Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Iraqi prison troubles from North to South

Two rather disturbing stories flew under the global radar in the past couple of days.

First, the story by the New York Times' C. J. Chivers, alleging that hundreds of detainees under the Kurdish government's authority are living in a legal black hole conceivably worse than Guantanamo. HRW claims that up to 2,500 people are being held by the security services of two ruling parties in the region.

The Kurdish prison population has swelled to include at least several hundred suspected insurgents, and yet there is no legal system to sort out their fates. So the inmates wait, a population for which there is no plan.

The Kurdish government that holds the prisoners says they are dangerous, and points out that the population includes men who have attended terrorist or guerrilla training in Iraq or Afghanistan. But it also concedes to being stymied, with a small budget, limited prison space and little legal precedent to look back on.

“We have not had trials for them,” said Brig. Sarkawt Hassan Jalal, the director of security in the Sulaimaniya region. “We have no counterterrorism law, and any law we would pass would not affect them because it would not be retroactive.”

The four visible cells here, spaces of about 7 yards by 8 yards, each were packed with 30 men. The men shared a toilet on the floor outside the cells, in a hall. The group seethes. One inmate shouted at two journalists through the bars. “Stop your hatred toward Islam!” he said. “Otherwise we will kill you!”

Speaking from a law enforcement perspective, Mr. Jalal said the close quarters and evident anger had made many of the inmates more radical, and that the prison serves as an insurgents’ nest.

Secondly, the UK's destruction of an Iraqi police station and jail in Basra, based on supposed intelligence that rogue police were torturing detainees and that some were likely to be unlawfully executed. BBC's footage was quite powerful indeed. The move by the British started with a midnight raid of the facility and evacuation of the facility. And by daylight, it was demolished. These moves were taken, according to British military spokesmen, at the orders of the Iraqi Prime Minister. Members of the Basra Provincial Council say that they will cease cooperation with the British forces.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Virtual Abu Ghraib

The last post ended with a video which raised our interest in the world of video games and online games.

A quick search yielded a free site that claims allow players to "reenact" major moments of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars online. Wired Magazine called these "the mother of all video games."

The most shocking was clearly an episode called "Abu Ghraib MP" which is set up to "wage an assault" on the prison. I gather the idea is to blast away as many 'misbehaving' inmates as possible.

Others including ambush on "Desert Town" in Iraq, calling in "Air Strikes" to obliterate opposition in Afghanistan, and "Bad Neighborhood" which is a simulation of Sadr City.

There is no premium in these games of apprehending or capturing prisoners alive, with the one exception of the Osama episodes.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Interrogation and detention on Youtube

A review of the available material on YouTube yields some interesting additions to the growing body of material on this topic.

An October 2006 Sky News interview with former army interrogator Tony Lagouranis is worth a listen.

An undated speech by Janis Karpinski on Abu Ghraib's early days paints a pathetic picture of its admininstration.

Also from CCR (the Center for Constitutional Rights), Prof. Scott Horton, Adjunct Professor of Law at Columbia University on command responsibility and the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

Bush press secretary Tony Snow on detainees in October: "They don't wanna be torturing people, they don't wanna be setting a bad example."

MSNBC's Olberman on the impact of the Military Commissions Act on Habeas Corpus.

Clips from a British documentary "simulation" of Guantanamo Bay with willing volunteers.

A trailer of the docudrama "Outlawed" provided by Amnesty International.

NOW's interview with British national Moazzam Begg
, who was picked up in Pakistan and sent to Guantanamo.

What claims to be video of a Canadian raid on a Taliban compound in Helmand Province.

In this clip from the same source, but in Kandahar province, we can see Canadian troops along side Afghani troops. All in a village setting.

Another amateur video, this time of the Dutch forces in Uruzgan supposedly of in 2005 being ambushed with a really bad "soundtrack."

