Sunday, May 29, 2005

Navy officer acquitted in Iraq detainee death

US Navy SEAL (elite forces) officer Lt. Andrew Ledford was found not guilty this week by a Naval jury on the charge of assault in the homicide death of an Iraqi detainee in 2003. Nine other SEALs were tried in the case and administratively punished. Only Ledford, their superior, went to a court-martial, at the request of the highest-ranking SEAL admiral.

The case was special because it shed some light on the CIA's methods and relations with US Armed Forces in Iraq. Most of the hearings were public, but there were repeated secret sessions, including one which raised the question of whether the CIA had ordered the SEALs to ignore the Geneva Conventions. From the LA Times story:

In Iraq, Ledford's platoon conducted 40 to 50 "kill or capture" missions to arrest suspected terrorists for interrogation in late 2003. Jamadi was suspected of involvement in the bombing of the Red Cross facility in Baghdad that killed 12 people.

No one has been charged in Jamadi's death, but the CIA's equivalent of an internal affairs unit has referred the case to the Department of Justice.

After Jamadi's death, his body was packed in ice and whisked out of the prison. Pictures were taken of Army personnel leaning toward the body and grinning; when the pictures were published in the media, it added to the controversy about U.S. handling of Iraqi prisoners.

Ledford's SEALs were also accused of taking unauthorized pictures of prisoners. In one, a SEAL was pointing a loaded gun at a hooded prisoner; in another, a prisoner was wearing a pumpkin mask while a Navy officer crouched over him.

Ledford was pictured smiling and holding up a can of Red Bull energy drink with a prisoner in the background.

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Prisoner-abuse civil suits in US Courts

The US Judicial Panel for Multidistrict Ligitation met this week to decide what jurisdiction to send the civil cases for the abuses committed in Abu Ghraib, brought against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and three US army commanders by four Iraqi and four Afghani victims. Represented by Amnesty International and Human Rights First, the victims were never charged with a crime, and eventually released. They were, according to the suit, "subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment including severe and repeated beatings, cutting with knives, sexual humiliation and assault." See the Providence Journal story (subscription only).

Yesterday, the panel heard oral arguments about eight matters, including a debate about where to transfer lawsuits that stem, in part, from the well-documented prisoner mistreatment in the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.


The groups filed the lawsuits in the home states of four defendants. The suit against Rumsfeld was filed in Illinois. A suit was filed in Texas against Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who was the highest-ranking U.S. military official in Iraq. A suit was filed in South Carolina against Col. Janis Karpinski, the former commander of military police in Iraq, who was relieved of her command over the Abu Ghraib scandal. And a suit was filed in Connecticut against Army Col. Thomas M. Pappas, who oversaw interrogations as commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, in Iraq.

The lawsuits face the obstacle of establishing that Rumsfeld and the other defendants are not protected by official immunity, and that the former prisoners have grounds to sue in U.S. courts.

Yesterday, plaintiffs' lawyer Bill Lann Lee urged the panel to transfer the cases to the Southern District of New York. That district, he noted, is now dealing with a Freedom of Information Act battle regarding information about detainees.

But Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey S. Bucholtz urged the panel to send the cases to the Eastern District of Virginia. That district, he noted, includes the Pentagon.

Some panel members asked why the cases shouldn't be handled in Washington, D.C.

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Friday, May 27, 2005

Understanding Afghanistan

If there is one thing that the recent anti-American, anti-international riots in Aghanistan showed the world, it is the dangerous extent to which the "western" media misunderstands and misrepresents the place. Little attention is given to the fact that the Karzai government only rules over a small area of the country. In the rest of the country, US-supported warlords, and fragile tribal alliances maintain "law and order." Moreover, it seems Iran and Pakistan are effectively and actively manipulating politics in various regions of the country, and Karzai's government seems powerless to prevent this interference.

Aid worker Sarah Chayes, in her fascinating op-ed piece in the New York Times, attempts to explain the complexity of Iranian and Pakistani involvement in Afghanistan, but most especially the dangers of US collaboration with corrupt officials and Afghan warlords, who routinely abuse human rights, often while working in concert with US military.

