Thursday, June 30, 2005

US to expand Iraq prisons to 16,000

With Camp Bucca and Abu Ghraib at "surge capacity" for months now, and no signs that the insurgency is about to let up, the US announced plans to open a new facility by September, and to expand capacity. Since last autumn, the prison population has more than doubled. Only about 400 of the current 10,002 detainees are foreign nationals. The rest are Iraqi. According to the AP:

The burgeoning prison population has forced the U.S. military to begin renovations on existing facilities, and work has also begun on restoring an old Iraqi military barracks near Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles northeast of Baghdad.

The facility, to be called Fort Suse, is expected to be completed by Sept. 30 and will have room for 2,000 new detainees, Rudisill said.

All renovations should be done by February and are expected to make room for 16,000 detainees in Iraq, he said.

Two weeks ago, the military completed a new 400-detainee compound at Abu Ghraib, which the U.S. government sought to tear down after it became a symbol of an abuse scandal. It was kept in service after the Iraqi government objected. A new compound of the same size should be finished by the end of July at Abu Ghraib, Rudisill said.

The spokesman attributed the rise in the number of prisoners to "successful ongoing military operations against the insurgency and terrorists."


Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Boy flogged to death by Afghan police

A 17-year old boy was reported whipped to death in custody of "police" in the northern Afghan province of Faryab. Anarchy and warlordism rules in the province, which was 'taken over' in April 2004 by US-ally General Abdul Rashin Dostum. There has been turmoil ever since. (The Province was site of fighting been Tajik Warlord Atta and Dostum in 2003.) Radio Free Europe reported in April this year that frustrated Kabul-appointed Governor Abdul Latif Ebrahimi complained that "local warlords" had been illegally occupying houses and shops in the Province. The international media gives little attention to the general political anarchy and detention practices of US "allies" in remote Afghanistan. According to the independent Afghan daily Arman-e-Milli:

A 17-year-old boy died in a detention centre in Faryab on June 24. More than 200 people attended a protest in Maimana to condemn the death of the boy, named as Mohammad Sadiq. He had been arrested in Maimana - the provincial capital of the northwestern province of Faryab - and was later lashed to death. The demonstrators lodged a complaint with the government and asked that those responsible be punished. The protesters said that the people now serving as policemen are actually yesterday's gunmen who served the warlords. They joined the police force and wear uniforms, but they are as unruly as they were under private commanders.

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Friday, June 24, 2005

Press frenzy, Congressional hearings, Whitehouse damage control

Over the past week, the Armed Services Committee of the Senate, headed by Pennsylvania Republican Senator Arlan Specter, has been holding hearings on the legality of indefinite detention by US Armed Forces. President Clinton was quoted as saying "clean up Guantanamo or shut it down." Vice President Dick Cheney and chief political advisor to the President Karl Rove, in a predictable response, went on the warpath, accusing liberals of being "soft" and sympathetic to terrorists. Yet President Bush and Attorney General Gonzales attempted be conciliatory, saying that Guantanamo was "under review." (This "good cop, bad cop" method for dealing with opponents has been perfected by the Bush administration.)

Meanwhile, the pages of US newspapers filled with op-eds against Guantanamo, including this by Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post:

The flap over Guantanamo proves, thankfully, that we're simply not a country with the stomach to run a secret prison system in which people are held indefinitely and subjected to frequent harsh interrogation, with no way to prove their innocence. That's out of the Axis of Evil playbook.


As for the administration's weakness at planning for the endgame: Exactly how long does it intend to hold these people? Five years? Ten? Twenty?

"Until the end of hostilities" is not an acceptable answer. It would make sense in a conventional war, but not in this bizarre, asymmetrical conflict that's more a battle of ideas and religion and visions of paradise than a war between two clear, definable sides. It could last decades, like the Cold War. And when will we even know it's over? How will we ever be certain that terrorism -- which is a tactic, not a sovereign nation -- has been finally vanquished?

It goes against America's grain to hold people indefinitely in prison without proving, in a court of law, that they have committed some crime. The whole thing just smells.

Like a fish left out in the Guantanamo sun.