A British news crew that went unembedded in Helmand Province, Afghanistan in early 2006 made this report, which included a hair-raising encounter with Taliban and Afghan police. The police are beating the Talib prisoners with automatic weapons.

I cannot tell if this is a parody of hunters and videogamers, but this video reveals attitudes of a certain segment of the population in America towards Afghans and Iraqis. It is disturbing.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Ex-minister walks out of prison

While 13,000 people remain in detention by the American military in Iraq, the vast majority waiting to be processed and tried for crimes, it seems that influential Iraqis held in the Iraqi system can escape prison quite easily.

An ex-minister (also a US citizen) convicted of corruption in October, fled his detention facility this past week, by simply walking out the door arm-in-arm with "foreign" (read: Iranian) security agents. Even more outrageous is that he is currently in touch with US Consular officials. Earlier this year, Saddam's nephew, convicted of bomb-making also walked out of prison aided by a police officer.

Yet more proof that the Iraqi government and security services are so compromised at this point, it is hard to see how any form of "fair" government or minimal democracy can emerge.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

No. 343: American's ordeal at Camp Cropper

The Times just published a story on Donald Vance, ex-Navyman working for security contractor in Iraq, who eventually came to denounce the firm's suspect activity to the FBI. He was imprisoned in April 15, 2006, only to be released on July 20. More Kafkaesque than actual Kafka.

He kept notes in his military-issue Bible, at the suggestion of the Camp Cropper psychologist who encouraged him to treat the imprisonment as a "mission" or a "game".

His story is chilling and provokes the question, "if this is how they can treat an American citizen, what about everybody else?"

Mr. Vance and Mr. Ertel were permitted at their hearings only because they were Americans, Lieutenant Fracasso said. The cases of all other detainees are reviewed without the detainees present, she said. In both types of cases, defense lawyers are not allowed to attend because the hearings are not criminal proceedings, she said.

Lieutenant Fracasso said that currently there were three Americans in military custody in Iraq. The military does not identify detainees.

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Year in Review

As this blog was dormant for much of the year, here we provide a detention/interrogation year in review:


Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen held at Guantanamo Bay who was a minor when he was detained by US forces in Afghanistan, was arraigned by a military tribunal.

General Geoffrey Miller testifies before Congress
regarding the use of dogs on detainees in Abu Ghraib.


The final soldier charged with involvement of in the deaths of Habibullah and Dilawar was acquitted by US Military Courts.

Human Rights First concludes that 34 prisoners had died in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002, and that 8-12 were tortured to death.

Federal judge David Trager throws out the suit by a Canadian who was sent to Syria to be tortured. (In 2002, Canadian citizen Maher Arar, born in Syria was passing through a New York airport, detained and subsequently "rendered" to Syria and tortured)

Prisoners riot at Policharki Jail in Afghanistan, demanding retrials.


Times exposes alleged abuses by the secret task force "6-26" in Iraq.

Army Sargeant Michael J. Smith is found guilty on 6 of 13 counts of abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib, for the use of dogs on detainees. He gets 6 months jail time, when the maximum sentence would have been 8 years.


AP Photographer Bilal Hussein is imprisoned in Ramadi. The US claims he was apprehended with two other militants, surrounded by bombs making material. Journalist defense groups try in vain to get more information on his case.

New data released by the Detainee Abuse and Accountability Project alleges that over 600 military and contractors may have been involved in detainee abuse in Iraq. Only 40 members of the armed services have been sentenced to jailtime, and one civilian.


A federal judge dismisses the civil law suit against the American government brought by Khaled El-Masri, a German Lebanese-born man who was abducted by the CIA while on vacation in Macedonia in 2003. The rationale: the suit would endanger the US' national security.


Limited theatrical release of Michael Winterbottom's The Road to Guantanamo in the US.


Iranian-American filmmaker Cyrus Kar filed suit with the US government over his detention in 2005.


America turns Abu Ghraib, empty, over to Iraqi control. Its prisoners were moved to Camp Cropper.

