Sunday, July 31, 2005

Did top General lie under oath about Abu Ghraib?

The Washington Post ran a strong editorial condemning the US Military's inability to place blame for abuses in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo where it belongs: in the higher ranks. In "The Truth About Abu Ghraib," the paper claims that General Geoffrey Miller's testimony before Congress last year contained lies, given recent conflicting statements made under oath during the court-martial hearing of the two Guantanamo/Abu Ghraib dog handlers.

General Miller was in charge of Guantanamo Bay prison during 2002, and was later dispatched to Abu Ghraib in August 2003 to review the handling and interrogation of prisoners. In his testimony before Congress, he claimed no methods contrary to the Geneva Conventions were presented by his assistance team at Abu Ghraib. This was directly challenged by testimony by former warden of Abu Ghraib Major David DiNenna, who said Gen. Miller recommended the use of dogs in interrogation.

These serious allegations made by one of the nation's top newspapers indicate that General Miller could be guilty of perjury, and they implicate the Secretary of Defense in the authorization of the abuse:

The court evidence strongly suggests that Gen. Miller lied about his actions, and it merits further investigation by prosecutors and Congress.

But the Guantanamo commander was not acting on his own: The interrogation of Mr. Qahtani, investigators found, was carried out under rules approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Dec. 2, 2002. After strong protests from military lawyers, the Rumsfeld standards -- which explicitly allowed nudity, the use of dogs and shackling -- were revised in April 2003. Yet the same practices were later adopted at Abu Ghraib, at least in part at the direct instigation of Gen. Miller. "We understood," Maj. DiNenna testified, "that [Gen. Miller] was sent over by the secretary of defense."

The White House and Pentagon have gotten away with their stonewalling largely because of Republican control of Congress. When the Abu Ghraib scandal erupted, GOP leaders such as Sen. John W. Warner (Va.) loudly vowed to get to the bottom of the matter -- but once the bottom started to come into view late last year, Mr. Warner's demands for accountability ceased. Mr. Rumsfeld and other senior officials have never been the subject of an independent investigation. A recommendation by the latest Army probe that Gen. Miller be reprimanded for his role in the Qahtani interrogation was rejected by Gen. Bantz Craddock of Southern Command.

Labels: , ,

Friday, July 29, 2005

Columnists "shame" Bush Admin over abuse

The volume of articles about Guantanamo and rules for detainee treatment grew considerably in the past couple of days, with the news, as one famous columnist put it, that "President Bush, who bills himself as a 'compassionate conservative,' refuses to rule out cruel, abusive treatment of prisoners of war and detainees." Helen Thomas, an 80-something columnist, who reported decades and decades of Whitehouse activity, wrote in this same column yesterday that an independent investigation into allegations of abuse is sorely needed.

Another columnist compared the impact of torture suffered by Primo Levi, a survivor of Auschwitz, to the probably impact of detention in the Guantanamo Bay camp. Walking on eggshells, aware that these comparisons are quite sensitive, Richard Cohen of the Washington Post writes that the legacy of abuse and torture is shame, in all cases.

The purpose of the torture, aside from it mostly having none at all, was to annihilate the prisoner's sense of self. For Levi and the others at Auschwitz, it meant the loss of his identity and the replacement of his name with a number, 174517. It was an inventory tag. [...]

But it was Levi's admission of shame that got me -- shame, not guilt. He was ashamed of what had happened to him, his horrible degradation, but mostly his silence. He yelled "Yes!" when the Nazis demanded it of him, and he watched the gruesome hangings of the recalcitrant and the brave while he mostly avoided eye contact, said nothing and shamed himself with his silence.

That shame is what persists after -- way after -- the torture has been concluded and the pain is gone. That shame is what my Post colleague Pamela Constable recently invoked when she wrote about a 1990 trip through Chile, where she had once worked, interviewing torture victims. She likened what she found then to what she found much more recently in Afghanistan, her latest overseas assignment. The abusers there were Americans.


Thursday, July 28, 2005

Detainee abuse: major political battle brews

The McCain amendment to the Military Authorization (or spending) bill, calling for the end to ghost detainees and "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees" among other provisions, has caused a major political battle in Washington.

The Bush administration stood by its promise to veto the bill, and McCain and others were not able to come up with the votes in the Senate (let alone the House) to override the veto.

So yesterday, Senate Majority leader Bill Frist (TN) decided to give up passage of the spending bill until after the summer holiday recess. (Frist had attempted to force a closure of debate on the bill, which failed, as McCain, Graham and Warner and others insisted on the inclusion of the amendment protecting detainees. So he merely "shelved" the authorization.)