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Saturday, June 18, 2005

Famous painter opens "Horrors of Abu Ghraib"

Fernando Botero, one of the most respected artists of his generation, has opened an exhibit of paintings depicting the "Horrors of Abu Ghraib." First known for his depiction of mundane, domestic scenes, Botero began to depict the consequences of conflict in his native Colombia during the 1990s. His shock and disgust at the scenes from Abu Ghraib inspired dozens of canvasses during the past year. He told Reuters this week he wanted to stand as a "permanent witness to a great crime." The exhibit opened in Rome, and will travel to Germany and Greece. There are no plans for a US showing.

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Friday, June 10, 2005

Meet the plaintiffs, Detainees v. USA

Human Rights First, one of the organizations involved in the civil suit against US government officials (including Donald Rumsfeld) for abuses committed in Iraq and Afghanistan, has released biographical information on its eight plaintiffs. As reported earlier, four are Afghan and four are Iraqi. These men were carefully chosen as "model" plaintiffs, taking in account a number of factors.

Arkan Mohammed Ali is a 26-year-old Iraqi citizen... Ali continues to suffer the lasting effects of injuries incurred while in United States custody. Among other things, he has severe scars on his arm from the stabbing and burning he suffered. Ali also has frequent traumatic nightmares, and episodes of shortness of breath and an involuntary gulping reflex, which he never experienced prior to his detention.

Thahe Mohammed Sabbar is a 36-year-old Iraqi...Sabbar received frequent and severe beatings from U.S. military personnel. Soldiers used guns and an electric weapon to beat and shock Sabbar, and forced him and other detainees to run through a gauntlet of 10 to 20 uniformed soldiers, who screamed at them and beat them with wooden batons. Sabbar was also shackled to a fence with his hands behind his back and was left for several hours at temperatures exceeding 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

In addition to physical abuse, Sabbar was sexually assaulted by U.S. military personnel. On one occasion, one or more soldiers inserted their fingers into Sabbar's anus and grabbed and fondled his buttocks while making moaning sounds and jeering at him. This was done in the presence of other soldiers, including females, in order to further degrade and demean Sabbar.

Soldiers also staged mock executions with Sabbar and other detainees to terrorize and humiliate them. During one such execution, Sabbar and others were forced to stand against a wall in front of a firing squad. The squad simulated gunfire and then laughed as the detainees lost control of their bladders. Sabbar was also threatened by soldiers who told him they would send him to Guantanamo, where he would be killed.

Throughout his detention, Sabbar was routinely deprived of food and water. At times, guards gave Sabbar and other detainees spoiled food, which caused some detainees to vomit. He was also kept shackled for extended periods and denied access to a toilet, causing him to soil his pants. As a result of this treatment, and of the sexual and physical abuse, Sabbar currently suffers from incontinence, impotence and nightmares.

Mehboob Ahmad is a 35-year-old citizen of Afghanistan... Ahmad was sexually and psychologically traumatized by U.S. military personnel. He was forced to strip and stay naked for long periods of time, was probed anally and was threatened with a snarling and barking dog at close range. Interrogators taunted Ahmad by directing insults at his mother and sister and implying that soldiers would rape his wife. He was also threatened with transport to Guantanamo.

Like other detainees, Ahmad was subjected to extreme sensory deprivation and isolation. He was forced to wear sound-blocking earphones; he was forced to wear black, opaque goggles almost continuously for more than a month, and was not allowed to speak with other detainees for the five months that he was in custody.

Sherzad Kamal Khalid is a 34-year-old Iraqi citizen who was detained by the United States military for approximately two months from July 2003 through September 2003. Khalid was held at various locations in Iraq where he was subjected to frequent and severe beatings, sexual abuse and other cruel treatment.

After his release from custody, Khalid accompanied fellow detainee Thahe Mohammed Sabbar back to Abu Ghraib. Sabbar sought the return of property confiscated from him by U.S. forces and also wished to inquire about a colleague who remained in custody. Both Khalid and Sabbar were detained in a locked room by military personnel and were then released without receiving any response to their inquiries. As a result, Khalid now fears that U.S. forces will detain him again if he pursues remedies for the injuries and losses he incurred at the hands of American military officials in Iraq.

More than a year after his release, Khalid continues to suffer from stomach ulcers as a result of an untreated stomach infection suffered while in detention. He also suffers from severe depression and nightmares.

