literature review"

The Nation's Lisa Hajjar compiled a comprehensive review of the published material on Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo detention policy and practice. She tells the story of some of the most interesting, and disturbing, of US detentions, drawing from works written by lawyers, US military and activists.

Several new books present a wealth of detail about interrogation in Afghanistan and Guantanamo, including firsthand descriptions of protracted hooding, deprivation of sleep and toilet facilities, forced nakedness and recurrent cavity searches, position abuse such as chaining and tying prisoners to chairs or hooks in the floor, and manipulation of lighting, sound, temperature, food and medicine. The Interrogators: Inside the Secret War Against al-Qaeda, by Sergeant First Class Chris Mackey (a pseudonym), written with Los Angeles Times reporter Greg Miller, is an account of interrogation at Kandahar and Bagram during the first year of the GWOT.

Iraq detention facilities "near capacity"

With the rise in insurgent activity preceding the election and the attack on Fallujah in November, the number of detainees has reached a high in Iraq, according to the Seattle Times. The question raised by this article seems to be, how will the Coalition deal with detentions if insurgent activity continues at the same level after the election? What are the implications for detainees and US military police if prisons begin to push capacity limits?

Major U.S.-run detention facilities in Iraq are nearing capacity, with the number of suspected insurgents in custody yesterday at the highest level since March, according to detention officials.

The U.S. military has about 7,900 so-called security detainees [...]

Military officials said the surge in detainees reflects the expansion of the insurgency campaign aimed at disrupting Iraq's first democratic elections in nearly half a century.


Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Higher-ranking officers may face prosecution

The New York Times reports that after the testimony submitted in Spec. Graner's defense on charges of abuse at Abu Ghraib, in which he pointed the finger at officers higher up the chain of command, there may be prosecutions of higher ranking officers. The highest ranking officer to face prosecution for the abuses in Abu Ghraib was Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick, who plead guilty to charges against him.

But the scandal, which exploded last spring, has led to several Pentagon investigations that have found what one called "personal responsibility at higher levels," not only for failure to supervise and enforce discipline, but also in some cases for condoning and encouraging mistreatment of detainees in cell blocks and during interrogations.

And at Specialist Graner's trial, prosecutors did not deny sworn testimony that military intelligence soldiers, civilian interrogators and some officers asked soldiers to carry out questionable treatment, like striking detainees and having female soldiers point and laugh as male detainees showered.

A lawyer for one of the officers, who did not want to be named before his client is charged, said prosecution seemed more likely now. "Maybe six weeks ago we thought that the worst that was going to happen was a slap on the wrist, and he was not going to be charged," the lawyer said. "Things seem to be moving to the forefront."

Monday, January 17, 2005

Eighty-one "Taliban" detainees released

The US has released 81 detainees from custody in Afghanistan, before the Eid feast. The men were held in Khost, in Kandahar and at Bagram Air Base.

Two buses brought the 81 Afghan prisoners from the main U.S. base at Bagram to the Supreme Court in the capital, Kabul, where the chief justice warned them to stay out of trouble and say little about their detention.

"Don't sabotage the security or the government, and God will be pleased with you," Fazl Hadi Shinwari told the men, seated in a hall at the court before being allowed to complete their journey home.


Shinwari said Sunday's release was part of that program and added that Afghan officials were negotiating the releases of about 400 people in U.S. custody in Afghanistan and others in Guantanamo.

"The government doesn't want one prisoner to be left in jail," he said. "They will be released."


Saturday, January 15, 2005

A Moral Majority?

A USA Today poll shows that a majority of Americans believe forceful and threatening interrogation techniques are "wrong." Americans believe the following methods to be "wrong":

  • "Forcing prisoners to remain naked and chained in uncomfortable positions in cold rooms for several hours" (79%)
  • "Having female interrogators make physical contact with Muslim men during religious observances that prohibit such contact" (85%)
  • "Threatening to transfer prisoners to a country known for using torture" (62%)
  • "Threatening prisoners with dogs" (69%)
  • "Strapping prisoners on boards and forcing their heads underwater until they think they are drowning" (82%)

Americans were more evenly divided on the morality of using extended sleep deprivation. USA Today has further analysis.