Voting on the controversial bill (which also contains politically charged military base closures) will occur after the Labor Day weekend holiday.

Politically, members of the Senate in both parties are disappointed with this result, as the bill authorizes spending starting as early as October 2005, and there will be enormous pressure on the Senate to resolve this issue in September.

Labels: ,

Analysis of Bagram protest/riot

Radio Free Europe offers the best analysis of the protest/riot at Bagram this week, clarifying the motives and origin of the protestors. The protestors were not from Bagram village, but from Deh Mullah, east of the base. There, a former commander of Mujuhideen-come-anti-US warlord Hekmatyar, was arrested in the middle of the night from his family compound. Hekmatyar is considered a major threat by US forces, according to RFE "the third party of the triumvirate fighting against Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government and its foreign backers."

His friends, family and fellow villagers claim that Commander Hamidullah renounced arms and decade ago and is now a farmer. US forces claim to have found explosives in his house and suspect him of planning an attack on Bagram Airbase. According to a US Army spokesman, Afghan police and Army were present at the arrest, in keeping with President Karzai's recent requests.

RFE's Amin Tarzi reveals the significance of these events surrounding Commander Hamidullah:

After less than one day in custody, the United States handed the eight men over to provincial authorities in Parwan on 27 July.

While the handover of the eight detainees to the Afghans might very well have quelled the anger of local residents of Bagram District, the longer term question of counterterrorist activities in Afghanistan, and the standing of the United States in that country, remains an open question.

There has been no credible accounting as to which of Afghanistan's former warlords have sincerely traded in their swords for plows, nor has any of them thus far been identified or arrested for their past deeds. Moreover, the Afghan judicial system remains in shambles with little hope of it returning soon to something that can be remotely regarded as a transparent and fair system in which cases can be tried. This situation is especially true in provinces where local loyalties often overpower any respect there is for the central Afghan government's laws and commitments, including its counterterrorism efforts. The Bagram riot clearly points to this problem, as no protests have targeted that base since late 2001 when some locals were arrested.

As such, the task for the United States in leading the war against terrorism and militancy in Afghanistan becomes very complicated. On one hand, with more intrusive operations the U.S. faces the possibility of dealing with more hostility to its presence in Afghanistan while on the other hand, in the absence of a robust Afghan commitment to investigate, arrest when needed, and incarcerate suspected terrorists, the chance for an Afghanistan free of the menace of terrorism might fall victim to short-term local expediencies.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Angry Bagram villagers protest at Airbase

Nearly 2,000 villagers from Bagram village, which sits alongside the Soviet-era airbase, now the air hub of the US military effort in Afghanistan, protested outside the gates yesterday. Chanting "Die America" and "Die Karzai," the crowd had a very specific greivance: when US forces conducted the man hunt for the escaped Arab prisoners from the detention facility there, they entered uninvited into many houses, and apprehended eight people.

US forces claim these men were suspected terrorists, but Bagram villagers say that is not the point. They are outraged that their village elders were not consulted first. From the villagers' perspective, they did not deserve the invasive raids of US forces, especially because they claim they have been always cooperative with the Americans. Even President Karzai has commented that the US procedure of raiding residential compounds, where women and children are present, is extremely offensive to the Afghan sensibility. (It is also true that the cooperation and labor of the villagers at Bagram is key to the functioning of the Base.)

The AP circulated some photos of the protest (including this one here by Tomas Munita). In them there are no written signs, just a tire burning, and men and boys chanting, indicating a fairly spontaneous, localized protest. According to some Western media, the protest turned into a riot, with stone throwing, and attempts to break through the gates of the base.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Two Abu Ghraib dog handlers on trial

Pending the release of the blog-frenzy-inspiring second set of photos from Abu Ghraib (and inevitable pressure for new prosecutions), the military justice system believes there remain only two individuals to charge for the abuses committed there, both dog handlers.

Yesterday, Sgts. Santos A. Cardona and Michael Smith faced charges of dereliction of duty and maltreatment of detainees, for their campaign to intimidate prisoners with their German shepard dogs. According to military investigators, the two had a running contest in which they threatened detainees with their unmuzzled dogs, to see who could make more wet themselves.

In total, only seven low-ranking, most reservist, some Military Police and Military Intelligence, were blamed for the abuses seen in photos at Abu Ghraib. (And Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, in charge of the prison, was demoted.)