What most Afghans have complained to me most consistently about is the inexplicable staying power of predatory, corrupt and abusive officials, on both the provincial and national level. Having waited patiently through the emergency loya jirga, or national assembly, in June 2002, the approval of a new constitution at a second loya jirga in December 2003, and the presidential election last fall, Afghans are at a loss as to why the Karzai administration and its American backers repeatedly put their confidence in unqualified and often criminal officials. By blindly allying themselves with some of the most destructive elements of Afghan society (over-armed, under-disciplined thugs), American forces paint themselves in the ugly colors of their Afghan proxies. The extortions, murders, unwarranted searches and unfair monopolies on lucrative work contracts are seen as integral components of American policy.

Somehow, in the three-and-a-half years that the United States has been here, it has not figured out how to avoid this trap. This incapacity for institutional learning is perhaps the most surprising failing on the part of the Army that I have witnessed. Each new contingent starts from scratch; knowledge of local tribal dynamics, geography, customs and personalities painstakingly acquired by the previous unit is never properly transferred. And so the same mistakes are made again and again.


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

US citizens tortured by Pakistan with US consent?

While this story falls outside of the realm of the Iraq/Afghanistan abuse, since the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan seems extremely porous, it seems relevant to the ongoing story in Afghanistan. Zain and Kashan Afzal, two brothers of Pakistani origin with US citizenship, were allegedly kidnapped in Karachi by Pakistani intelligence services in August 2004. The motive for the kidnapping was that the men were perceived to have militant islamic links. They were released, with no charges, 8 months later after being routinely tortured and never having seen a judge.

Although they refuse to talk to the press about their ordeal, Human Rights Watch (HRW) alleges that they were repeatedly tortured during their captivity, and that the FBI knew about their plight, and turned a blind eye. According to HRW, the two men claim that they were visited during their detention by agents of the US government, who instead of helping to free them from torture, threatened to send them to Guantanamo Bay.

[According to Zain Afzal:] They said they had come from the "agencies" and that this was a "raid." They tied my hands, entered the house and handcuffed my brother. They also broke things in the house. They asked for all our U.S identity papers--passports, social security number, driver's licenses and so on. For this purpose, they untied our hands so we could fetch them. They also took a licensed gun from our home. We kept asking what was going on but we got no answer. When my mother asked they said we would be back in a day or so.

Then they blindfolded us and put us in what looked like a police vehicle. All this time they had been in radio contact with others outside or elsewhere. We drove for about an hour and a half and they took us to some location. When we were inside the building and our blindfolds were removed. We were in a large office room and there were about five Pakistani military-type men there. They said nothing about whom they were other than that they belonged to "sensitive" agencies and started beatings us with whips and rods. During this time they kept asking us what our connections with Jihadis were. I told them that this was a repeat of what had happened in May and I had told their people everything and they had let me go. They kept saying "You have links with Al-Qaeda ... tell us about that" ... and I kept repeating my life history. Though we answered everything, they still kept beating us.

We were taken to small "cell-type" rooms. They kept telling us we would be released soon. In the rooms, they kept us shackled but removed the handcuffs. My brother and I were in separate cells. I did not see my brother for three months after this... We never went outdoors. We could not tell the difference between night and day. The cells had no windows and no fans. It was like a grave -- totally closed.

During this time, they took our clothes and gave us what looked like prison uniforms. I would be beaten regularly during this time and when I was ill with fever, they refused to give me any medicine. There were other prisoners there but I could not talk to them, but I heard people call for water. Occasionally, they would say "you will go to Cuba" or "we will hand you over to the FBI." Often I would be beaten for asking for water or food or medicine."