The saga of a UK detainee

The Independent reports the long journey of US detainee from life in Taliban-occupied Afghanistan, then as a refugee to Pakistan where he was kidnapped and shipped to Bagram Airbase and later to Guantánamo. Moazzam Begg had lived in Manchester for years before taking his wife and child to Afghanistan to teach boys and girls under the Taliban regime. He was forced to leave due to US bombing in late 2001, and was snatched from his dwelling in Pakistan to begin 1000 days of detention. He was released this week.

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Graner convicted; Abu Ghraib closure?

The big news this week is that Spec. Graner, who undeniably practiced sadistic abuses against Iraqi prisoners, some of whom were common criminals and not objects of "interrogation," was convicted of 17 of 25 charges of abuse of prisoners. That makes him the fifth to be held responsible for abuses in Iraq. The other four indictments ended with guilty pleas.

He was the first to attempt to contest the charges against him in court. The prosecution painted him as a sadistic bully who tortured for "sport." In his last comments to the press Spec. Graner lashed out, claiming he made complaints to superiors about the conditions of detention and that the civilian contractors taught the military police how to abuse the prisoners. He now is awaiting sentencing, the maximum sentence is 15 years.

In other news, overshadowed by Spec. Graner's trial, was the indication by the US Military that plans are in the works to shut down Abu Ghraib prison and move the Coalition's major detention center to a remote prison near the Kuwati border.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Abu Ghraib detainees testify against Reservist

The trial of Army Specialist Spec. Charles Graner for abuses committed against detainees in Abu Ghraib is one of the leading stories in the US media today. Here is an article from the other side of the Atlantic, the Financial Times. The Bush Administration claims he was the ringleader of a "rogue" group of military police. Spec. Graner and others assign blame up the chain of command, and claim that they were ordered to mistreat detainees.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

US frees over 200 Iraqi prisoners

The freeing of over 200 Iraqi prisoners received lots of press this week. Seven thousand four hundred remain in detention.

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Thursday, January 06, 2005

Tabloid 'interviews' infamous Abu Ghraib detainee

The UK tabloid The Mirror claims to have interviewed the hooded man in the infamous Abu Ghraib photo. Haj Ali claims he was the one photographed standing atop a crate in a black tunic, with his arms extended, attached to electric charges. It is worth noting that this is the same paper that earlier this year published fake 'abuse' photos featuring British soliders.

The Mirror quotes Vanity Fair magazine, which includes a story on Haj Ali.

In the story Ali speaks on the use of hoods by the American soldiers, a technique not even used during Saddam's times. In the Mirror, Ali says, "The idea of bagging someone on the head is completely associated with the US occupation."

At the time it was believed that Ali was being tormented with sleep deprivation, fearing he would be electrocuted if he fell off the box.

But now for the first time he has told US magazine Vanity Fair: "They'd give me electric shocks." Whenever he collapsed or fainted, guards would kick him or beat him with sticks yelling: "Get up! Get up!"

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Fewer Detentions Promised in Afghanistan

AP reports that the US military is touting a new policy to detain fewer suspects who are assumed to be Taliban. The hunt is still on for the top 20 "insurgent leaders." Fewer suspects are to be sent to Guantanamo, and the US military claims many will be released in an amnesty program this year.

...following a review of the military's policy on detentions last summer, the soldiers were taking as few prisoners as possible as they try to win stronger support from the local population.

''We are always adapting to the changes in the environment and our commanders, our soldiers, are also trying to be more sensitive to the Afghan culture," Cheek said. ''I've told our commanders, for example, to minimize the number of Afghan nationals or others that they detain."