Labels: ,

Monday, July 25, 2005

Bush administration vs. World, even Congressional Republicans

The Bush Administration took two very obstinate positions last week against developments in the detainee scandal of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

Firstly, the Department of Defense refused to comply with a Federal court order requiring the release of all of the videos and photos depicting abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. Only some of the photos and none of the videos brought to military investigators by whistleblower Joseph Darby in 2004 have been released to the public. House Republicans, as well as sources from within the administration, say that the photos are extremely disturbing, depicting scenes of "rape and murder." Despite eleventh hour moves by the Administration to block their release, the public can expect to see them, probably with some degree of censoring, on newsstands sometime soon.

Secondly, and perhaps equally damaging for the Bush administration, is its threat to veto military spending legislation over a provision added by Congressional Republicans calling for the prohibition of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees" and the practice of holding "ghost detainees" inaccessible from the Red Cross. After hearings on Abu Ghraib and Guatanamo, there is enough Republican support in both houses of Congress to include this language in the $442 billion defense spending bill. Yet Vice President Dick Cheney called Republican Senators John McCain (AZ), Lindsey Graham (SC), John Warner (VA) to the Whitehouse over the weekend for a 30m minute meeting to warn them that this provision would dangerously limit the President's powers in the "War on Terror."

The Whitehouse, it seems, is digging in its heels on the issue of detention and justice, even when world opinion, the Federal Courts, US opinion and even their own party, agree with that things must change.

Labels: , , , ,

Iraqi detainee dies in US local holding facility

The Defense Deparrtment announced the death of an Iraqi detainee at US Forward Operating Base Kalsu on July 22. He was found unresponsive and breathing lightly and died on the way to a medical aid facility, less than two weeks after his capture. The US military claims that "initial indications are no foul play was involved." But an autopsy is taking place, and the Department of Defense claims that a full investigation will take place.

Labels: ,

Friday, July 22, 2005

CIA Contractor asks civilian court to dismiss case

David Passaro (ex-special forces soldier), contractor to the CIA in Afghanistan, charged for the beating death of Afghan detainee, has appealed for the charges against him in a civilian court to be dismissed. He claims that the beatings he allegedly inflicted on prisoner Abdul Wali (1) did not take place on US property and (2) were meted out under "orders" from the military command.

He does not seem interested in contesting the fact that he is alleged to have beaten and kicked Wali with his fists, feet and a metal flashlight over the period of two days until he died. The charges, assault, can carry a maximum sentence of 40 years, although most would agree such a still sentence is highly unlikely.

(For a near eye-witness account of Wali's sad end, listen to this compelling report by Hyder Akbar, then an 18-year old American-raised Afghan aid to the Governor in Kunar province, which was produced by This American Life. If you don't have an hour, then either skip to minute 37, or read this.)

Labels: , , ,

Briton in British custody in Iraq for 9 months

The Guardian reported that the UK apprehended a dual Iraqi/UK citizen in October, 2004 in Iraq and have kept him in custody for the past 9 months without a hearing. A lawyer working on his behalf was able to petition in a London court yesterday that this detention was illegal. Hilal Abdul-Razzaq Ali al-Jedda, 47, believes he is being held for his friendship with a man British authorities allege is a bombmaker. Al-Jedda's lawyer argued that his client's "internment" was in breach of the European convention on human rights (which the Blair government has "opted out of" since 9-11). The judgement is scheduled for next month. Meanwhile Al-Jedda waits in Shu'aiba detention centre near Basra.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, July 21, 2005

BBC documents abuse at 2 bases in Afghanistan

Residents of Paktia province reported to the BBC some of the exact same abuses which residents of Uruzgan Province recount in "Taliban Country". They include sexual humiliation, starvation and water deprivation, and extended use of stress positions. The witnesses who talked to the BBC were released from US custody, some after 16 months of detention. None were ever charged with or found guilty of anything. The claims of abuse happened in the latter half of 2004 in Gardez Compound. More allegations come from a former interpreter with US forces, who alleges he saw a juvenile in custody at Asadabad Fire Base (in Kunar province) denied water for four days, who was later found dead, presumably of dehydration.

With this report, the film Taliban Country, and a recent report by the LA Times, a clear pattern of abuse in local holding facilities in Afghanistan has been established. When will the US military come clean?

"At first, they took all our clothes off and told us to stand up. When they were interrogating me, I was naked."

Haji Mirza Mohammed was arrested from his home and accused of working with the Taleban in the autumn of 2004.

He was taken to the nearby infantry base of the US-led coalition at Gardez in south-east Afghanistan.

