Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Third puny jail sentence for Dilawar's death

A third jail sentence was meted out by the military justice system to another MP with the 377th Military Police Company of Cinncinati for the beating death of Afghan prisoner Dilawar in 2002, just 75 days. In addition to the jail time, Sgt. Antony Morden will suffer a reduction of rank and bad conduct discharge.

In total, then, military justice has handed down only 7-1/2 months jail time (divided among 3 MPs) for the heinous abuse and death of an innocent Afghan taxi-driver.

Compare this, for example, to a 4-month solitary confinement sentence for a Marine who played a harmful practical joke against another Marine.

It appears that only one soldier awaits trial in the abuse-homicide, Sgt. Joshua R. Claus. He has announced he will plead guilty to charges brought against him. Sgt. Claus distinguished himself for his sadism, according to the New York Times, which obtained the Army's 2000-pg. report on the deaths at Bagram:

Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar's face.

"Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. "Drink!"

At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.

Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen.

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Monday, August 29, 2005

US releases 1,000 from Abu Ghraib

The US military announced it released approximately 1,000 prisoners from Abu Ghraib on Sunday, in an effort to create good will in a time of growing political crisis in Iraq. The prisoners were accused of (many never found guilty of) non-violent crimes, and pledged to be "good citizens of a democractic Iraq." The release was made at the request of Iraqi authorities — who evidently should be in greater control of the correction system.

The question that is raised by this release is, how, administratively and legally can so many men be released at once? Why were they not released as they were found innocent? Was this an "amnesty" of sorts, where men convicted of non-violent crimes were released, or was it a special acceleration of the judicial "review" process in order to release those accused of non-violent crimes? If the latter is the case, shouldn't those accused of non-violent crimes benefit from some form of bail or parole system?

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Friday, August 26, 2005

Pattern of detention of journalists in Iraq

Reuters reports that the US military rejected the growing concern about the detention of Iraqi journalists working for major news agencies and organizations. The military refused to recognized the special nature of their work in reporting conflict as a common factor for confusion and their detention.

One Reuters cameraman has been held incommunicado for nearly two months, and is currently in detention in Abu Ghraib.

Ali Omar Abrahem al-Mashhadani, a 36-year-old freelance cameraman and photographer with Reuters, detained

The highest-profile detention of a filmmaker in Iraq involved Cyrus Kar, an Iranian-American documentarist, who was detained for months until threats by his family to sue the US government facilitated his swift release. His Iranian cameraman was not so lucky, and was released long after Kar.

CBS and Agence France Presse journalists were detained for many months as well.

Mashhadani, 36, has worked for Reuters for a year as a freelance television cameraman and photographer in Ramadi, west of Baghdad. U.S. officials say he can have no visitors, including his family or a lawyer, for 60 days.

Reuters has provided U.S. forces with footage by Mashhadani that shows scenes of conflict and gunmen operating in plain view of civilians. Nothing in his work has indicated activity incompatible with his status as an independent journalist.

"U.S. and Iraqi military forces routinely detain Iraqi journalists without charge or explanation, and some have been held for months," the CPJ [Committee to Protect Journalists] said.

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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Military justice: Afghan lives worth little

Only the second jail sentence — this time 2 months — was handed down yesterday for the beating death of Dilawar, the part-time taxi driver who died in Bagram in 2002. Spc. Glendale Walls, a military intelligence interrogator, plead guilty to assault and dereliction of duty. Walls threw Dilawar against a wall, and did prevent others from striking him. Just last week, a military policeman, Spc. (now Pvt.) Willie Brand was merely demoted for his abuse of Dilawar.

Reaction in Afghanistan to the verdict was swift and entirely negative. President Karzai's office called the sentence "unexpectedly lenient" and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission called the sentence "a joke" (stating they believed 20 years or a death sentence would be more appropriate — which reveals their unbridled frustration with the situation).

Given the outrage surrounding the non-lethal abuses at Abu Ghraib, and the entire lack of media attention and the small sentences handed down in response to the homicides at Bagram, it seems quite easy for Afghans to conclude that to the US government, their lives are worth very little — even less than Iraqi lives.

Seven of soldiers face (or have faced) charges of abuse in the case of the homicides at Bagram in 2002. According to USA Today, in addition to the charges against Spc. Walls and Brand, the following disciplinary actions were taken:

Sgt. Selena Salcedo, an interrogator who worked with Walls at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, pleaded guilty to similar charges this month... Salcedo will be demoted, given a letter of reprimand and ordered to forfeit $250 a month for four months.

