Monday, February 27, 2006

Ongoing riot at Kabul prison

For two days a Kabul prison holding up to 2,000 detainees has been taken over by rioting prisoners. The uprising has continued on longer than the 2004 riot in the same prison, called Policharki Jail.

In this uprising, four prisoners have already been killed and at least 38 wounded.

The prison holds an estimated 350 Taliban and/or Al-Qaeda loyalists.

Prisoners are apparently demanding retrials, claiming their original trials were unjust. A representative of the revolting prisoners claims that "2/3 are innocent." Some reports say that Timoor Shah, the man behind the kidnapping of an Italian aid worker.

Government negotiators are attempting to avoid a military-type seige of the prison.

This is the prison which America is planning to "repatriate" about 110 Afghan nationals to from Guantanamo Bay. This prolongued situation will probably give them reasons to delay the transfer.


Sunday, February 26, 2006

Xray is 5-star compared to Bagram

This week Tim Golden of the New York Times detailed the growth of Bagram's detainee population, describing the harsh conditions of the prison compared to Guantanamo Bay. Prisoners are kept in cages similar, according to one tribal elder held there two years, to the cages for animals in the Karachi zoo in Pakistan.

Only the International Red Cross is allowed to visit Bagram, and visits must be planned well in advance. There are no lists of prisoners in the facility. Military documents suggest the number of detainees to be around 600 people, up from only 100 in 2004. These detainees have little hope of ever seeing legal council, although the legality of their detention has yet to be tested in US courts.

From what Golden writes, it appears that many people picked up by the CIA are prisoner at Bagram, and if they were taken to Guantanamo, it would be possible that details of their arrest (or kidnapping) would be heard in a US court.

There is also a connection between the kind of abuses described in Southern Afghanistan in Taliban Country and the large detainee population at Bagram.

Officials said most of the current Bagram detainees were captured during American military operations in Afghanistan, primarily in the country's restive south, beginning in the spring of 2004.

"We ran a couple of large-scale operations in the spring of 2004, during which we captured a large number of enemy combatants," said Maj. Gen. Eric T. Olson, who was the ground commander for American troops in Afghanistan at the time. In subsequent remarks he added, "Our system for releasing detainees whose intelligence value turned out to be negligible did not keep pace with the numbers we were bringing in."

General Olson and other military officials said the growth at Bagram had also been a consequence of the closing of a smaller detention center at Kandahar and efforts by the military around the same time to move detainees more quickly out of "forward operating bases," in the Afghan provinces, where international human rights groups had cited widespread abuses.

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Friday, February 24, 2006

A pathetic finale for Habibullah and Dilawar

As could have been expected, the final soldier on trial in connection with the violent deaths of two Afghans, Habibullah and Dilawar, in 2002 was acquitted today. Dilawar's family has stated that they are unconcerned with military justice in the US, that those responsible will pay before God.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Bumper profits for interrogation contractor

CACI International Incorporated, the famous contractor to the Pentagon for interrogation in Iraq, reported high profits for the 4th quarter of 2005, mostly on the strength of its intelligence services to the US government. Two contractors of CACI, stationed at Abu Ghraib prison, according to the Taguba Report, "were either directly or indirectly responsible for the abuses." Neither of these men, named by Taguba, has ever faced any kind of accountability. And the contracts for CACI, they keep flowing.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Left to die in sand and feces, corpse abused

The new Human Rights First report contains shocking detail of a number of homicides that had not yet been told in the media in such unflinching narrative. One example is Iraqi detainee Nagem Sadoon Hatab, a 52 year-old Iraqi man captured in Nasiriyah in June 2003. Human Rights First says "prosecutors were unable to win conviction on any charges relating to culpability for Hatab’s death." Here is what happened according to them

...a number of Marines beat Hatab, including allegedly “karate-kicking” him while he stood handcuffed and hooded. A day later, Hatab reportedly developed severe diarrhea, and was covered in feces. Once U.S. forces discovered his condition, Hatab was stripped and examined by a medic, who thought that Hatab might be faking sickness. At the base commander’s order, a clerk with no training in handling prisoners dragged Hatab by his neck to an outdoor holding area, to make room for a new prisoner.

