Monday, January 23, 2006

Dutch interest in 'Taliban Country'

With the fate of the potential Dutch increased deployment to Afghanistan (and indeed the future of the ruling coalition) in the balance, the Dutch media have covered the impact of the documentary 'Taliban Country'.

Apparently, the film caused a stir with leading members of the smallest party in the ruling coalition, D66, for the footage of warlord-Governor Jan Mohammed and the negative impact that the US' cordon-and-search and detentions were having in unstable Uruzgan province.

Dutch daily Die Verdping Trouw interviewed filmmaker Carmela Baranowska, sharing her thoughts on future military deployments to 'Taliban Country'. In it she says, any military that comes to Afghanistan with an aggressive attitude will find itself mired in a "cycle of violence." Volkskrant, another daily, also featured Taliban Country in January.

Dutch parliament is scheduled to decide on the controversial deployment to Uruzgan on February 5. The other NATO member nations will be watching with anxiety, as both the UK and Canada have claimed their contributions are already maxed out. There has been speculation that the US would get 'stuck' with Uruzgan if the Dutch refuse to deploy troops there.

The weak military investigations into the abuses alleged in 'Taliban Country' concluded that the abuses were 'unsubstantiated'. But strangely, the abuses alleged in the film Taliban Country seem to have come to haunt the US military when it least suspected it.

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Friday, January 20, 2006

He let the dogs out?

General Geoffrey Miller, the official charged with designing Guantanamo as it is known today, and the man who brought the same techniques to Abu Ghraib this week to not incriminate himself by testifying in the trial of dog handlers.

Two handlers based in California will go on trial in the coming months.

There is evidence to suggest that General Miller either loosened the rules surrounding the use of dogs at Abu Ghraib or turned a blind eye to their use during interrogation.

For civilians, the right not to testify if that testimony could incriminate is known as the "invoking the 5th [amendment]". In military justice it is known as invoking Article 31. According to the Reuters story linked to above:

Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said he could not recall another general or admiral invoking Article 31 rights.

"You're not supposed to invoke it unless you are, in fact, suspected of an offense," Fidell said, while adding that merely invoking it does not prove Miller is guilty of wrongdoing.

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Details of 'sleeping bag technique'

The terrible details of the death of former-Iraqi Major General Mowhoush have come to light in the trial of Chief Warrant officer Lewis Welshofer Jr. Mowhoush's death is one of the most "high profile" homicides by the US armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Welshofer believed that his techique of putting sleeping bags over the heads of detainees, wrapping tape tightly around their torsos, and then sitting on top of the detainees chests was authorized by his higher-ups. He said he believed the directive 'the gloves are off' sanctioned his abusive, and fatal, interrogation technique.

The LA Times reports from Welshofer's trial in Colorado, explaining that none of Welshofer's superiors accept blame for the homicide. (Even though rules from interrogation were changing week to week in September 2003.)

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Friday, January 13, 2006

Abuse by secret special ops group

The ACLU released some documents yesterday (fruit of its ongoing FOIA requests) that shed more light on the behavior of a secretive special forces group called "Task Force 6-26." This group is known to have been used to secretly detain and interrogate "high level" members of the Iraqi resistance.

In July 2004, after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, a document was leaked alluding to TF-6-26, and abuses observed by Defense Intelligence Agency officials.

The documents released yesterday by the ACLU are the first "publicly" available documents confirming the existence of this group. ACLU Attorney Amrit Singh is quoted as saying, "These documents confirm that the torture of detainees and its subsequent cover-up was part of a larger clandestine operation, in all likelihood, authorized by senior government officials."
A memorandum included in the report states that “fake names were used by the 6-26 members” and that the unit claimed to have a computer malfunction which resulted in the loss of 70 percent of their files. The memorandum concludes, “Hell, even if we reopened [the investigation] we wouldn’t get any more information than we already have.”

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Detained (&disappeared) at age 15 in Afghanistan

The story of Omar Khadr, a kid who was captured "on the battlefield" at age 15 in Afghanistan, has been of great interest to Canadians and child-rights activists.

For the past 4 years, the Canadian of Egyptian descent has been encarcerated in Camp Iguana (the juvenile section of Guantantamo) where Americans claim he received preferential treatment due to his young age. When he arrived there at age 16, however, the US refused to treat him as a minor under international law.

The Toronto Star feature on Khadr bends over backwards to achieve balance, interviewing some of the American soldiers who captured the boy after a firefight in Afghanistan. (His father was an Al-Qaeda fundraiser and Bin Laden confidant who was finally killed in 2003.)

The story is worth reading in its entirety.

