Friday, December 30, 2005

Dutch doubts dog Coalition in Afghanistan

The Australian reports that the Dutch government's hesistation to deploy forces to troubled Uruzgan province in 2006 as a part of an expanded NATO contingent of the Coalition (ISAF) is causing consternation in Canberra.

Australia is worried that 200 engineers, poised to take over from the US the Provincial Reconstruction Team based in Tarin Kwot (Uruzgan), will be held in limbo waiting for protection. The Dutch are their would-be protectors in that trouble spot.

The Dutch Prime Minister recently stated he will allow Parliament to decide whether the deployment to Uruzgan will go forward, facing dissent from a party in the ruling coalition and opinion polls that show 68% opposition to the increased troop contribution. Issues of concern are almost certain increased casualties, the potential "partner" in Uruzgan a controversial Governor-warlord featured in Taliban Country, and more generally concern with the strategy of conducting a counter-insurgency in remote Afghanistan.

Dutch Defense Minister Henk Kamp stated that Dutch forces would not be "hunting Taliban" (like American forces there).

From the Australian side, the opposition Labor party commented today that no Australian servicemen should go into a "hostile sphere" for reconstruction projects without troop and air support.

The other NATO partners are worried (UK and Canada) that they may have to increase their contributions, something they have sworn they cannot afford.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Bloodbath in Iraqi-run prison

A tragic incident today at an Iraqi-run prison in the outskirts of Baghdad, resulting in the death of at least 8 people, will undoubtedly reinforce the US military's opinion that Iraqis are not ready to take control of the over 14,000 detainees in US custody.

Even Iraqi Interior Ministry officials were admitting after the violence today that they are under-trained and under-equipped to run an effective prison system.

Detainees at Kadhimiya Base were being transfered to another holding facility when as many as 16 broke free and stormed the armory of the prison. It seems there was a concerted effort to seize weapons and escape.

Four wardens and an interpreter were killed presumably by the detainee gunmen who were able to reach the armory. During the firefight, wardens and US soldiers fired on the crowd of inmates, killing four detainees and wounding many more.

Labels: , ,

CIA "investigating" worst renditions

The CIA's Inspector General, who is charged with independently investigating the organization, is looking into about 10 alleged cases of "erroneous rendition" -- i.e. kidnapping and delivering to other governments, coincidentally those that torture.

The US government estimates that up to 150 people have been apprehended all over the world by US government agents and sent to third countries for "interrogation" (often countries where interrogation is synonymous with torture like Jordan and Egypt).

The Inspector General is specifically looking into the cases of Khaled Al-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese origin, and Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born Australian. It is not concidental that one man is suing the US government, and the other has threatened to sue the Australian government.

This CIA investigation is announced shortly after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a public denial of any "rendition" to a country where a detainee would likely be tortured. Isn't it the very same State Department which issues yearly reports on Human Rights in countries like Egypt ("the security forces continued to mistreat and torture prisoners"), Jordan ("reported continuing abuses included police abuse and mistreatment of detainees, allegations of torture"), and Syria ("continuing serious abuses included the use of torture in detention, which at times resulted in death")? And, for the record, the US denies "rendering" any detainees to Syria, but a Canadian citizen Maher Arar is suing the US for his "rendition" to Syria.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The War on Terror: literally, a flying circus

To help us end the year on a "it's-better-to-laugh-than-to-cry" note, Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame) has made a fine contribution. His "prizes" for 2005 were featured in the Guardian today.

To Dick Cheney (who swept the prizes this year), Jones awards the "Abu Ghraib Trophy for Human Rights":
We now come to the Abu Ghraib Trophy for Human Rights, and ... yes, it's another triumph for the VP! Dick Cheney has stood firm against a wicked cabal of Republican senators - John Warner of Virginia, John McCain of Arizona, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina - who tried to sneak a clause into the 2005 military spending bill that would outlaw "cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment" to military prisoners. How can the US champion human rights unless it is allowed unrestrained access to any torture techniques it considers fit, to use against enemies that are both sub-human and have forfeited any rights to be treated as our fellow creatures?

Terry Jones' book War on the War on Terror was published this year in the US by NationBooks. In it he writes, "How do you wage war on an abstract noun? How is 'Terrorism' going to surrender? It's well known, in philological circles, that it's very hard for abstract nouns to surrender."

Labels: ,

Saturday, December 24, 2005

US: no handover of detainees to Iraqis

The US military will continue to keep detainees and prisoners in custody instead of handing them over to Iraqi custody, following the revelation of abuses in secret Iraqi facilities last month. Even after Abu Ghraib and the deaths of detainees at Bagram, the US has decided that it is better than the Iraqi Interior Ministry.

The New York Times reports that General Gardner, who took over control of forces in Iraq on November 30, will require sites under the control of the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior to be inspected before the US begins handing over detainees. (Ironically, the US will not allow unhampered access for the Red Cross to inspect American facilities in Iraq.)

According to the US military's own accounting, the US prisons in Iraq are at 120% of capacity. Abu Ghraib is 40% over capacity. The prison population has almost doubled in the past year.