The clerk later testified to the ease with which he was able to drag the prisoner: Hatab’s body, covered by sweat and his own feces, slid over the sand. Hatab was then left on the ground, uncovered and exposed in the heat of the sun. He was found dead sometime after midnight. A U.S. Army medical examiner’s autopsy of Hatab found that he had died of strangulation – a victim of homicide. The autopsy also found that six of Hatab’s ribs were broken and his back, buttocks, legs and knees covered with bruises.

The treatment of Hatab’s body did not improve after his death...The U.S. Army Medical Examiner, Colonel Kathleen Ingwersen, who performed the autopsy, reportedly acknowledged that Hatab’s body had undergone decomposition because it was stored in an unrefrigerated drawer before the autopsy. In fact, testimony at a later court martial indicated that a container of Hatab’s internal organs was left exposed on an airport tarmac for hours; in the blistering Iraqi heat, the organs were destroyed. Hatab’s ribcage and part of his larynx were later found in medical labs in Washington, D.C. and Germany, due to what the Medical Examiner, Colonel Ingwersen, described as a “miscommunication” with her assistant. Hatab’s hyoid bone – a U-shaped throat bone located at the base of the tongue – was never found, and Colonel Ingwersen testified that she couldn’t recall whether she removed the bone from the body during the autopsy or not. The bone was a key piece of evidence, because it supported the Army Medical Examiner’s finding that Hatab died of strangulation.

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34 homicides; 8-12 tortured to death

Human Rights First is the first organization to tally up the numbers of detainees died in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. In its report, called "Command's Responsibility," the group claims that 98 people have died in custody, 34 due to homicide. Another 11 were deemed suspicious. And 8-12 were tortured to death. BBC provides coverage.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Occasional abuse-reducing, little justice

The Washington Post writes glowingly of the efforts of a Army leader in Tal Afar, near the Syrian border, to change the US counterinsurgency there. Lt General H R McMaster, a war-historian, emphasized the need for his troops of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment to understand the context they are working, requiring one in ten to learn conversational Arabic, and giving a lengthy reading list to all troops.

The abuse of detainees weighed in as one of the most important issues.
Understanding that the key to counterinsurgency is focusing on the people, not the enemy, he said he changed the standing orders of the regiment to state that in the future, all soldiers would "treat detainees professionally." During the unit's previous tour, a detainee was beaten to death during questioning, and a unit commander carried a baseball bat that he called his "Iraqi beater."

"Every time you treat an Iraqi disrespectfully, you are working for the enemy," McMaster said he told every soldier in his command.

The detainee referred to was Sunni tribal leader and Lt. Col. Abdul Jaleel, homicide was caused by "blunt force injuries and asphyxia." His autopsy is available online. Men from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment were charged in connection with the death of Major General Hamed Mowoush but lightly punished with no jail time.

Charges were not even brought against the members of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment soldiers accused of involvement in Jaleel's murder.

Whatever the interpretation of the real impact of McMaster's work, it seems clear that he is one of very few who has attempted to learn from the Pentagon's mistakes.

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Abu Ghraib victims' statements

The Washington Post made available 14 sworn statements by detainees at Abu Ghraib taken in 2004 about their torture there. The photos are disturbing, but somehow the "voice" of these victims is even more so. They were translated to English by Titan Corporation contractors to the Pentagon.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

"The Road to Guantanamo"

Polemical director Michael Winterbottom has debuted his film "The Road to Guantanamo" at the Berlin Film Festival. It is a documentary-fictional recreation (in the same vein of Winterbottom's In This World), following the story of four British muslims, three of whom were picked up in Afghanistan by bounty hunters in 2001 and ended up in Guantanamo for two years.