The brothers told Human Rights Watch that approximately three months into their detention their captors returned their clothes and told them that they would be going home soon. According to Zain Afzal:

"They blindfolded me (and other people) and bundled us in a car. I realized my brother was also in the car as I recognized his voice. In the car, they made normal conversation with us, "You must be happy to be going home," and so on. About 30 minutes later, we arrived at some airport. We knew that as we could hear planes. They made us climb the metal steps into a small plane. I knew the plane was small because we had to bend when we entered -- a Fokker perhaps. My brother and I both began to get worried. They said "You thought we were joking! You are going to Cuba" We were shackled, handcuffed and blindfolded for the duration of the flight. One hour and a half, maybe two hours. When the plane landed, we realized we were not in Cuba. But either in Pakistan or Afghanistan maybe. The drive from the airport was about 30 minutes. Once we left the car, I was separated from my brother again. We were taken somewhere where we went downstairs to similar underground cells. I asked where we were but the guards said they did not know. I realized after a while that we were in Pakistan and that my brother must be close by. The guards all spoke Urdu.

Another week to 10 days passed. During this time, the shackles were removed. We knew it was Ramadan and we were fasting. Maybe two weeks later, I was blindfolded and taken into another room. When my blindfold was removed I saw a Pakistani army man in plain clothes and two white men who flashed FBI badges and said that they had come from the U.S to investigate me. They asked me my life history all over again. I told them everything. Then they showed me photographs and told me that the pictures were of al-Qaeda members. "Do you know them?" they asked. I saw the photos and told them I recognized no one, knew nothing. ... The FBI officer said "We have been told you and your brother have al-Qaeda links." The FBI officers seemed to be in their 30's. This interrogation went on for 3-4 hours. During this time I told them everything about myself all over again. After that I was blindfolded and taken back into my cell. I knew nothing about my brother's whereabouts at this time. I told the FBI that I was illegally detained and had been tortured. They said they would try to help but that all decisions were to be taken by Pakistani authorities and Pakistan was beyond their jurisdiction.

About 7-10 days later, the same FBI officers and Pakistan Army officer showed me new pictures and asked if I knew these people. They again asked me about links to Al-Qaeda. ... I asked them that they had already held me and my brother for five months and how much longer did they intend to hold us? I told them I had never been involved in a criminal act. If you have any proof, then show it to me. Or at least tell me how long this will take. I asked to be presented in court and to be given a lawyer. The FBI agents did not respond to the request for a lawyer or my demand to be presented in court and charged. They did tell me that "we annot say what your crime is and how long you will be held. But you are a terrorist and you could be taken to Cuba."

The next day my brother joined me in my cell. My brother and I told each other what had been happening to us. He told me that the same things had been happening to him... We felt helpless and defenseless. We were treated worse than animals. But during this period, we were not beaten. We had regular interrogations, sometimes just with Pakistani military officers.

Maybe in January or February, we were interrogated by the FBI again, after about a gap of a month and a half. This time there were different officers -- two men and a woman who again showed us their badges. They asked the same questions all over again and I gave the same answers all over again. This also lasted about 90 minutes or so. By this time, it seemed we would remain imprisoned for the rest of our lives. They never even asked us different questions ... the same questions every time. My brother had become very ill with tuberculosis. They called a doctor to see him who came in a Pakistan army uniform. He prescribed medication. Periodically we would be told that we were being sent to Cuba. Both the FBI and the Pakistan Army kept forcing us to admit our "guilt," to admit we were al-Qaeda members and that we were planning attacks in Pakistan and in the U.S. They just wanted an admission.

Zain Afzal recounted that in another session with the FBI:

I asked them that they had already held me and my brother for five months and how much longer did they intend to hold us? I told them I had never been involved in a criminal act. If you have any proof, then show it to me. Or at least tell me how long this will take. I asked to be presented in court and to be given a lawyer. The FBI agents did not respond to the request for a lawyer or my demand to be presented in court and charged. They did tell me that, 'We cannot say what your crime is and how long you will be held. But you are a terrorist and you could be taken to Cuba.'"

A few weeks before his release, Zain Afzal says he told his captors:

If you think we are guilty of a crime please charge us in court or release us. I pointed out that my brother was very ill. They said "we are the court."