Spc. Brian E. Cammack pleaded guilty in May to abuse charges and was sentenced to three months in prison. Cammack testified against Brand.

Sgt. Joshua R. Claus has announced his intention to plead guilty in the abuse cases. Claus, one of the soldiers that prosecutors have alleged abused Dilawar while Walls stood by, was scheduled to stand trial in September.

Sgt. James P. Boland, also a reservist from Ohio, was given a letter of reprimand citing him for dereliction of duty for his work at Bagram. Boland, who has left the Army, was initially charged with chaining Dilawar's hands above his head and other abuse charges.

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Monday, August 22, 2005

Detainees to vote on constitution?

The LA Times reported today that the Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission is considering allowing detainees in Abu Ghraib the chance to vote in October's referendum on the soon-to-be-finished constitution.

Few could deny that Sunni cooperation and participation in the vote is key for the future peace and security of Iraq. The only active Sunni party, Iraqi Islamic Party, has lobbied for the vote for detainees, mostly Sunni young men.

This degree of Sunni involvement is already in strong contrast to the last vote for the Constituent Assembly, in which a Sunni boycott led to only 2% participation.

It is unclear whether the US military will approve of and/or facilitate activities by the Independent Electoral Commission in its detention facilities.


MP convicted in Bagram homicide; no jail-time

After the media circus surrounding the Abu Ghraib abusers, the trial of Military Police Spc. Willie Brand for causing the death of two Bagram detainees, received little attention in the US media.

Last week a Texas military panel found Brand guilty of assault, maltreatment, maiming and lying to investigators in the case of the death of Dilawar, a young Afghan taxi driver. Brand was found innocent of the charges related to the second homicide of Habibullah.

Military prosecutors asked for a jail sentence of 10 years (the maximum would have been 16 years.) Instead, Brand was demoted. The only explanations for such a light sentence would be that the panel believed Brand's plea that his training related to restraining prisoners was "inadequate," and that it welcomed the reservist's promise to testify against his superiors.

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Friday, August 19, 2005

Paratrooper regiment deployed to guard detainees

The Pentagon announced it will be deploying the 3rd battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment to Iraq to guard over the increasing numbers of "security detainees" held throughout the country. This 700-strong regiment, part of the famous 82nd Airborne based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and was designed to be deployed on 18-hours notice to often jump behind enemy lines before a conflict has 'officially' begun.

The 3/504 has seen three deployments since 9-11, two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan (where Geraldo visited them).

In Iraq, in 2003, a different regiment of the 82nd Airborne shot and killed 13 protesters in Fallujah in a controversial incident, and was also alleged later to have "brutalized" four Iraqi reporters for Reuters and NBC.

Look back three more years, and specifically the 3/504 was tainted by violence and abuse. It was deployed to Kosovo in 1999 as a peacekeeping force, where it became embroiled in controversy when Staff Sgt Frank Ronghi was convicted of raping and killing a local girl. Ronghi was given a life sentence without parole. Subsequently, the entire battalion underwent administrative reforms.

In the eyes of some, there will be no regiment "clean" enough in the Army to deploy to guard detainees after Abu Ghraib.


Thursday, August 18, 2005

Innocent Uighur migrants languish in detention

The New Standard, a new progressive web-based paper, offers an exclusive report on the situation of about two-dozen Uighur detainees in Guantanamo, who were picked up in Afghanistan in 2001. The New Standard story focuses on two Uighur men, with Chinese nationality, who the US originally claimed were Islamic militants, allegedly in Afghanistan receiving training by the Taliban. These false allegations presumed that they wanted to return to Western China, and create a militant, Uighur nationalist movement for independence from Beijing.

The Uighur men maintain their story that they were only passing through Afghanistan on their way to Turkey, that it was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is no evidence of these men's connection to the Taliban. But as the Chinese government is extremely suspicious of Uighur people (and indeed represses Uighur nationalism with more ferocity than Tibetan nationalism), the detainees were left to languish.

The New Standard claims that the US government's own hearings for the men, in late March, found them to be non-combatants, and that there were to be no charges against the two Uighurs. And yet, as late as the end of July, lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights, met with the men, still treated like prionsers, shackled to the ground in small windowless rooms in Guantanamo. According to the CCR, "Since [the March hearing] the government has failed to notify their attorneys, families or anyone else of the men's innocence, instead allowing them to remain in detention for an additional six months."


