Saturday, April 30, 2005

Ex-UN Afghanistan investigator speaks out

Cherif Bassiouni, Depaul Law Professor and ex-UN Independent investigator of human rights in Afghanistan, spoke with the New York Times on Friday about what he alleges was his removal from his post. Bassiouni reveals he was informed by email from Geneva that his "mandate was over" only two days after he submitted a 21-page report, which contained specific information about US and US-sponsored human rights violations.

He said he was rebuffed repeatedly in his efforts to visit prisons at the United States bases in Bagram and Kandahar by American officials who told him he was exceeding his mandate.

He discovered the use of 14 fire bases for detainees, he said, when he spotted an American military order warning commanders against keeping captives at the spots for more than two weeks.

Despite the lack of cooperation, he said, he had no trouble learning of rights violations. "Arbitrary arrest and detention are common knowledge in Afghanistan because the coalition forces are known to go to villages and towns and break down doors and arrest people and take them whenever they want," he said. [...]

Asked what he thought would happen to prisons in Afghanistan now, he said, "My guess is that torture will go down at the U.S. facilities, but what will go up is torture at the Afghan facilities. It's the usual shell game. The U.S. feels the heat, it tries to discontinue the practice itself, but it finds special forces in the Afghan Army to do its bidding."


Friday, April 29, 2005

Abu Ghraib whistleblower still lives in hiding

A little over a year ago, Sargeant Joseph Darby, then Spec. Darby, secretly delivered the CD full of photos of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison to Army Criminal investigators. After CBS News showed the photos to the world, the biggest scandal in the US Armed Forces since Mai Lai broke.

Darby's family in Pennsylvania began to receive death threats almost immediately after his name was released as the heroic whistleblower. Friends and neighbors turned on them, claims his wife in August 2004 interviews. The Army placed Darby and his wife in protective custody after the windows of their house were smashed.

One year later, they are still in hiding. NPR produced a 7-minute report putting the last year into perspective.

Darby will be honored with the JFK "Profile in Courage" Award this year. Quoting Caroline Kennedy:

"Individuals who are willing to take personal risk to further the national interest and uphold the values of American democracy should be recognized and encouraged in all parts of government. Our nation is indebted to U.S. Army Specialist Joseph Darby for standing up for the rule of law that we embrace as a nation."

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US allegedly forces out UN Afghanistan Investigator

Egyptian-born Depaul Law Professor Cherif Bassiouni was the UN Commission on Human Right's investigator in Afghanistan, making repeated trips there over the past year. He had pressed unsuccessfully for access to US detention facilities throughout the country.

The US and UN claim the decision to end his mandate, made by the 53-member Commission in Geneva, was due to an overall "improvement" in the human rights situation. Yet the Commission, due to its farsical inaction on the issue of Darfur (and its inclusion of serial human rights abusers like Sudan), has recently lost all credibility, becoming a political football. The US seems very clear on its stance towards media and independent access to remote areas of Afghanistan: not allowed.

But in an interview with the BBC, Prof Bassiouni alleged there was an intensive lobbying campaign by US officials in Geneva.

"It has nothing to do with the work in Afghanistan or the [allegedly improved] situation in Afghanistan," he said.

"This is a very narrow, limited issue that is of concern to the US Defence Department and the hawks in the administration who simply do not want anybody to look into the way people are being detained in Afghanistan by US forces."


Friday, April 08, 2005

Deadly knee jab: "standard procedure" at Bagram

In this Knight Ridder story, the military reservist charged with one count of involuntary manslaughter and one count of maiming in the deaths of two Afghan detainees at Bagram, claims that the knee jabs deemed by autopsies to have caused the deaths in question were Standard Operating Procedure. The procedure of knee-jabbing, included in the training of the Defendant's platoon are technically called "peroneal strikes" by an officer by Defendant Pfc. Brand's platoon. The knee jabs combined with a pre-existing heart condition, and the chaining of the detainees' arms above his head, caused his death.

Galligan [the defense attorney] said Brand used the training he'd been given when dealing with the detainees and that the Army command is at least as culpable as his client. Brand "followed the SOP (standard operating procedure) that was in place," Galligan said.

Sgt. 1st Class Gerald Hawkins, who commanded Brand's platoon, said the unit had received two days of training in "peroneal strikes," or knee jabs, during a course at Fort Dix, N.J., before they were deployed.