The brothers claim they were released with one final threat:

Our last interrogation took place about 10 days before our release and for the first time my brother and I were called together. They said "Your case is almost over" and "You will be released soon. ... But we will only release you on condition that you will never speak to the press or media or speak against us. Your well-being lies in silence otherwise you and your family will be in big trouble." Then they made us write a statement that said that we had not been held by any government or semi-government agency and were writing this statement of our own free will. A week later, we were given clothes, blindfolded and taken to Lahore Airport where the blindfolds were removed. We were handed two PIA [Pakistan International Airlines] tickets to Karachi that were not in our names. We asked for our American passports and other ID and were told that our stuff would be delivered to us in Karachi. This happened on April 22. So we returned home. The second or third day after our return, the "agencies" called us and reminded us of our "commitment." I asked for our passports again and was told they would reach us soon. We have not received our passports and though we have also requested the U.S. Consulate in Karachi to reissue the passports, we have had no response.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Bush denies Karzai on prisoners, military ops

The press is buzzing with Afghan President Hamid Karzai's visit to the States. After giving the key-note address at Boston University on Sunday, he spoke on late night news programs, softening his harsh criticisms of US military conduct. Then it was off to the Whitehouse, where he had a private meeting with President Bush. Following the meeting, in a joint news briefing, Karzai was told by a smiling Bush that "of course" the US would maintain control over its military operations. Absolutely no concessions were made on the issue of intrusive raids by US soldiers. As for control of prisoners, this was also denied.

See New York Newsday's editorial: Afghanistan Left in the Lurch by US; the New York Times' Bush Deflects Afghan's Request for Return of Prisoners, Radio Free Europe's Afghanistan: Prisoner Abuse Scandal Overshadows Karzai's Talks With Bush; The Chicago Tribune's Karzai softens criticism during visit.

Bottom line: Karzai came in like a lion, and left like a lamb. No improvements can be expected in the area of detention or contentious raids of homes and residential compounds.

More over, Karzai was repeatedly chastized for his inability to reign in the opium trade in Afghanistan, and, as expected signed a "Strategic Partnership" allowing the US to continue to occupy Bagram Airbase with future bases to be "mutually determined." How will his visit be portrayed in the Muslim world, where he is already perceived like a puppet of America?

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Sunday, May 22, 2005

Account of Bagram homicides outrages Karzai

The New York Times gained access to the full text of a 2,000 page report on the deaths of two detainees in Bagram in 2002, and its reporting of their brutal homicides has sparked outrage in Afghanistan and the US. The account of the torture and physical abuse which led to the deaths of two Afghanis, both known only by one name, Dilawar and Habibullah, provoked President Hamid Karzai to demand immediate custody of all Afghan detainees in Afghanistan. Speaking before a news conference, on the eve of his departure for the US to meet with President Bush, Karzai appeared uncharacteristically angry, saying, "It has shocked me thoroughly and we condemn it."

The New York Times feature, reporting the sadistic and horrifying treatment of the two victims is extremely graphic, benefitting from the Army's own interviews and investigations into the matter. The NY Times has also created a shorter, more "interactive" feature which is worthwhile.

The media seems intent on squashing the story, reporting instead on the "tough stance" the US is taking with President Hamid Karzai on opium. Given the detail and violent sadism apparent in the story, it seems clear that the issue will not go away.

When one of the First Platoon M.P.'s, Specialist Corey E. Jones, was sent to Mr. Dilawar's cell to give him some water, he said the prisoner spit in his face and started kicking him. Specialist Jones responded, he said, with a couple of knee strikes to the leg of the shackled man.

"He screamed out, 'Allah! Allah! Allah!' and my first reaction was that he was crying out to his god," Specialist Jones said to investigators. "Everybody heard him cry out and thought it was funny."

Other Third Platoon M.P.'s later came by the detention center and stopped at the isolation cells to see for themselves, Specialist Jones said.

