Saturday, February 26, 2005

US Military says detention procedures improved

The US Military claimed this week that it has learned from investigations into abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a statement to the press, the Pentagon indirectly accepted some responsibility for abuses.

The big news is (1) a new 55-hour training package for Military Police, to be delivered in the US and in Iraq to currently serving forces, which will emphasize "ethics, leadership, the law of warfare, the Geneva Conventions and values." (The military seems to have an allergy to the phrase "human rights.") (2) the prohibition of the use of dogs inside detention facilities and (3) the banning of the practice of holding "ghost detainees."

Even though it is implied that these reforms result from the abuse scandal of 2004, the Army concludes by saying that these plans were made by 2003. Hmmmm.

Allegations also surfaced that agents from other government agencies, such as the CIA, had free access to prisoners in Abu Ghraib and sometimes told MPs there to keep prisoners who were never officially in the system. These so- called "ghost prisoners" were then allegedly subjected to abuse.

Thomas Gandy, a senior military intelligence official who spoke with Ryder at the media roundtable, explained that policies in place to address such situations were not actively enforced or trained among U.S. soldiers. That is happening now, he said.

Gandy said there will be no more ghost detainees; every prisoner is now assigned an internment serial number for tracking purposes, and other government agents -- commonly called OGA by servicemembers working in detention facilities -- will follow DoD rules and regulations on detainee treatment as long as they're in DoD facilities.

Soldiers charged with abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib have claimed they were following orders from military intelligence specialists to "soften up" detainees for interrogation.

"This idea of 'softening up' has never been part of our doctrine, never been part of our training," Gandy said.

Ryder added that new doctrine clarifies the roles of military police and intelligence agents within prisons and lays out more clearly the relationship between the two to prevent such problems in the future. "The military police are responsible for custody and control and the safe and secure environment in detention facilities," he said. "Military police are not involved in interrogations."

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Soldiers convicted in the UK's "Abu Ghraib"

Three British soldiers were imprisoned after court martials this week for their involvement in abuses occuring at "Camp Breadbasket" in 2003. The "British Abu Ghraib" occurred when British military were attemping to secure a humanitarian warehouse from looters. Those accused of assault and placing a bound man in a forklift. But the Guardian reports much more serious allegations have come forward from the camp, and were captured on film. Allegations of forced simulation of oral sex were not prosecuted. Neither were allegations of sadistic beatings, including of a man who claims to have been a worker in the camp. Lawyers of the "abused" are saying that the three in prison are guilty of the least serious crimes, and have been scapegoated.

The defendants in the court martial held in Osnabruck claimed that they had been "scapegoated" and that senior officers were mistreating Iraqis in the camp. Statements - in draft form - from Mr Shiner's clients corroborate claims that the abuse was more widespread and that women soldiers were involved. They give a different picture to what happened in May 2003 than was put before the court.

The board of seven officers and Judge Advocate Hunter were told how Iraqi looters who had been stealing from Breadbasket were rounded up and punished in an operation dubbed Ali Baba.

But one man, Ra'id Attiyah Ali, said he was not a looter and in fact worked in the camp and had an identification card to prove it. He claims he was beaten on the nose and tied to a pole for an hour and a half.

"I saw the soldiers kicking and beating Iraqis, I saw the guy who was held in a net. I saw five Iraqis in their underwear holding milk cartons on their head, I saw a soldier urinating on them. They were about eight soldiers.

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Saturday, February 19, 2005

Papers reveal Bagram abuses cover-up

The Guardian has the most detailed coverage of the recent paper-release by the military on the prisoner-abuse scandal. More details about mock-executions, and other inhumane tactics are contained in the most recent documents, indicating abuses in both Bagram and Kandahar.

New evidence has emerged that US forces in Afghanistan engaged in widespread Abu Ghraib-style abuse, taking "trophy photographs" of detainees and carrying out rape and sexual humiliation.

Documents obtained by the Guardian contain evidence that such abuses took place in the main detention centre at Bagram, near the capital Kabul, as well as at a smaller US installation near the southern city of Kandahar.

The documents also indicate that US soldiers covered up abuse in Afghanistan and in Iraq - even after the Abu Ghraib scandal last year.

A thousand pages of evidence from US army investigations released to the American Civil Liberties Union after a long legal battle, and made available to the Guardian, show that an Iraqi detained at Tikrit in September 2003 was forced to withdraw his report of abuse after soldiers told him he would be held indefinitely.

Meanwhile, photographs taken in southern Afghanistan showing US soldiers from the 22nd Infantry Battalion posing in mock executions of blindfolded and bound detainees, were purposely destroyed after the Abu Ghraib scandal to avoid "another public outrage", the documents show.