Spokesmen at Fort Dix said they couldn't confirm what was covered in the course.

According to Army pathologists, Habibullah and Dilawar died after repeated blows to their legs. Both also were shackled to the ceiling for prolonged periods, sometimes with their hands chained at the level of their heads or higher.

Medical examiner Lt. Col. Kathleen Ingwersen said the forced immobility might have contributed to the blood clot that caused the 30-year-old Habibullah's heart to stop. According to an Army investigation, Habibullah was so badly hurt by repeated knee strikes that "even if he survived, both legs would have had to be amputated."

Lt. Col. Elizabeth Rouse, the pathologist who examined Dilawar, 35, testified via telephone that the severe beating might have aggravated a pre-existing heart condition. She said the tissue in Dilawar's legs had been so damaged by repeated blows that "it was essentially crumbling and falling apart."

Brand, who works as a private security guard in civilian life, attended the hearing, in uniform, but didn't speak.


Brand said he'd been trained to use "minimum force" when a detainee attacked or assaulted a guard. But when he got to Bagram, he said, "the standard changed and we did things differently."

Brand, who was demoted from specialist to private earlier this year, said an outgoing platoon of soldiers at Bagram trained him to use the knee strikes "as a matter of common practice."

Brand said he initially was uncomfortable with the move, which momentarily crushes a nerve in the leg and incapacitates a person with pain. But he said his commanders "saw this stuff and made no move to correct it, so I took it that the practice was tolerated or allowed."


"It was morally wrong," Brand said. "But it was an SOP."

A few hours later, Habibullah, the brother of a former Taliban commander, lost consciousness. He died shortly after midnight on Dec. 4, 2002.

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Friday, April 01, 2005

Time for truth about detention in Afghanistan

Lt Col Asad Khan, featured in "Taliban Country", a film which alleges abusive detention techniques by US Marines in remote Uruzgan province, in central Afghanistan, has retired from the US Military.

The Pakistani-American marine Lt Col was mysteriously relieved of command in September 2004, only a month after the airing of the documentary on Australian television. Footage shows him working closely with warlord Jan Mohammed, who jokes about sexually and physically abusing his subjects, and whose militia colleagues joke about opium production in the region. In "Taliban Country" villagers in Uruzgan allege independently that Khan's battalion humiliated and abused them while in detention.

Lt Col Khan was reassigned to administrative duties shortly after the return of his battalion from Afghanistan, where he was known by troops as "Ghengis Khan." His "relief of command" was not open to appeal, nor were the reasons for his controversial reassignment made public.

In early 2005 he reported to a Marine blog that he has taken a position in a security consulting firm in the Middle East.

The question remains: did the US Marines blame Lt Col Khan for abuses which were ordered from higher up the chain of command?

Two military inquiries resulted from "Taliban Country," the results of which have not been made public. Additionally the long awaited US Military "Jacoby Report" into detention in Afghanistan, set to be released in June 2004, has still not been released. The public deserves to know what our military is doing in remote regions in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, older reports claim that at least 500 people are being held in detention by the US Military in Afghanistan, but current information is not available. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "New York-based Human Rights First says secrecy about the prisoners is also increasing, citing the refusal of military officials to discuss the number of prisoners in Afghanistan since January."

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Iraq torture authorization from the top?

A memo obtained by the ACLU, written in September 2003, calls into question the veracity of Gen Sanchez's sworn denial of authorization of controversial interrogation techniques. The word "perjury" has been mentioned in the media, as the memo signed by Gen Sanchez clearly contradicts his statements before the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 19, 2004. The ACLU wrote to Attorney General Gonzales recommending an independent inquiry into the perjury allegation.

From the Army Times:
"Lt. Gen. Sanchez's testimony, given under oath before the Senate Armed Services committee, is utterly inconsistent with the written record, and deserves serious investigation," said Anthony Romero, ACLU Executive Director.

The Washington Post first disclosed the existence of the memo, but the Pentagon initially withheld it from public release on national security grounds. The ACLU obtained a physical copy under an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

In the memo, dated Sept. 14, 2003, Sanchez laid out specific interrogation techniques, modeled on those used against detainees at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Cuba, for use by coalition forces in Iraq. These include sleep "management," the inducement of fear at two levels of severity, loud music and sensory agitation, and the use of canine units to "exploit Arab fear of dogs."

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