The four were 20 years old when accompanied a friend to Pakistan for his wedding, subsequently travelling to Kandahar to see Afghanistan. Caught up in the US war, three were apprehended in the desert between Kunduz and Kandahar, fleeing the US offensive in a crowd of Taliban soldiers. One was never heard from again.

photo by James Hill

Accused of being anti-American, Winterbottom says he was merely trying to capture the experience of the men. The film has created great interest in Berlin and is set to open in the UK on March 6. US release dates have not been announced.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Abu Ghraib as "Jihad University"

This blog has been following the ACLU's legal battle to release ALL of the Abu Ghraib photos for the better part of a year. The new photos released by Australia's Special Broadcasting Service are indeed from the "batch" that was fought over in the courts.

The timing of the leak of these photos could not be worse for the US government.

Early this week, the New York Times quoted an unnamed American officer as saying, "We don't want to be putting everybody caught up in a sweep into 'Jihad University."' The Military is saying privately that Abu Ghraib is dangerously overcrowded.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Dilawar and Habibullah

The New York Times' Tim Golden continues to write about the failure of the military justice system and the Pentagon to account for the death of two Afghans in US military custody in 2002 within the span of a couple of days. Of the original 27 men recommended to prosecutors by Army investigators on the case, only 6 were convicted or pled guilty. The stiffest punishment handed down has been 5 months in a military prison.

Golden writes, "In the modest Fort Bliss courtrooms where the trials have been held, the two Afghan victims have rarely been evoked, except in autopsy photographs."

The New York Times gets credit for running a number of moving photos relating to the Dilawar case. Photographer Keith Bedford allows us a sad and beautiful window into Dilawar's world, with his online slideshow, resulting from his assignment for the New York Times.

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

UK troops filmed beating detainees

A British tabloid released a video of what defense sources claim is 95% likely a number of UK troops beating Iraqi detainees. The video, currently under investigation by the Royal Military Police, is alleged to be a home video filmed by a British Corporal.

The video, quite clear and visible, with a sound recording of "callous commentary" by the camerman, shows a number of what appear to be UK troops dragging out a number of young detainees and delivering headbutts, kicks, baton blows. A number of the bodies are bloodied and unmoving. The Sunday Times writes that the victims "appear to be young rioters" who at times were pleading for mercy.

News of the World quotes the seller of the video, who viewed it in Europe:
"These Iraqis were just kids. Most haven't even got shoes on.

"Those eight soldiers were pumped up and out of control. They're an insult to the thousands of soldiers who have worked so hard in Iraq with courage and dignity for so long.

"They're nothing but a gang of thugs, a disgrace to themselves, their regiment and country."

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Rumsfeld's right-handman revealed

Counterpunch, a blog by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair posted an excerpt from the latter's book Grand Theft Pentagon, detailing the role of Pentagon under-secretary named Stephen Cambone.

St. Clair calls him "Rumsfeld's Enforcer" and details his role in the Gitmoization of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He alleges:

Aside from guarding Rumsfeld from assaults from within the Pentagon, Cambone's main role seems to be cutting through red tape and bothersome codes of conduct, such as the Geneva Conventions, to institute legally questionable policies. Take the treatment of Iraqi prisoners. The orders to soften up Iraqi prisoners for intelligence interrogators (both military and private contractors) came directly from Cambone's office.

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Ex-CIA contractor allowed to blame "orders"

Ex-CIA agent David Passaro, an ex-special forces officer and policeman, who was hired by the CIA as a "contract worker" is being allowed to present evidence in his trial for the death of Abdul Wali, that he was "ordered" to interrogate the prisoner. The district judge of Eastern North Carolina was quoted by the AP as saying "In order to fairly evaluate whether the facts in this case warrant a public authority defense, the court must hear the proof at trial."

To hear and/or read about Abdul Wali's final days, please read this prior blog entry about the testimony of a teenage Afghan-American boy who actually convinced Wali to turn himself in to the Americans.

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