"For four days, I had my hands cuffed behind me," he says. "They stopped giving me food and I wasn't allowed to sleep."


Another former detainee at the Gardez base, Jannat Gul, said he was forced into a kneeling position in the middle of a room, surrounded by four or five American interrogators.

"They said, 'don't sit back on your heels, don't look to the side'. They were beating me, telling me bad things. They ordered me to stay kneeling until the morning. I was three nights without sleep and then the last night, I had to kneel until morning."

Jannat Gul says he was punched and kicked. At one point, he says, he was told to lie down.

"They picked me up by my neck and said, 'we're going to kill you unless you confess what you did'."

As he describes his experiences, a couple of phrases in English are scattered among the Persian - "put your arms up" is one. The other is, "shut the **** up".

"I'm a farmer," says Jannat Gul, showing his calloused hands.

Labels: ,

UK tries high-ranks for Iraq homicides

In contrast to the US military's response to the numerous homicides occured over the past years in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan — blame only one or two lower-ranking soldiers and civilian contractors, the British military has taken dramatic (albeit slow) steps to punish soldiers involved in two Basra homicides in 2003.

The first homicide to be tried will be the death of Iraqi hotel desk manager Baha Musa in September 2003. A group of five soldiers to be court-martialed includes a highly-decorated Col. Jorge Mendonca, the commanding officer of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment (QLR). Three of the men will be the first ever charged under the International Criminal Court Act of 2001, which essentially incorporates into English law crimes triable by the ICC, specifically "war crimes."

Two of the men to be tried are part of the Intelligence Corps. They will face charges of dereliction of duty.

A second group, not of the QLR, will be tried for manslaughter in the case of a detainee thrown in a Basra waterway.

More prosecutions for abuse are to come in September, including two more homicides. A total of 25 soldiers are under investigation or have been charged with abuses of detainees.

According to the Telegraph, the QLR homicide is signifcant because it is the only one which took place in interrogation facilities:

Operation Salerno, which started at dawn on Sept 14 2003 was a fairly routine affair, a search in strength for weapons. One of the targets was the Ibn Al Haitham hotel in Basra, where assault rifles were seized. Baha Musa, 26, the desk manager, was one of nine Iraqis arrested and taken to the QLR base.

For three days the prisoners were allegedly systematically abused, including repeated kick-boxing strikes. Shifts of soldiers were said to have taken part in beatings, but the chief offender is alleged to be Cpl Donald Payne, who is charged with manslaughter.

Payne, now attached to the King's Regiment and based at Catterick, is also alleged to have attempted to cover his crime by asking colleagues to say Mr Musa died "because he banged his own head". Mr Musa's father said his son's body was covered in bruises and blood. Other prisoners testified as to the treatment they received.

The Ministry of Defence was accused of dragging its heels in the investigation and last year became the subject of a High Court action brought by Mr Musa senior. His demand for an independent inquiry was supported by the judges in the case, a decision that may have enlivened the MoD.

The decision to pursue the case, and that against Col Mendonca in particular, angered QLR members. Some feel that using the ICC legislation, with its "war crime" terminology, inflates what may have been, at worst, the actions of a few "bad apples". There is also annoyance that the regiment, which helped expose the bogus Iraqi "torture" photographs in the Daily Mirror, is being hung out to dry by politicians in London in the interests of placating the Iraqis.

Labels: , ,

Monday, July 18, 2005

Low-ranking MPs blamed for Bagram homicides

The first military court-martial for one of the 2002 homicides at Bagram Air Base detention facility began today in El Paso, Texas. Pfc. Willie Brand was originally charged with manslaughter, a charge which was dropped in military court. He is the only military personnel to be charged in connection with the death of Afghan taxi driver Dilawar. According to the Army Times, only one another MP faces a court-martial for the deaths, Spc. Brian Cammack, of the same 377th MP Company based in Cinncinati.

While Dilawar's body showed signs of cruelty and sadism beyond any reasonable military operating procedure (had he not died, doctors would have been forced to amputate his legs), Brand's defense attorney John Galligan is right to point out:

... the larger issue is that, while the government is blaming a low-ranking enlisted man for the December 2002 deaths of the two Afghani detainees, "officers who may have designed the programs that led to those deaths are left unscathed."

Labels: , , , ,

Ongoing abuse by US in local holding facilities?

In their counter-insurgency operations, US troops in Afghanistan routinely gather all male members of villages, cuff them with plastic, and interrogate them either in public or in private. The US military has admitted "unsubstantiated" claims of physical abuse during these interrogations and operations. (See Taliban Country, or the FOIA releases.)