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Friday, February 18, 2005

Iraq ghost detainee tortured to death

The AP reports that the prisoner seen dead, and in a bag of ice in the infamous Abu Ghraib photos was tortured to death. He most likely died of suffocation due to being hanged with his wrists tied behind him above his head. The article reports that troops claimed they thought he was "faking" dead.

Al-Jamadi was one of the CIA's ''ghost'' detainees at Abu Ghraib prisoners being held secretly by the agency.

His death in November 2003 became public with the release of photos of Abu Ghraib guards giving a thumbs-up over his bruised and puffy-faced corpse, which had been packed in ice. One of those guards was Pvt. Charles Graner, who last month received 10 years in a military prison for abusing detainees.

Al-Jamadi died in a prison shower room during about a half-hour of questioning, before interrogators could extract any information, according to the documents, which consist of statements from Army prison guards to investigators with the military and the CIA's Inspector General's office.

One Army guard, Sgt. Jeffery Frost, said the prisoner's arms were stretched behind him in a way he had never before seen. Frost told investigators he was surprised al-Jamadi's arms ''didn't pop out of their sockets,'' according to a summary of his interview.

Frost and other guards had been summoned to reposition al-Jamadi, who an interrogator said was not cooperating. As the guards released the shackles and lowered al-Jamadi, blood gushed from his mouth ''as if a faucet had been turned on,'' according to the interview summary.

The military pathologist who ruled the case a homicide found several broken ribs and concluded al-Jamadi died from pressure to the chest and difficulty breathing.

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Saturday, February 12, 2005

CIA interrogator to blame Bush for Afghanistan abuse

The New York Times is reporting on the trial of CIA contractor-interrogator for the physical abuse that led to the death of Afghan Abdul Wali in custody in 2003. Ex-special forces commando David Passaro was employed by a contractor of the CIA when prosecutors allege he beat and kicked Wali, causing his death. Passaro can be prosecuted for crimes occuring in US Facilities abroad under the Patriot Act. Passaro's lawyers say they will invoke the "public authority defense" saying that the defendent believed he was acting based on the words of President Bush and other officials calling for "tough action to prevent terrorist attacks."

I. Michael Greenberger, a former Justice Department counterterrorism official who now teaches at the University of Maryland law school, said Mr. Passaro's claim to have been acting under governmental authority was unlikely to result in the charges' dismissal before trial. But it may provide some leverage to Mr. Passaro if he tries to negotiate a plea agreement, he said.

"He's saying to the government, 'If you put me on trial, I'll drag in a lot of your questionable past statements,' " Mr. Greenberger said. "It could make the trial very embarrassing for the government."

While some military police officers charged with abusing detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq have tried a similar tactic, which so far has proved unsuccessful, their cases are being handled in courts-martial. Mr. Passaro will face a civilian jury, which may find his arguments more appealing, Mr. Greenberger said.

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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

"Rendition" AKA Outsourcing Torture

The full story of "rendition" or the tactic used by the US government to detain "suspected terrorists" either on US or foreign soil and hand them over to notoriously human-rights-abusing and torturing governments has long been documented. But the fact is, very few people are aware this happens. And it does. Read the story of Syrian-born Canadian immigrant below, from the New Yorker.

Arar, a thirty-four-year-old graduate of McGill University whose family emigrated to Canada when he was a teen-ager, was arrested on September 26, 2002, at John F. Kennedy Airport. He was changing planes; he had been on vacation with his family in Tunisia, and was returning to Canada. Arar was detained because his name had been placed on the United States Watch List of terrorist suspects. He was held for the next thirteen days, as American officials questioned him about possible links to another suspected terrorist. Arar said that he barely knew the suspect, although he had worked with the man's brother. Arar, who was not formally charged, was placed in handcuffs and leg irons by plainclothes officials and transferred to an executive jet. The plane flew to Washington, continued to Portland, Maine, stopped in Rome, Italy, then landed in Amman, Jordan.

During the flight, Arar said, he heard the pilots and crew identify themselves in radio communications as members of "the Special Removal Unit." The Americans, he learned, planned to take him next to Syria. Having been told by his parents about the barbaric practices of the police in Syria, Arar begged crew members not to send him there, arguing that he would surely be tortured. His captors did not respond to his request; instead, they invited him to watch a spy thriller that was aired on board.

Ten hours after landing in Jordan, Arar said, he was driven to Syria, where interrogators, after a day of threats, "just began beating on me." They whipped his hands repeatedly with two-inch-thick electrical cables, and kept him in a windowless underground cell that he likened to a grave. "Not even animals could withstand it," he said. Although he initially tried to assert his innocence, he eventually confessed to anything his tormentors wanted him to say. "You just give up," he said. "You become like an animal."