It became a kind of running joke, and people kept showing up to give this detainee a common peroneal strike just to hear him scream out 'Allah,' " he said. "It went on over a 24-hour period, and I would think that it was over 100 strikes."

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Monday, May 16, 2005

Anti-US feeling fed by "heavy handed" US troops

CNN International Headline news interviewed The Independent correspondent in Kabul Nick Meo, who claimed that the US image in Afghanistan is severely tarnished, not just for the recent story of desecration of the Muslim holy book. He claims that the biggest issue with civilians are the rough raids by US soldiers, in which Afghan property is often mistreated, and men are often wrongly detained. Meo claims that the US military has responded to the recent riots over Koran desecration by promising reforms to its search procedures.

Breathing a dose of truth into the 'know-it-all' international news network, Meo said there is little independent media or human rights investigation in large areas of Afghanistan, including most of the South, considered still "Taliban" infested. Meo told the audience that Afghan human rights organizations have long protested the excessive use of force by US troops and their detention procedures.

In his reporting for The Independent, he writes that even Karzai is beginning to speak out about US "heavy-handedness."

... [Karzai] seemed to be bowing to a growing mood of popular anger with American military tactics and uneasiness over how long bases will remain on Afghan soil. He promised to correct "mistakes" made by US forces, especially intrusive searches of village homes by American troops in areas where the Taliban insurgency continues.

Searching homes for weapons is a highly contentious issue in the southern and eastern Pushtun tribal areas, especially when soldiers barge into womens' quarters, a deeply insulting act in tribal culture. The military has tried to soothe anger, training female soldiers to search.

Afghans also complain that innocent villagers are frequently arrested and taken to Guantanamo Bay or the interrogation centre north of Kabul at Bagram if they are unlucky enough to be in the vicinity of attacks on US soldiers or if they are the victim of faulty intelligence.


Friday, May 13, 2005

Afghans disparage amnesty offer to warlords

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting's Daily Afghan Press Monitor published this political cartoon, from the Afghan publication "Anis," a cutting criticism of the offer for amnesty for Mullah Omar and Warlord Hekmatyar, while lower-ranking militants languish in detention:

The translation of the words of Sebghatullah Mujadaddi, head of the Peace and Reconciliation Commission: "Sons, politics changes every day. By God's will, the warlords too have their share of government seats these days. Come along, please, because there are two empty seats. Don't miss out on the chance." Above, to the left the one-eyed Mullah Omar and to the right, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, once one of Afghanistan's most powerful warlords.


"Rendition" to Egypt means heinous torture

A new Human Rights Watch report describes the torture common in the Egyptian detention system, including "beatings with fists, feet, leather straps, sticks, and electric cables; suspension in contorted and painful positions accompanied by beatings; the application of electric shocks; and sexual intimidation and violence." Detainees "rendered" or "delivered" by the CIA to Egypt are likely to face this sort of treatment. Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born Australian citizen captured in Pakistan who was rendered to Egypt by the United States, claims he was subjected to grueling physical and psychological torture, including life-threatening kicks to the abdomen, cigarette-burns, electric shocks, cigarette burns, hanging from the ceiling, and beating with wooden sticks. He also says interrogators lied to him about the whereabouts of his family, putting him in severe psychological distress.

The 53-page report, "Black Hole: The Fate of Islamists Rendered to Egypt," identifies some 60 individuals, mostly alleged Islamist militants of Egyptian origin, whom other states rendered to Egypt since 1994. The sending states have mainly been Arab and South Asian countries, but include Sweden as well as the United States.

"Sending suspects to a country where they are likely to be tortured is strictly prohibited under international law," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Egypt's terrible record of torturing prisoners means that no country should forcibly send a suspect there."


"The Bush administration knows full well that Egypt tortures people in custody, and that its promises not to torture a given suspect are not worth the paper they're written on," Stork said. "This fig leaf doesn't hide U.S. complicity in the terrible abuses that await suspects sent to Egypt."