An article in yesterday's LA Times features testimony from detainees recently released from Bagram who claim that the abuse they endured on the way to or while held in "local holding facilities" was the greatest.

At this point, after the reporting of the horrific homicides in Bagram in 2002, abuse in there appears to be less of a concern, as the Red Cross has regular access to the facility.

Yet in the "local holding facilities," where the Red Cross and neither local human rights NGOs are allowed to enter, there is reason to believe that abuse of detainees (many of whom are civilians caught in the middle) continues with impunity.

This indiscriminate rounding of males for counter-insurgency purposes has repeatedly been shown in history to be a failed strategy.

"Eight months ago, the U.S. military did a sweep of my village in Zabol," said 35-year-old Noorullah. "I am just a farmer, but they didn't care. They couldn't tell the difference, so they took everyone they wanted to."

The father of four said he had not been in contact with his family since December. "They most likely think I am dead," he said.

Another detainee quietly described the way he was treated in the jail.

"We were tortured and beaten up when we were first picked up and taken to local holding facilities," said Mohammed, the detainee. "But later in Kandahar and Bagram prison they were civilized to us."

Labels: ,

Friday, July 15, 2005

Red Cross targets Afghan warlords' private prisons

The trend in Afghanistan, since late last year, has been for the US to release prisoners from custody in Bagram, its main prison, under the amnesty program designed in cooperation with the Afghan government. Only about 450 people remain in US custody at Bagram. As calm and 'progress' is achieved in Kabul, the situation in the provinces is no better or worse. (This can also be said of the security situation as a whole, just yesterday, the fifth cleric in less than a month was assassinated in Southern Afghanistan, and Kandahar airport was reportedly shelled.)

There are an untold number of prisoners held in Afghanistan's remote provincial areas, either at US facilities, Afghan government facilities, or private prisons run by powerful, armed warlords. The number in US custody in the provinces is presumably small, and many people are detained for short (albeit traumatic) interrogations. The 6,000 prisoners are in Afghan government custody, at the Government's own admittance, are often held in extremely poor conditions, suffering hunger, cold, and indefinite stays before seeing a judge.

The number languishing in mysterious "private prisons" is unknown. Conditions in these prisons are much worse, as could be imagined. For years, the UN and Amnesty International have spoken out against these prisons, claiming that the Afghan government should do more to close them. But, as with almost every area of government, in the area of policing and detention, the Kabul-based government exercises scant control over the provinces.

The Afghan media reports that the International Committee of the Red Cross (or Crescent, in Afghanistan) has begun a campaign in the north of the country to seek out and denounce "private prisons." One wonders how much the Red Cross can accomplish on its own, without a more vigorous US/Afghan effort to disarm warlords once and for all.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Ten prisoners suffocate in Iraqi custody

There is outrage in the Sunni section of Iraq today in response to the death of ten prisoners held in a small metal container for over 9 hours in over 100 degree Fahrenheit (40 degree celcius) heat. Eleven Sunni men had reportedly been near a construction site in Amariya, which had been the scene of a firefight between US troops and insurgents. They were detained after going to a hospital in the Abu Ghraib section of Baghdad, where "identified" by commandos as the same men "involved" in the firefight. According to the commandos, the proof of their guilt was their clothes, which they "recognized" and the fact that the men came from two Sunni tribes associated with the insurgency. After being chased and dragged out of the hospital, they were interrogated (allegedly tortured) and placed in the scorching metal container. The one survivor was able to reach his family via mobile phone.

The commandos who took the men prisoner are from the feared "First Brigade" of anti-terrorist forces, many who worked in the same capacity under Saddam Hussein. For an amazing report on the Iraqi counterinsurgency forces and the US support for them, read this Peter Maass story for the New York Times Magazine.

The New York Times also offers the most complete report of the deaths of the ten Sunni prisoners:

All accounts agreed that after the shooting, the minivan drove about seven miles back across northwestern Baghdad to Noor Hospital in Shuala, a mainly Shiite district that is close to Abu Ghraib. General Flaieh said men from the Special Security Unit, with casualties of their own from the Amariya shooting, arrived soon after and were told by hospital guards that there were wounded insurgents being treated in the emergency ward.

"When the commanders entered the ward with their injured men, they recognized the faces and the clothes of some of the other men there and said that they were the ones who had attacked them," said Dr. Khudair Abbas Muhammad, the hospital director.