Said Nabi Siddiqi is a 48-year-old citizen of Afghanistan... American forces also exploited Afghan cultural norms to further demean and degrade Siddiqi. Soldiers sexually humiliated Siddiqi by stripping him naked and taking photographs, and by probing his anus. During interrogations, soldiers made animal sounds and demanded to know which animals Siddiqi had sex with, and repeatedly told him that his wife was a slut and his daughter was a street beggar. Soldiers also threw stones at Siddiqi and other detainees while they used the toilet and forced them to publicly expose themselves.

Afghan citizen Mohammed Karim Shirullah, who is 45, was detained by United States military at various locations in Afghanistan, including the Bagram air base. He was detained for approximately six months, from December 2003 to June 2004.

Like other detainees, Shirullah was subjected to extreme sensory depravation and isolation. He was forced to wear black, opaque goggles and wrist restraints for more than two weeks. Military personnel also kept him in solitary confinement in a room with no windows for more than one month. For the entire time of his detention -- about six months -- Shirullah was forbidden from speaking with any other detainees.

Shirullah was also sexually and psychologically traumatized by U.S. military personnel. Soldiers stripped him naked, probed his anus and photographed him. Interrogators would also strip him naked and throw water on him during interrogations. As with other detainees, military personnel forced Shirullah to use an open toilet, with knowledge that such treatment would cause psychological suffering by Afghan cultural norms.

Haji Abdul Rahman is a 48-year-old citizen of Afghanistan. While in custody, American personnel deliberately inflicted pain on Rahman. During interrogation, soldiers forced Rahman to wear blackout goggles and kneel with his hands cuffed behind his back; soldiers then placed a chain through the handcuffs, which they repeatedly jerked to pull his arms and wrench his shoulders and wrists. He was forced to wear extreme restraints, blackout goggles and handcuffs for virtually the entire first month of his detention. After that first month, soldiers placed Rahman in solitary confinement for 15 days and made him wear blackout goggles and sound-deadening headphones for no reason other than to intimidate, humiliate and degrade him.

Iraqi high school student Ali H. was only 17 years old when he was detained by the U.S. military in August 2003. He was held in detention for four weeks at Abu Ghraib prison and other locations throughout Iraq. Ali still feels the effects of the debilitating physical and psychological injuries he sustained while in detention.

During his arrest and subsequent detention, Ali suffered excruciating pain and was subjected to degrading and inhuman treatment. Soldiers shot Ali in the neck and back and threw him to the ground before arresting him. Military personnel refused to provide medical care for Ali for hours after the arrest, even though he was bleeding profusely from two gunshot wounds. The bullets were eventually removed from Ali's neck and back in a brutal fashion and without anesthetic. He was then denied food, water and pain medication for almost two days after he was shot.

The pain inflicted on Ali continued well after the bullets were removed. While he was housed in an outdoor tent at Abu Ghraib, Ali received a life-threatening shrapnel wound during a mortar attack. Once again, military personnel refused to provide Ali with adequate medical care and pain medication. While recovering from abdominal surgery, military personnel intentionally inflicted further pain and torture on Ali. He was dragged roughly from one location to another and kept shackled hand and foot to a bed with a blanket placed over his face. He was then moved to another prison location where he was forced to sleep on the ground outdoors in extremely hot weather without any shelter, despite being in excruciating pain and having an intravenous tube in his arm. Military personnel refused to change the bandages on Ali's surgical wound, which became infected and leaked pus.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

"Reality TV" detention in Iraq

The Christian Science Monitor printed a unique story about a new Iraqi "reality TV" series which features detenetion and interrogation of insurgents by Iraqi forces. The feared "Wolf Brigade," headed by commander Abdul Waleed, is the star of the prime-time series which is called "The Grip of Justice." First aired three months ago on the US-funded Al Iraqiya channel, the show, while wildly popular, is quite controversial, as it humiliates detainees and also reveals that their interrogations are conducted under the constant threat of force. Detainees have appeared "roughed up" with cuts on their faces, and they sometimes admit to very suspect acts, like drunkenness and sexual deviancy, which calls into question the morality and legality of the interrogations.

Supporters of the show, as well as the US military, say that the show has started to convince Iraqis that they can solve their security problems. Its critics, which include Iraqis, academics and human rights advocates, say it is against international human rights law, and it is fueling sectarian tensions between Shiites and Sunnis.