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Thursday, May 12, 2005

Spending ban on 'cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment' of detainees

The New York Times reported a very important step by US Congess to ban 'cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment' of persons in US custody, whether in the US or abroad, in an Appropriations, or spending bill. Congress has long attempted to direct the Pentagon with budgetary restrictions where human rights comes to bear, with mixed results, see the issue of bans on joint military training. Yesterday's measure, which was not opposed by the Bush administration, and supported by prominent Republicans, and was a very important step according to the ACLU.

Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the passage of the antitorture provision "clearly shows that there's growing traction on this issue in Congress, when you have even Republicans willing to break ranks and raise concerns" about the treatment of prisoners.

The only issue which remained unclear with the Appropriations Bill language is that of "rendition," the practice of secretly sending detainees to governments which practice torture, like Egypt.

The provision approved Tuesday does not include any specific references to intelligence officers. Instead, it says that no money appropriated in the bill can be used "to subject any person in the custody or under the physical control of the United States to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment that is prohibited by the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States."

Human rights advocates said it was unclear whether the prohibition would restrict the ability of the C.I.A. or other government agencies to conduct so-called renditions - that is, to send terrorism suspects to be interrogated in other countries, even those that are known to engage in abusive treatment of prisoners.


Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Surge in Iraqi prison population, $50 mil needed

The US appears to be acknowledging that it can not permanently operate its prisons at "surge capacity." Since January of this year, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of US detainees in Iraq, surpassing 11,350 last week. The US announced it would be spending more to reinforce the prison system, and to deal with this increase in the population of detainees. With this announcement came interesting "profiling" information of detainees and more detail on the legal review process for detainees. Read the Washington Post story for more detail.

...[The] process... includes a review board staffed by six Iraqis and three members of the U.S.-led multinational force. As of last week, [Pentagon spokesman Brandenburg] said, the board had looked at 10,000 cases and approved the release of about 6,000 people.

But Brandenburg acknowledged that the prisons were filling up faster than cases could be reviewed. "We're still getting more detainees in than we're getting rid of," he said.

A second review board is being established this week to relieve some of the strain on the reviewers, who are facing a heavier workload. Together, the two boards should be able to handle 650 to 700 reviews a week, Brandenburg said. Iraq's Central Criminal Court, created a year ago, has also picked up its pace. It handled 87 trials and 50 pretrial investigative hearings in March.

Various indicators, however, point to a detainee population that is increasingly hard-core and therefore likely to remain locked up. Before January, for instance, the review board had ordered releases in about 60 percent of the cases it considered. In recent months, the figure has dropped to 40 percent.

Similarly, since January, 88 percent of those detained have been rated "high risk" under a six-point system that takes into account the circumstances of capture, severity of the alleged offense and affiliation with known insurgent groups.

Other profiling information provided by Brandenburg shows that 96 percent of those in the detention camps are Iraqis and about 60 percent are either from Baghdad or Anbar provinces - two areas where much of the insurgency has been concentrated. Only five detainees are female. Nearly three-fourths of the inmate population is between the ages of 20 and 40, and about 60 percent of the detainees have less than a high school education.


Monday, May 09, 2005

Amnesty for Mullah Omar?

The Pakistani Tribune reports that the Afghan Commission for Reconciliation has offered amnesty to Mullah Omar, the former head of the Taliban. Only 150 "hard-core" members wanted for human rights violations are not offered amnesty. How this group does not include the leader of the Taliban is hard to imagine.


Monday, May 02, 2005

2nd US prisoner release in Afghanistan

The US released another 80 prisoners, some once categorized as "enemy combatants" to their families at Bagram Airbase over the weekend. This is the second such release of Afghan detainees this year, purportedly in attempt to give momentum to the attempt to promote "reconciliation" with tired Taliban fighters who wish to live peacefully.

One wonders how "peaceful" these detainees will feel after being held up to two years with no judicial process or notion of their future.

Meanwhile, the US killed four armed combatants and three civilians in an air raid in Uruzgan, a province known as Taliban Country, and police killed one protestor in Herat who was calling for the return to power of Warlord Ismail Khan.