"At that point, some of the men from Abu Ghraib began to run off," he said, "but the commandos set off after them, and there was chaos. Eventually, the commandos captured them all, including the injured men, and took them away. That was all we knew until we heard that the dead bodies of most of the men were delivered on Monday to the Yarmouk Hospital in Baghdad."

An officer in a police unit attached to Yarmouk Hospital who requested anonymity because he feared reprisal said that an officer with the police commandos' First Brigade, Col. Muhammad Hmood, arrived at the hospital late on Sunday night, about 14 hours after the arrests at Noor Hospital. The officer said Colonel Hmood led attendants to four closed Chevrolet pick-ups carrying eight bodies and four men who were unconscious, two of whom subsequently died. "The colonel said the men were terrorists who had attacked an American convoy, and that they had accidentally suffocated," the police officer said.

The officer said that one of the men who arrived at Yarmouk hospital unconscious but later recovered was Mr. Saleh, the survivor quoted by the Muslim Clerics' Association. "Diya Saleh told us, 'The Interior Ministry commandos who arrested us at Noor Hospital put us in a van, and then took us out and tortured us,' " the officer said. "We called for doctors to look after the men still breathing, and then a pathologist came and looked at the bodies. He said that they had been tortured, with injuries caused by electric shocks."

Before dawn on Monday, the police officer said, four other police commandos arrived in a black Daewoo sedan, three of them wearing the commandos' black uniforms and a fourth in civilian clothes. The officer said that when the commandos demanded to know where Mr. Saleh was, the men assigned to the hospital police unit assumed they had come to kill him, to eliminate him as a witness. "So we called the officers at Mahmoun," the officer said, naming a local police station, "and asked them to help us. When they heard that, the commandos disappeared."

The police officer added, "What happened to those men from Abu Ghraib was a crime against the Iraqi people. When their relatives arrived to claim the bodies, I heard them saying many bad things about the police. With crimes like this, it's not hard to see why the insurgents keep on attacking the police. Those in authority should do something to stop it."

Labels: ,

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Four Al-Qaeda detainees escape Bagram

As unbelievable as it sounds, four "Arab" detainees held deep in the highly-secured Bagram Airbase north of Kabul have escaped. The US military seems to still be in shock that such an escape could happen, as the men would have eluded multiple layers of security. There is still no clear information explaining how the men managed to escape. The escaped men were from Libya, Kuwait, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.

The US reports that it is conducting a massive manhunt for the men with Afghan national forces. US military officials distributed photos of the men in Bagram village, claiming that they were "dressed in yellow jumpsuits" (when it seems obvious that they would have removed them as soon as possible, even before leaving Bagram.)

An anonymous American official told The Washington Post, "Even if those Arabs had wings, they should not have been able to escape."

Labels: ,

Monday, July 11, 2005

'They put us in a cell and forgot about us'

American filmmaker of Iranian descent, Cyrus Kar, was freed over the weekend after 7 weeks of confinement in a dark, solitary cell in Camp Cropper, outside of Baghdad. After his family brought his story to the media, and the ACLU petitioned for a hearing on his behalf in Federal Court, he was freed. His passport was destroyed by FBI investigators, his clothes, a valuable ring, and over 20 hours of valuable footage for his historical documentary were all confiscated and destroyed. The ACLU says it will not drop its suit against the US government until Kar obtains a new passport and is allowed to travel home safely. According to the LA Times:

Kar, speaking to reporters, described long, frustrating days in solitary confinement with little information about his status or reason for being held. At the same time, Kar said he was well-treated while he was held and understood security concerns in war-torn Iraq.

"I don't hold anything against them for holding us," he said. "What I hold against them is they put us in a cell and forgot us."


"They knew from the get-go that we were nothing more than filmmakers," said Kar, who served in the Navy. "They saw my VA card in my wallet."

Kar called the circumstances of their May 17 arrest in the city of Balad "quite bizarre." He and Faraji had hired a taxi driver about an hour before the arrest. As the cab was waved through a checkpoint manned by Iraqi soldiers, the driver pulled over and told authorities he had two Iranian filmmakers in his cab.

Iraqis sometimes suspect Iranian pilgrims and businesspeople of being spies for the religious regime in Tehran.

The soldiers searched the car and in the trunk found the three dozen washing machine timers. The driver admitted the timers were his, but the soldiers arrested all three men, handing them over to Americans.

Kar said he repeatedly asked to see someone from the embassy but no one came until Saturday.

He said he also asked for an attorney but never saw one.