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Afghan justice system a major worry

A paper written jointly by the Afghan government and the UN claims that only 15 of 380 buildings dedicated as courthouses have the facilities to hold legal hearings. Yesterday in Kabul, a 3-day conference on the Afghan justice system was convened, and the paper "Justice for All" was released, detailing the poor state of the Afghan justice system.

The paper maintains that provincial facilities, including prisons, are at best ineffective, and often non-existent. There is a shortage of trained personnel and prisons. In at least 20 provinces there are no proper prison facilities.

In the absence of any formal system, tribal or "traditional" courts have filled the void, says the paper.

The US claims it will remand the Afghan prisoners in Guantanamo (and Bagram) to the state of Afghanistan when the system is ready for them. One wonders, reading this report, when that may be...

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Suspected homicide at Abu Ghraib

The US military reported to wire services that a 20-year-old man was found unconscious by fellow prisoners and later died in hospital on Monday. The US military has not named any suspects, but does acknowledge it is treating the case as a suspected homicide.

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Friday, August 12, 2005

Ex Military Intel Col. argues for full disclosure of Abu Ghraib abuses

The ACLU released the declaration of Col. Michael E. Pheneger, arguing to a Federal Court that the 2nd set of Abu Ghraib photos must be released. Col. Pheneger describes himself as a War College classmate of General Myers (who wrote a declaration supporting the government's argument to withhold the photos), and a member of the Florida ACLU. In his words:

In a democracy, we make a societal judgment that the long-term benefits of openness and freedom of information outweigh the shortterm costs that the dissemination of any particular piece of information may impose. The initial publication of the Abu Ghraib photos damaged the image and credibility of the United States and raised questions in the Islamic world about the legitimacy of our objectives, but I have seen no convincing evidence that their publication caused loss of life. ...

The release of these photos will certainly harm the reputation of the Army in which it was my honor to serve and the nation that I love. However, I believe we need a thorough public examination of the implications and effects of the Administration’s decision to abandon long-standing policies and principles that were adopted to safeguard our own military, ensure compliance to treaties and International Law, and ensure that our behavior adheres to the principle that made us great and honorable nation. This cannot occur unless the public is fully informed. The Administration has portrayed the degradation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib as the actions of a few rogue reservists. Unfortunately, there is significant evidence that the administration elected to change the rules and approve interrogation techniques that the Army had long prohibited. The first step to abandoning practices that are repugnant to our laws and national ideals is to bring them into the sunshine and assign accountability.

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Govt censors its own rationale to withhold photos

The ACLU has released the legal documents containing a heavily censored version of the government's rationale for withholding the 2nd set of "Darby photos" depicting abuses and tortures committed at Abu Ghraib. Over 20% of the government's brief to the Federal Court deciding this issue was "redacted." It can be assumed that these parts allude to the specific content of the photos, which some sources have revealed, including rape and abuse of children. According to the ACLU:

Last week, on the deadline of a court order requiring the Defense Department to process and redact 87 photographs and four videos taken at Abu Ghraib, government attorneys filed a last-minute memorandum of law and three affidavits arguing against the release of the materials. The government's papers cite a statutory provision that permits the withholding of records "compiled for law enforcement purposes," that "could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual."

However, the government has redacted significant portions of its public brief, including the conclusion. The government also heavily redacted portions of declarations submitted in support of the brief. One of the declarations is that of General Richard Meyers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. ACLU attorneys have been provided with less-redacted court papers pursuant to a protective order that prevents them from disclosing the papers' contents to the public.

"Not only is the government denying the public access to records of critical significance, it is also withholding its reasons for doing so," said Amrit Singh, an ACLU staff attorney. "This exemplifies the government's disregard for democratic constraints on the use of executive power."

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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Amnesty reports global network of hidden US prisons

Amnesty International released a bombshell of a report last week, alleging that the US operates secret, underground prison facilities in countries other than Afghanistan, Iraq or Guantanamo. While it is possible that the alleged prisons exist in Afghanistan and Iraq, the report suggests that the US may operate these prisons in Jordan, Pakistan, Thailand, Egypt, or on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia.