In one recent opening scene of "Terrorism in the Grip of Justice," viewers see a group of tired, scruffy men sitting on bare ground, squinting in the glare of floodlights and waiting to confess.

The camera then pans to Abul Waleed, the mustachioed, red-bereted commander of the elite Wolf Brigade police squad. Waleed is addressing about 30 terrorism suspects hauled in during Operation Lightning, a massive Iraqi-led sweep (now in its second week) aimed at rooting out car bombers and other insurgents in Baghdad.The most familiar part of the show are the confessions, which frequently link suspects to atrocities reported on the news. There is little doubt among Iraqis that the captives really are terrorists. Iraqi journalist Salam Jihad, who was detained by insurgents for several hours on a desert highway late last year, says he later saw one of his captors turn up on the show.


In a recent episode, three insurgents sat sullenly, confessing to their role in the kidnappings and murders of Shiite residents around Salman Pak, south of Baghdad. One suspect, named Muhsin, holds up a photo of one alleged victim.

"And how did you kill him?" the interrogator demands. "By shooting," the 22-year-old Muhsin says.

But because some of the suspects bear visible cuts and bruises on their faces, and confessing terrorists often also admit to drunkenness or sexual deviancy on the show, critics question the legitimacy of both the interrogation techniques and the confessions. The Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights has filed complaints with the Interior Ministry and has asked the judicial council to review the show's legality.

"We think all detainees must go to court before any interview on TV," human rights official Saad Sultan says.

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Sunday, June 05, 2005

Senate hearings on detention to come

Following the uproar over Amnesty International's declaration that Guantanamo prison is the "gulag of our times," Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is reported to be planning hearings for sometime this month on the detention of foreigners there. An AP story released this tidbit of information, with little more detail. (N. B. Specter is a centrist, pro-choice Republican who was vigorously attacked by the extreme right in his last re-election campaign.)

Specter, according to an aide, is in the preliminary stages of drafting a bill to establish procedures for detentions and exploring the possibility of making the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court the venue for challenging them.

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Friday, June 03, 2005

"Low-level combatants" released from Bagram

The US released 53 "low-level combatants" who were deemed as no longer a risk by the US military. The wire reports do not adequately question the US version of the detainees' alleged guilt for "hostile acts" against the US-led coalition, ignoring the fact that none of them were ever heard in a court, and none were found guilty of any crime. It seems the wire services are concerned with the "presumption of innocence" only as it applies to Westerners. Not surprisingly, the US did not apologize to these detainees.

Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, head of Afghanistan's peace and reconciliation commission, told the released prisoners that although some of them may be innocent, they shouldn't complain, but instead be thankful to be free.

The release comes amid allegations that U.S. military personnel at Bagram and at other detention facilities have abused prisoners. The U.S. military has said it would not tolerate any maltreatment.

Four of those who were released and spoke to The Associated Press said they were not abused while in detention.

"No one has beaten me during the last eight months and I haven't heard of anyone else being beaten," said Mohammed Anwar Hanifi, 38, who worked as a government official in eastern Paktika province before being arrested last October. "I was interrogated a lot, but they found no proof I was guilty. It is why they released me."

It was not immediately clear how many Afghans are still in U.S. military detention. A month ago, 85 other prisoners were released.

There was no apology for the 53, but officials handed each of them 10,000 Afghanis (US$234; euro182), and a new turban as well as a letter from the U.S. military confirming their release.

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The Afghan "John McCain"

Margaret Carlson (of CNN, Time, and the LA Times) probably did more to protect detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq from abuse than the whole of the US media in one brief column: she compared the chilling death of Afghan taxi-driver, Diliwar, to the horrible torture of Senator John McCain by Vietnamese captors. Senator John McCain (AZ), is most known in America for his suffering during the Vietnam War, when as a downed Navy pilot, he was captured by North Vietnamese, then held for 5-1/2 years during which time he was repeatedly tortured. Carlson writes, in "The John McCain of Bagram Prison: Torture is torture whether in Vietnam or Afghanistan":

On Memorial Day, I watched the A&E movie about former Navy Lt. Cmdr. John McCain's 5-1/2 years in a Vietnam prison. McCain's face was beaten to a bloody pulp, his bones shattered, his teeth knocked out. Guards hung him from the ceiling by his arms, one of which was broken. It was so painful I had to return repeatedly to my crossword puzzle.