On a similar and strange note, following the release of formerly "high-value" detainees such as the infamous Ms. Anthrax (Huda Ammash) by the US, the Iraqi government complains that it would like to re-arrest them.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Dutch question Afghanistan mission

After much debate in the alternative and mainstream media in the Netherlands, it seems that the Dutch Left has come together against the decision of Defence Minister Henk Kamp to authorize a deployment of 1,200 Dutch troops to Afghanistan in mid 2006. The troops would be deployed under the increased NATO contingent to the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) to the troubled "Taliban country" of Uruzgan Province, in the south central area of the country near Kandahar.

Taliban country? Must we?

Reuters reports that three parties, one of which is part of the ruling coalition, have expressed their opposition to the deployment. According to the New York Times, the issue will be debated in the Dutch parliament in a special hearing on January 26. A vote will take place on February 2, but the parliament does not appear to have the power to veto the deployment.

A Dutch opinion poll shows that 68% of the public is against the increased deployment to Uruzgan.

The Dutch opposition bases its objection to the mission on reports of anarchy, failed counter-insurgency and abuse by mainly US forces in Uruzgan.

A major worry for the Dutch opposition is the issue of detention during the inevitable counter-insurgency missions in the troubled region.

A number of sources have pointed to the film Taliban Country as a source for these doubts, after the film was featured in an Amsterdam magazine and on Dutch television.

Dutch rejection of the Uruzgan mission could cause big problems for NATO, as other contributing countries (Canada and the UK) claim they have already reached their deployment and funding limits.

Labels: , ,

Interrogation contractor on PR warpath

CACI, the infamous contractor to the CIA used for interrogation in Iraq until the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in 2004, continues to attack its critics even when it seems the public has largely forgotten or overlooked their role in abuse of detainees.

A Minnesota alternative magazine recounts the reponse of irate CACI president J. P. London, who wrote a strange letter contesting a recent story by the magazine about CACI's lobbying efforts in Congress. The prior article referred to the fact that CACI and other contractors spend hundreds of thousands of dollars indirectly promoting conflict, or the expansion of conflict, in order to further profit from them.

In his "I wish to protest in the strongest possible terms" letter, London quotes various figures in the Abu Ghraib investigation out of context and constructs his case over two pages . This would be a laughing matter for the Minnesota magazine, if it were not for the threat of legal action by CACI, as the firm recently sued Air America radio for $10 million dollars for defamation.

This posturing can only be intended to distract from the fact that CACI is involved in a class-action suit for its role in the abuse of various Iraqi detainees, and that the company, which had virtually no experience in the field of interrogation, has seemingly soiled its reputation for good by getting involved in it.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, December 19, 2005

Secret "dark prison" in Afghanistan

Human Rights Watch published a new press release documenting the existence of a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan until at least late 2004. The so-called "dark prison" has been independently described by various detainees in US custody (or ex-detainees). There were no uniformed US personnel operating in the "facility" which was kept in near total darkness. The report claims detainees were strapped up against walls, sleep deprived, and subjected to days and days of heavy metal and hip-hop (specifically Eminem and Dr Dre). They were often kept in shackles which caused their hands to swell.

Read the entire story at the HRW site.

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Army already pushing new ban's limit

After Bush's widely celebrated acceptance of the McCain ban on torture, discussed the last post here, it seems the military has been holding back its "trump card" in this loaded poker game.

The International Herald Tribune reports that the Army has just completed a classified 10-page addendum to the manual on interrogation techniques which specifies exactly what techniques may be used on detainees.

It provides dozens of "acceptable" techniques, many of which according to anonymous sources "go right up to the edge" in terms of McCain's provision banning "cruel" treatment. They constitute a "stick in the eye" of the Arizona Senator and the majority of the House and Senate who supported the bill, according to an Army official.

More information is yet to come out about these "techniques."

Senate oversight of the Pentagon has always been a difficult game of cat-and-mouse on issues related to military spending and human rights.

Labels: , ,

Friday, December 16, 2005

Bush forced to ban torture

This week Senator John McCain, backed by strong majorities in both houses of Congress, was able to force the Whitehouse to agree to a ban torture by the US government (with the exception of the CIA). The ban is contained in the Defense Spending bill, which was held up in Congress for months past the usual date, largely due to resistance by Vice President Dick Cheney.

The LA Times explains the political process well, the way in which the Bush administration was forced to accept the reality that the American public would not stand behind institutionalized torture.

Ironic, that a Whitehouse so possessed by Christian fervor, was so unable to accept McCain's personal appeal, based in his painful experience in Hanoi as prisoner of war, to "turn the other cheek" to torture.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, December 02, 2005

Ghost prisoners named

Human Rights Watch released the names of 26 of the US government's ghost prisoners. They are all suspected of heinous crimes, and for most, their eventual "guilt," if and when established by due process, will not be questioned. But HRW claims that their prolongued "disappearance" has already cast doubt on the possibility of a fair legal process.

It should be noted that this list is not believed to be complete.

Labels: ,