A year later, in October, 2003, Arar was released without charges, after the Canadian government took up his cause.

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In 2003, no Dr for 7,000 at Abu Ghraib

Time Magazine has released the story of the most widespread abuse at Abu Ghraib: the lack of adequate medical care for the over 7,000 prisoners living there in 2003.

In most cases, U.S. frontline troops in Iraq have received top-quality medical care, producing the lowest death rate of any military conflict in history. But the care at Abu Ghraib has often been at the other end of the scale of humane treatment, at least until recently. Although the prison was at times crowded with as many as 7,000 detainees, no U.S. doctor was in residence for most of 2003. Military officials say a few Iraqi doctors saw to minor illnesses but not major traumas. In a statement obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, an Army medic based at Abu Ghraib spoke of examining from 800 to 900 detainees daily as they were admitted. If he worked a 12-hour day, that gave him less than a minute for each exam. Ken Davis, an MP who served at Abu Ghraib in late 2003, told TIME that he once escorted a prisoner who had broken his foot the day before and had still not received treatment. "He was in terrible pain," Davis recalled. "There was no doctor and really nothing we could do."

The medical understaffing and under-stocking of Abu Ghraib were felt most acutely after the prison came under shelling by insurgents. A doctor who served there recalled an attack last April when a mortar landed on an outdoor pen holding prisoners, killing at least 16 outright and wounding more than 60. Former prison personnel described how those attacks produced pandemonium, with panicked prisoners seeking treatment from what were at times very few, poorly equipped medical workers. "When somebody died, we just took out their chest tube and inserted it into another, living person," said National Guard Captain Kelly Parrson, a physician's assistant at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 and 2004 who experienced three such attacks and was seriously injured by a mortar. "There was no other choice because we did not have enough."

[...] On occasion, said Parrson, internists and he and other nonphysicians carried out amputations and other procedures usually performed by surgeons. "I took off an ankle and a lower leg," he recalls. "There was no one else, and if it was death or amputation, you just had to do it."


Saturday, February 05, 2005

UN investigation into detention in Afghanistan

Cherif Bassiouni, the UN-appointed Independent Expert on Human Rights in Afghanistan, made comments about the "unusual detention practices" of Coalition forces in Afghanistan, a day before the end of his one-week mission in the country. His findings will be reported in the UN Human Rights Commission report for the March session. (Note that the US has severely critized the UNHRC for its acceptance of Sudan as a temporary member.)

"There is not (a) legal basis for coalition forces to hold people as prisoners," Bassiouni said.

"If they're held as prisoners of war, then they have to observe the Geneva convention. If they're held as common prisoners, then they have to conform with afghani law and constitution. They're (foreign forces are) not doing it," he said.

On a previous visit to Afghanistan in August 2004, the expert expressed concerns about the legality of detention centres run by the US military and called for them to be opened to independent inspectors. [...]

Bassiouni said it was a "matter of great conern" that an independent expert had been denied access to Bagram camp, 50 kilometres north of Kabul.

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Marine General shows contempt for Afghani people

While this story does not directly have to do with detention, it speaks volumes about the failure of the US military to understand the occupied peoples and their history, and a blatant lack of respect for their basic rights. A high-profile Lieutenant General of the Marines, James T Mattis, made some extremely insulting remarks at a speech on February 2, at a forum in San Diego about strategies for the "war on terror." Mattis is apparently a widely-revered tough-guy in the Marines, and has commanded forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon has "counseled him" on his remarks, not yet issuing a statement condemning them.

According to an audio recording of General Mattis's remarks obtained by The Associated Press, he said: "Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight. You know, it's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right upfront with you, I like brawling."

He added, "You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil."

General Mattis continued: "You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."

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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Iraq: deadly force used on rioters in US Prison

Reuters reports that the US military is being chided for excessive use of force in the quelling of a riot in Camp Bucca, the detention facility near the Kuwaiti border. Earlier reports stated that Camp Bucca would be expanded to allow for the closing of Abu Ghraib. The riot and the killings beg the question of whether the US can manage the detention of so many suspected "insurgents" and common criminals in one place.

The riot broke out at Camp Bucca, near the Kuwaiti border, where over 5,000 suspected insurgents are housed at the U.S. military's main prison camp in Iraq.

Prisoners began throwing rocks and fashioning weapons after a routine search of one of the camp's 10 compounds, the U.S. military said. Violence then spread to three other compounds.

Troops shot dead four men in a riot which involved hundreds of detainees, the U.S. military said. Six people were injured, five of them by guards. Three of the wounded were taken to a military hospital where they were in a stable condition.

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