President Bush claims the CIA's secret prisons across the world have been emptied.

A new Army manual for interrogation is published, banning hooding, forced nakedness and other stress positions.

AP goes public with their photographer's detention in Ramadi in April, calling for the US to either charge or release him.


President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act into law, according to many legal experts, denying habeas corpus rights to non-US citizens and legal aliens in the US. There is debate as to whether it denies habeas rights to American citizens. The Times calls it "a tyrannical law that will be ranked with the low points in American democracy".

Afghanistan's Reconciliation Commission visits Bagram in a bid to get more prisoners released. The number of detainees is thought to be around 500 at the time.

The US (apparently) bombs militants in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area, killing 80 people in Pakistan's tribal area. Many were civilians.

HRW questions NATO's move towards reliance on "close air support" and bombing of civilian regions, and suggests they create a mechanism to compensate civilians affected by bombing.


ICG releases a report called "Countering Afghanistan’s Insurgency: No Quick Fixes" suggesting that priority be given to rule of law and fixing the judiciary.

The European Commission concludes that many EU countries were aware of the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" flights.


The US releases 26 detainees from Bagram Theater Internment Facility. Around 475 are believed to remain.

An ex-Navyman and security contractor in Baghdad reveals to the Times he was kept prisoner for 3 months at Camp Cropper after attemping to blow the whistle on suspicious activities by his firm. He claims he received "less legal council than Saddam."

Pakistan announces it detained over 500 Taleban and handed 400 of them over to the Afghan government.

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It's not easy being unembedded in Uruzgan

A number of Dutch journalists have been reporting from Uruzgan province since their force arrived earlier this year as part of the NATO force "stabilizing" Afghanistan. Only one, it seems, was willing to go it alone and report unembedded from the province. Arnold Karskens, quite a war-reporting legend in Holland, was allegedly mistreated by Dutch forces in his most recent trip to Uruzgan in which he remained unembedded.

Gov/Warlord Jan Mohammed, photo by Karskens

While reporting for Dutch newspapers and TV (in Dutch unfortunately) he was "sent back" at one roadblock on a public road. This from Spinwatch

Karskens was refused entry to the Dutch military base near Tarin Kowt, even though the commander of the base had earlier declared publicly that they would not distinguish between 'embedded' and free journalists. According to another journalist present in the military base who wrote about it in the Amsterdam newspaper Het Parool, soldiers guarding the entrance of the base had instructions not to let Karskens in "unless one of his legs is shot off".

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

About this blog

We have not been able to maintain the blog from March-December 2006. We have republished it at this site, and hope that it will serve as a record and resource. If you have not already seen it, or if you would like to view it again, please take a moment to watch Taliban Country, the film which inspired this site.

Taliban Country was featured in a number of film festivals in 2004-5, and aired in six countries. It continues to be a reference and interest has not abated. It has only become more relevant in recent months with the recognized resurgence of the Taliban and the escalating war with NATO in Southern Afghanistan.

For queries regarding purchase, please contact Journeyman Films.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"Return of the Taliban"

This frontline report is focused on the border area with Pakistan. It contains some chilling information about how the Taliban has reinforced itself there, and how the US has taken to controversial assassinations using unmanned drones, creating more enemies in Pakistan. Featured is the case of abducted and assassinated journalist Hayatullah Khan, whose photographs served as evidence of the American assassination of suspected Al-Qaeda militant Abu Hamza.


Monday, December 04, 2006

"Taliban Rising"

This film is a brief (highly pessimistic) interview with The Nation's Christian Parenti, who claims many of his westernized friends in Afghanistan have started to make increasingly sympathetic statements towards the Taliban.

The article provides deeper insight. Many of these same issues he brings up existed three years ago already, and are examined in Taliban Country, such as the impact of searches of residential compounds.

He describes the "Iraqization" of the insurgency in Afghanistan and provides a portrait of life in the southern part of the country.

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