The report is based on the testimony of two Yemeni nationals, longtime residents in Indonesia, who were imprisoned on separate occasions two years ago, taken to Jordanian prisons, where they claim they were tortured, and then flown for "over 4 hours" to unknown, underground prisons where they were held in solitary confinement.

Salah Nasser Salim Ali (above) and Muhammad Faraj Ahmed Bashmilah (below)

Their captors, who spoke "American English" remained hooded for the many months of their captivity. The men claimed they were repeatedly abused by their "ninja-like" interrogators, and given no idea why they were imprisoned or when they would be released.

The Yemeni government has confirmed to Amnesty International that the men were repatriated to Yemen, on the condition that they would be indefinitely imprisoned. The government is apparently complying with this condition, as the two men were interviewed in a Yemeni prison, where they have remained, without being charged, since they were remanded to Yemeni custody in June 2005.

The Department of Defense has yet to respond to these allegations.

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Friday, August 05, 2005

Press demands 2nd set of Abu Ghraib photos

The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press (RCFP) filed an amicus brief with the Federal Court reviewing the FOIA request of the ACLU for the release of the 2nd set of photos and videos from Abu Ghraib. The Department of Defense claimed in court late last month that the content of the photos is so shocking and disturbing (according to various sources, scenes of rape and sexual abuse, and abuse of minors) that it would provoke more violence in Afghanistan and Iraq, and hence they should be kept secret. The move by the RCFP is relatively rare, once an issue is at trial, but a spokesman said the action was in response to what the RCFP deemed to be a very novel, and potentially dangerous argument by the Department of Defense to withhold critical information from the public.

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US to return 110 Guantanamo detainees to Kabul

It was announced on Thursday, that nearly one fourth of the remaining Guantanamo detainees, 110 in total, all of Afghan nationality, will be released to the custody of the Afghan government. The transfer will occur only when Afghanistan has developed the "capacity" to receive them, said a US embassy spokesman in Kabul. A recent UNDP newsletter indicates that only days ago a new Penitentiary Law was passed, and it will require a great deal of training and rehabbing of facilities to implement.

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Military Intel Sgt. pleads guilty in Afghan death

Military Intelligence Sgt. Selena Salcedo plead guilty this week to charges of dereliction of duty and assault in the case of the violent death of Afghan taxi-driver detainee Dilawar. She faces up to a year in prison, bad conduct discharge, loss of a year's pay, and reduction of rank. MP Pfc. Willie Brand is currently on facing similar charges in relation to Dilawar's death.

Sgt. Salcedo testified that she became impatient with Dilawar's "whiny" Pastun pleas for mercy, grabbing his head and shoving him against a wall, where he was forced to sit as though in a chair for long periods of time, even though he claimed his knees were in pain. Dilawar later died due to blood clotting in his thighs from knee-cap blows he received from his captors, and the stress on his legs from being forced to "sit" and stand up repeatedly.

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Thursday, August 04, 2005

Torture debate creates rift in Republican party

Knight Ridder columnist and military correspondent Joseph Galloway writes in his August 3 piece that the debate over torture and abuse is dividing the Republican party in two. The Whitehouse refuses to move an inch on this issue, refusing to allow any Congressional oversight into detention of those it deems to be "terrorists." Certain members of Congress support this view. But enough Republicans, including highly respected conservatives (and decorated veterans and a former POW), have argued that the abuse/torture debate is not about who they are, but who Americans themselves are.

On the floor of the Senate, before everyone left on vacation, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., sounded the administration line: There is no need for this legislation because we are not dealing with prisoners of war but "terrorists."

John McCain [Rep, AZ] stood up and responded that the debate was not "about who they are. It's about who we are." We are Americans, the senator said, and we hold ourselves to a higher standard than those who slaughter the innocent in Iraq or Afghanistan, or in London or on 9/11 here at home. [...]

The administration has stonewalled, bobbed and weaved and hidden from the truth with the acquiescence, at least until now, of a Republican-controlled Congress that has failed to follow up even when there is evidence people have been lying right to their faces.

The senators - Warner, McCain and Graham - have taken the first step toward shedding some light in the darker corners of the dungeon. Don't be surprised if that light finds a lot of people who rank much higher than specialist 4 or staff sergeant cowering in the corners.