The next morning, I watched President Bush at his news conference respond to a question about an Amnesty International report condemning U.S. detention facilities in Iraq, Guantanamo and elsewhere. Bush called charges of abuse "absurd" allegations by detainees "who hate America."

But how does he explain the Army? The New York Times recently obtained the Army's 2,000-page file on deaths at its Bagram, Afghanistan, detention center. It's as chilling to read as it is to watch McCain's crippled leg being crushed.

The John McCain of this report is an uneducated Afghan villager known as Dilawar, who was sent by his mother to pick up his sisters for a Muslim holiday on Dec. 5, 2002. Before he got there, Dilawar was rounded up as a suspect in a rocket attack.

For much of his five days in custody, Dilawar was brutalized and hung from the ceiling of his cell, even though no one thought he was a terrorist or had any useful information. Military police took turns kicking him above the knee because they found it amusing to hear him cry out "Allah."

When he was too weak to follow orders during interrogations, one sergeant grabbed him by his beard, crushed his bare foot with her boot and then reared back and kicked him in the groin.

That night, an interrogator summoned an MP when he noticed Dilawar's head slumped forward in his hood and his hands limp in his chains. After pressing his fingernail to see that blood was still circulating, the MP left him there. On Dec. 10, dragged in for what would be his last interrogation, Dilawar was incoherent. Angry at his unresponsiveness, an interrogator held him upright by twisting his hood around his neck. An intelligence specialist who spoke Dilawar's Pashto dialect was disturbed enough to notify the officer in charge. It was too late. Dilawar was already dead.

Were the Vietnamese guards who savagely beat McCain any worse?


Bush maintains that only enemies of America would allege such abuse. But if the charges are true, it is the perpetrators and their superiors who show contempt for America and what it represents.

Watching the government stonewalling and lie about the fatal beating of an innocent man is as disturbing as watching the torture John McCain suffered 30 years ago rather than betray what America stands for.


Thursday, June 02, 2005

At Abu Ghraib, long incarcerations, no charges

The LA Times reported this week that the mayority of those detained at Abu Ghraib are likely to remain there for months, until the end of a lengthy review process, at which time most are released without charges. As can be imagined, the long detentions of those who are eventually exonerated for lack of evidence or clear innocence, is extremely frustrating to Iraqi families.

Finding information about detainees is also fraught with obstacles.

In Baghdad, people seeking information must go to one of three government buildings. One is in the heavily fortified Green Zone. To get there, women in flowing black abayas must negotiate narrow aisles of concertina wire and several searches. Then they face questions to identify the detainee: What was the date of arrest, his full name and date of birth?

"There are 15 ways to spell Mohammed," said Lt. Col. Darwin Concon, the officer in charge of the center in the Green Zone.


Once in the Abu Ghraib prison, a detainee enters a more elaborate and time-consuming judicial process. A board made up of three representatives from the United States and six from the Iraqi ministries of interior, defense and human rights reviews each case within 90 days, [Army spokesman] Rudisill said.

The board's proceedings are not adversarial, Rudisill said. Neither the detainee nor the military has a lawyer to argue the case. A neutral officer is present to explain the evidence. The board makes its decisions immediately, Rudisill said.

Family members are not informed of the board's decisions or the dates of proceedings involving the detainee. For those retained after the initial review, additional reviews are required every six months.

The board, established in August, had reviewed about 9,400 cases through late April, Rudisill said.

More than half of the prison reviews resulted in releases for insufficient evidence. About 2,200 were released unconditionally and about 3,100 were released under the signature of a guarantor, such as a tribal leader, figures provided by Rudisill showed.

He would not characterize the circumstances that would require a guarantor. Requests to interview a member of the board were turned down.

But Amin, the former human rights minister, said it was his understanding that release with a guarantor meant that the evidence was weak, and unconditional release indicated "very weak" evidence. Amin was pushing for faster reviews so that such incarcerations would be shortened.

An additional 1,600 detainees were turned over to the Iraqi judicial system. Rudisill said about 450 had been tried, with 301 convicted. Sentences ranged from time served to 20 years.

Releases, however, have not kept pace with arrests. From August to late April, the number of Iraqis in U.S. custody climbed from 5,495 to 9,946.