Khadr faces arraignment by military tribunal today, January 11, after spending almost a fifth of his young life in custody with no notion of his fate.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

US negotiates with released insurgents

After releasing several "high-level" insurgent leaders from the Sunni community late last year, including Sunni Baathist associate of Saddam named Sattam Quaood, the US has entered into negotiation with various militant insurgent leaders. The New York Times/IHT described these negotiations, which US officials refused to call "negotiations" (merely "meetings"):
Abu Amin, an insurgent leader in Yusefiya and a former captain in the Iraqi Army, said the Americans were especially interested in securing the help of some insurgent groups against Al Qaeda.

"Yes, we know with whom they meet," said Amin of the Americans. He said the Americans asked many questions about Al Qaeda. "Do you have a relationship with Al Qaeda? Can you help us attack Al Qaeda? Can you uproot Al Qaeda from Iraq?"

Amin said that in December the Americans had released from prison, Sattam Quaood, a former associate of Saddam Hussein, as a "goodwill gesture" intended to persuade the insurgents to cooperate more fully.

Quaood was released, along with more than 20 other detainees, over the objections of the Shiite-led Iraqi government. Amin said the release was warmly welcomed by some insurgent groups.

"One of the proofs of goodwill of the Americans was to release Sattam al-Qaood," Amin said. "It's like a test for the Americans."

The diplomat said that the release of Quaood had nothing to do with insurgent claims.

"We did not do that with that in mind," he said. "But I've noted in discussions with some Baathist types that this was taken as a goodwill gesture."

In an interview in Jordan, Quaood said he was not aware that his release was part of any deal with insurgents. But he said that on a trip to Anbar Province following his release, he was approached by insurgent leaders who asked him to "please represent them during negotiations with Americans."

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Monday, January 09, 2006

Grunts stuck with blame for Bagram deaths

In a decision that surprised few observers, Captain Christopher Beiring, the only officer charged in connection with the violent deaths at Bagram of two detainees in 2002, was acquitted this week.

The military tribunal decided there was not evidence that Captain Beiring was guilty of dereliction of duty and making a false statement, despite testimony to the contrary:

Maj. Jeff Bovarnick said that after a detainee known as Habibullah died in December 2002 he ordered Beiring to make sure his MPs stopped chaining detainees with their hands above their heads, a common practice that he said was not illegal. He did not think his order was followed, Bovarnick said. "I had 0.0 percent confidence that Captain Beiring had done anything or told anyone about this, so I went over his head," Bovarnick said, referring to a conversation he had with a higher-ranking commander after a second detainee, a man known as Dilawar, died at the Bagram detention center.

Habibullah and Dilawar were two men detained by US forces in 2002, who died due to abuse inflicted by reservist troops controlling detention facilities on Bagram airbase.

Only three low-ranking reservists have been convicted of involvement in the deaths of the two detainees, out of 14 original indictments.

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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Suicide bombing in Taliban country

In a tragic day in which over 100 people were killed in Iraq in suicide bombings, a disturbing echo of this tactic was heard in Taliban country, the remote and dangerous province Uruzgan.

In the provincial capital, Tarin Kowt, the American ambassador was visiting the Deputy governor, when a suicide bomber detonated a grenade and himself in a crowd assembled in town. At least ten were killed. The Ambassador was not injured.

Another suicide bombing in Kandahar only a week prior

Uruzgan province has been the site of continued Taliban activity, and the American counter-insurgency (in partnership with Warlord-Governor Jan Mohammed) appears not to have halted the violence, especially over the last months. A number of bloody incidents occured during November and December, taking a number of Afghan police officer's lives, and wounding a number of coalition soldiers.

According to military sources, new Taliban recruits are arriving from Pakistan to replace those killed earlier in the year. Villagers allege in Taliban Country that the US military's hard-handed tactics have forced many to flee for Pakistan, and had turned some in Uruzgan towards militant resistance.

Afghan newspaper Cheragh wrote in its editorial:

The Taleban’s use of the new weapon of suicide attacks raises the question of whether militants are losing their capacity to fight a guerrilla war, or whether they are copying the tactics used by Iraqi insurgents against US forces. (transcribed and translated by IWPR)

It appears that while the Taliban may be limited to guerilla and suicidal tactics, the group not oblivious to the politics behind the 2006 NATO deployment to Afghanistan.

Within the next month, the Dutch parliament will vote on deployment of 1,000 troops to Uruzgan. This suicide bombing was a message not only to the American Ambassador, but to the Dutch government.

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Monday, January 02, 2006

Training of Iraqi forces object of scrutiny

During the past months, various news sources have attempted to portray more fully the difficulties of training Iraqi police and army units. Given the recent statements by US Generals relating to Iraqi-run prison systems, there is still a huge amount of catch-up to be done, even within the least-risky, most sedentary area of the legal-security apparatus. The best coverage has come from The Atlantic's James Fallows, and a recent discussion on PBS' Newshour. Fallows claims that the US did little or nothing effective in the first couple of years of occupation, and only in the past year has training become a priority.

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