Kar said he passed a lie detector test in which he was asked whether they belonged to the insurgency. His eight weeks of confinement were dull. He was not allowed to speak to any of the detainees that were housed with him, he said. He spent his days reading through the Geneva Convention, which he can now practically recite.

At a news conference Sunday in Los Angeles, Kar's cousin Shahrzad Folger said, "The three phone conversations he had with us" while he was detained provided "the most information he had been given the entire time."


For both Kar and Faraji, the experience was difficult and nerve-racking.

Faraji, who bathed himself in hot water for nearly 30 minutes after arriving at the hotel, said being locked up amid the squalor of Abu Ghraib shook his faith in the U.S.

At the prison, he said, he was housed in a tent surrounded by barbed wire. He slept on dirty slippers as men urinated in containers next to him.

The experience has left Kar, who had supported the war in Iraq, with a changed outlook on American policy. He said he still believes the U.S. should bring democracy to fascist states, "but it must be done by competent administrators."

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Fate of detained Afghan journalists unclear

The four journalists detained in Kunar Province last week appear to have been caught in a legal limbo for much of the week. As of July 7, more than 4 days after their detention, the UN could only report that two had been released and two remained in custody. A Pakistani website claimed that "well placed sources" said they had been transferred to Kabul, after a couple of days in Kunar Province, where they had been beaten up. The Afghan Government is clearly under pressure from the UN and international human rights and journalists organizations to make a full accounting for these detentions.


Another detainee release in Kabul, 76 freed

The US released another 76 suspected "ex-Taliban" detainees from its custody in Kabul on Saturday, as part of an on-going amnesty program. Some had been detained for up to 2 years, the majority from Southern and Eastern regions of Afghanistan. A US Army spokeswoman was quoted by Reuters as confirming the number of Afghan detainees in US custody at 450. There are no figures for the number of detainees in Afghan custody.


Thursday, July 07, 2005

American citizens held by US military in Iraq

The New York Times broke the amazing story of an American veteran held prisoner in Iraq by US forces. Cyrus Kar is a 44 year-old, Iranian-American filmmaker. He moved to the US when he was two years old, had served in the US Navy, and in May was in Iraq working on a film. According to various reports, the film was not even specifically about contemporary Iraq, it was an historical documentary about an ancient Persian king, Darius the Great.

Kar was captured shortly after he arrived in Baghdad in a taxi that allegedly had "several dozen" washing maching timers in the trunk, which are considered by the US "bomb making materials." Regardless of his potential guilt or innocence, he has not yet been able to meet with legal counsel, and he will be held during the "review process" that other Iraqis experience, which normally takes between 3 months and a year.

Apparently the other four people in custody holding American passports do not have the same background, they are more recently naturalized citizens of Iraq and Jordan. But the question remains, what rights to American citizens have when detained by their own military in a counter-insurgency situation in a foreign country? From the New York Times:

Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, who are representing Mr. Kar's relatives, said they would file a lawsuit on Wednesday in Federal District Court in Washington, accusing the government of holding Mr. Kar in violation of American and international laws and seeking his release through a writ of habeas corpus.

"Saddam Hussein has had more due process than Cyrus Kar," said Mark Rosenbaum, the lead lawyer in the case. "This is a detention policy that was drafted by Kafka."

Colonel Skinner, the Pentagon spokesman, said any American civilians detained as a possible threat to the allied forces would eventually go before a board of three American officers, who would assess their cases and decide what to do with them. He said he did not know whether there was any specific time period by which such a review would be done.

"We have absolutely no desire to hold anyone longer than is necessary," Colonel Skinner said. "But you can't be wrong, either. We are talking about life-or-death issues. You have to absolutely be thorough."

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Four journalists detained in remote Afghanistan

The news of the detention of four journalists for major news organizations, reportedly from AP and Radio Free Europe, slipped under the radar screen over the weekend with the news of the surviving special forces officer found in remote Eastern Afghanistan.

The journalists, who no doubt traveled to Kunar Province to cover the helicopter crash there, were reportedly detained by 'local' Afghan security forces. These security forces are supposed to act in concert with American military forces, but the US military has made no statement regarding the whereabouts or condition of the journalists. Some reports call them "foreign journalists" and other reports say they are Afghan journalists accredited with AP and Radio Free Europe.

Word reached the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) that the men are being held in an extremely hot underground chamber, and that they are on hunger strike.

In the US, the Office of the National Security Advisor has promised to look into to the reported detention.