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Monday, August 01, 2005

More abuse tied to Reservists in Iraq

The LA Times ran a very strange story about a California Guard (reservist) battalion accused of abusing detainees in Iraq. In specific, the allegations surround a June incident at a Baghdad power plant, in which seven detainees were tazed with stun guns, all of whom were almost immediately released as "non-combatants." (The Alpha Company appears to have ties to the infamous Iraqi "Wolf Brigade" — it is unclear whether Iraqi forces were involved in the June stun-gun incident.)

The Alpha Company, of the 1st battalion of the 184th infantry regiment, is commanded by a very bizarre officer from Northern California, who has served in Vietnam and also worked as a mercenary in Rhodesia. Lt. Col. Patrick Frey has many eccentricies, including a practice of "knighting" his soldiers receiving promotion with a hatchet.

The story raises the question as to whether the culture of the Reserves: lack of oversight, proper training, and permissive attitude toward "eccentricities" has somehow created an environment ripe for abuse in Iraq, where all most all of those charged with abuses so far have been reservists.

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Utah Reservist-Linguists exposed abuses

The Salt Lake Tribune (SLT) ran an interesting feature article this weekend, exposing the "positive" (if there is one) side to the abuse scandals in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo. Within the military culture, denouncing abuse must be difficult, there is no denying it. It takes a brave individual to come forward and attempt to put an end to abuse.

The SLT tells the story of its reservist-linguists (often talented in Afghan languages and Arabic due to the missionary reach of Mormonism), and how they had been key in the revelation of abuses in various locations. Their testimony will presumably help convict various serial abusers of detainees.

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Pratt was apparently unprepared for what he found in his first few months with some of the regular Army soldiers of the 3rd Cavalry.

Among the allegations made in his testimony: That he had witnessed a soldier shoot a 14-year-old boy in the back during a raid - as the boy was running away. That matter, he claimed, was never thoroughly investigated, though fellow soldiers assured him that the rules of engagement had been followed when the teen was shot.

Later, when he learned that unqualified soldiers were conducting interrogations, Pratt again logged a compliant. In response, he testified, he was investigated - and told by other soldiers it was for blackmail purposes.

The final blow came when Pratt reported that a group of combat engineers had confiscated a large stash of currency from an Iraqi family who intended to use the money to send their daughter to Jordan for an operation. When he reported the matter to an officer in his chain of command, Pratt said, "he told me I was getting too close to the Iraqis. He accused me of losing my objectivity."

"After that incident," Pratt said. "I realized that it was pointless to report anything."

Though aware that detainees were often stuffed into lockers, wrapped with blankets and electric cords - and, Pratt alleged, sometimes beaten with a sledgehammer handle - he didn't seek an investigation.

Though he questioned the actions of the covert officers allegedly responsible for the sledgehammer tactics, Pratt didn't report them. They were, he reasoned, out of his chain of command. And in any case, he didn't even know the agents' names.

By comparison, Pratt said, the actions of soldiers like Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer were tame.

"With Welshofer, at least he'd give the detainee a chance to tell the truth," Pratt testified.

Still, Pratt said he confronted the senior soldier after he watched another officer pull a sleeping bag over an inmate, immobilizing the man with cord before slamming him to the ground. When the inmate began to pray aloud, Pratt said, the officer poured water into his mouth and cupped his hands over the inmate's face.

Welshofer, the unit's "subject matter expert" on interrogation techniques, told Pratt "the sleeping bag technique" was authorized, though only certain soldiers were allowed to use it, according to Pratt's testimony. In the following days, the record states, Pratt watched as Welshofer himself applied the technique on another inmate, sitting on the bound man's chest and stomach as he asked him questions.

"I could tell by the way he was sitting, if I was in the detainee's position, I would have had a hard time breathing," Pratt said, adding afterward: "I'm surprised that it didn't kill him." [...]

But although Pratt wanted to let someone know what he had witnessed, he didn't feel it would do any good so long as he was with the 3rd Cavalry.

"I didn't contact my chain of command because the only chain of command I had was Chief Welshofer," Pratt said. "I had reported this kind of action to the 3rd ACR chain of command before, and the response was that every time I reported something, the chain of command would investigate me . . .

"I believe that the chain of command was complicit with the unlawful activities, that is why I didn't report it to them."

On Christmas Day 2003, Pratt traveled from Iraq to Kuwait, where he met up with the Utah National Guard's officer in charge of interrogations. That officer, whose name does not appear in the transcript, would be the first senior official to take Pratt's allegations seriously.

Finally, the enlisted soldier had found the encouragement he had sought all along: "He told me I had to report it."

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