If the report is true, it seems more proof that there is an effort on the part of Afghan authorities to prevent western news organizations from independently reporting in Afghanistan's remoter provinces. (It is unclear how much coordination there is on the ground between local Afghan authorities and the US military, it varies from region to region.)

The choice for most journalists remains: risk detention or death by going alone, or go "embedded" with US forces, a guarantee that you will remain far from the action, and be shown only one side of the story.

Labels: ,

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Iraqi secret torture centers: US and UK silent

The Observer/Guardian has revealed the scandalous results of its investigation into human rights abuses committed by Iraqi police and defense forces: proof of extrajudicial executions, heinous tortures, and some abuses even within the walls of the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior. One of the groups most feared by Iraqis, and according to the Observer report one of the most abusive, is the "Wolf Brigade," the Army batallion featured on a reality TV show that actually shows men threatening detainees and joking about abuses. The abuses and tortures are common knowledge in Iraq, and The Observer/Guardian proposes that the Iraqi government has diverted British and American aid to the police and defense forces to these activities, and that officials of both countries are aware of this. Read the gory details here. Or, read a summary here:

The Observer has seen photographic evidence of post-mortem and hospital examinations of alleged terror suspects from Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle which demonstrate serious abuse of suspects including burnings, strangulation, the breaking of limbs and - in one case - the apparent use of an electric drill to perform a knee-capping.

The investigation revealed:

- A 'ghost' network of secret detention centres across the country, inaccessible to human rights organisations, where torture is taking place.

- Compelling evidence of widespread use of violent interrogation methods including hanging by the arms, burnings, beatings, the use of electric shocks and sexual abuse.

- Claims that serious abuse has taken place within the walls of the Iraqi government's own Ministry of the Interior.

- Apparent co-operation between unofficial and official detention facilities, and evidence of extra-judicial executions by the police.

Labels: ,

Detainee release in Kabul

Another detainee release took place over the weekend in Kabul, much like prior releases, under the Peace Commission's "amnesty" program, even though most were "not guilty" and never convicted of anything. One wonders what these detainees think about the American presence in Afghanistan after having their lives so interrupted, for months and years. The compensation, $200, even in the Afghan context, seems small. More releases are due in the coming months under the program, which is said to include 199 men in total. From the New York Times:

On Saturday, American forces freed 57 Afghan detainees from the detention facility at Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul, as part of a continuing government reconciliation program with suspected insurgents.


The detainees, with closely shaved heads, were handed over to Afghan authorities who gave them silk turbans and 10,000 afghanis, or about $200, for their journey home. "You are released and I congratulate you," Sebaghatullah Mojadeddi, president the Peace Commission, told them in a speech in Kabul.

"Certainly most of you were not guilty," he told them. "The problems were caused because of personal enmity and people giving false reports to have you imprisoned," he said, recognizing the complaints of many previous detainees that personal rivalries and old enmities are behind much of the information supplied to the American forces.

The government had asked American forces to stop raiding houses without first consulting the local authorities and to conduct all operations with the Afghan police and army personnel, Mr. Mojadeddi said. "They have promised to do so, so I hope they will fulfill their promises," he said of the American military.


Friday, July 01, 2005

NYT reports truth: Afghans getting fed up

Following the wreck of the US special forces helicopter in eastern mountain Afghanistan, and statements by the Taliban that it is responsible for the crash, the US media woke up to the growing quagmire there. Not since Laura Bush's visit earlier this year has Afghanistan received so much attention, which does not actually seem to amount to much.

But yesterday's New York Times story was surprisingly aware of how average Afghans view the US military presence there. Aside from reporting "growing uncertainty" and pessimism about the future in Aghanistan, the Times aired Afghan frustrations with US methods and treatment of Afghans outside of Kabul.

"Three years on, the people are still hoping that things are going to work out, but they have become suspicious about why the Americans came, and why the Americans are treating the local people badly," said Jandad Spinghar, leader of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission in Nangarhar Province in the east, just across the Khyber Pass from Pakistan.

Poverty, joblessness, frustrated expectations and the culture of 25 years of war make for a volatile mix in which American military raids, shootings and imprisonments can inflame public opinion, many here say.

"Generally people are not against the Americans," Mr. Spinghar said. "But in areas where there are no human rights, where they do not have good relations and where there is bad treatment of villagers or prisoners, this will hand a free area to the Taliban. It's very important that the Americans understand how the Afghan people feel."

Reflecting the shifting popular mood, President Hamid Karzai has publicly criticized the behavior of American troops and called for closer cooperation when Afghan homes are raided.

Labels: ,