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Davis Update: US Nixes Siddiqui Trade, Poisoning Thwarted

6:25 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Brian Ross (disclaimer: often, what we learn from Ross is what the CIA wants us to know, search on “Brian Ross” “anthrax” and “Glenn Greenwald” for details) reports that the US has categorically rejected the concept of trading Aafia Siddiqui for Raymond Davis. At the same time, BBC provides a very interesting background piece on the Davis affair, in which they describe the agendas of various government and non-government entities involved in the legal and political conflict that has arisen from the case. Buried in that description, however, is a very interesting report that the uncle of the widow who committed suicide out of remorse that her husband’s killer would never face judgment now reports that he was attacked by two men who tried to force rat poison down his throat. Possibly (but not necessarily) related is a new report in the New York Times letting us know that Dewey Clarridge’s shadowy group has not yet been disbanded and has been doing work for the FBI.  Finally, we also learn from Dawn that at least 45 people whose contact information was in Davis’ cell phone have been arrested.

It appears that the US response to a proposed Aafia Siddiqui-Raymond Davis trade is an emphatic “no”:

According to a senior American administration official and a Pakistani official involved in the negotiations to free CIA contractor Raymond Davis, the Pakistani government proposed trading Davis for Aafia Siddiqui, an MIT-educated Pakistani neuroscientist currently serving 86 years in federal prison for attempted murder.

The offer was immediately dismissed by the U.S. government. “The Pakistanis have raised it,” the U.S. official said. “We are not going to pursue it.”

I think that on this one, I have to agree with commenter quanto, who pointed out this development in comments to my post from yesterday, adding: “They probably don’t want the backlash of the Pakistanis seeing what condition we left her in.”

In the meantime, BBC goes into detail on how the Pakistani federal government and the Punjab provincial government are at odds on the handling of the Davis case:

The Pakistani government, which apparently issued Mr Davis a diplomatic visa, seems inclined to release him and end the diplomatic row.

But, according to political analyst Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi of Lahore, local islamist groups are behind massive anti-Davis demonstrations in the area, and this has the Punjab provincial government bucking the federal government:

He says the PML-N party, which rules the Punjab province, knows “the mood in the streets (and) is not willing to help the federal government”.

But also in this article is a very interesting revelation:

But the latest development was buried deep in the Pakistani newspapers last week. It was a report about a man taken to hospital after intruders tried to force poison down his throat.

The man in question was Mohammad Sarwar, the uncle of Shumaila Kanwal, the widow of one of the men shot by Raymond Davis.

Because she made televised death-bed statements about her suicide, it seems doubtful that Sumaila Kanwal’s suicide was “forced”, but this development regarding her uncle, at whose house she was staying at the time of her suicide, certainly complicates matters.

Because the US has admitted that Davis was a contractor working for the CIA, it seems relevant to consider an article published late Monday on the New York Times website and appearing in the Tuesday print edition.  Here, we learn that the shadowy group run by Dewey Clarridge has not yet been disbanded and may have been used by the FBI to gather intelligence on corruption in Hamid Karzai’s administration.  This portion of the report stands out:

Mr. Clarridge’s spy network is made up of former C.I.A. and special forces operatives, as well as dozens of Afghan and Pakistani locals. From his home near San Diego, Mr. Clarridge pieces together dispatches from overseas and arranges for the reports to be posted on a password-protected Web site.

Hmmm. So Clarridge has been running a contractor group that includes former special forces operatives, which Davis is, and when reports first came out about his group, it was noted that they were being used to develop targets for assassination in Pakistan and Afghanistan, just as Davis has been accused by some of being involved in choosing targets for drone attacks.

It is going to take a very long time to sort out the various groups the US has operating within Pakistan. As I pointed out yesterday, Pakistan seems to be moving quickly in trying to identify some of these US personnel, as they have inventoried those with diplomatic immunity and arrested at least one US contractor who appeared to overstay his visa, leading others to leave the country. Of further note along these lines is the revelation (again, h/t to quanto in the same comment discussed above) that Pakistan has now arrested at least 45 people whose contact information was in Davis’ phone:

The law enforcement agencies arrested 45 individuals for staying in constant contact with Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor who shot dead two Pakistanis in Lahore last month, DawnNews reported on Monday.

The individuals had been arrested from Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar and their contact information was taken from Davis’ mobile phone. Investigations were underway.

Stay tuned for further developments.

Petraeus, Spox Smith Lie Again When Confronted With Afghan Civilian Deaths, Injuries

6:07 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Rear Admiral Gregory J. Smith (US Navy photo)

In a meeting Sunday at the presidential palace in Kabul to investigate reports of multiple civilian deaths in a US operation in Konar province, General David Petraeus deeply offended those present when he suggested that Afghan civilians had deliberately burned their children in an effort to blame US attacks for their injuries. Rear Admiral Gregory J. Smith, the top military spokesperson in Kabul, then provided a statement to the Washington Post suggesting that the burns were inflicted on the children as punishment. This development is remarkably similar to events last March, when Smith initially stated after Special Forces killed two pregnant women in a night raid that the women had been slashed to death by knives before the raid took place, only for a later investigation to reveal that the Special Forces soldiers had used knives to remove the bullets that they had fired into the women.

Here is the Post’s description of the military operation in Konar province:

Afghan government officials alleged Sunday that a U.S. military operation in the remote mountains of northeastern Afghanistan killed 65 innocent people, including 22 women and more than 30 children, the most serious allegation of civilian casualties in months.

/snip/

A NATO statement said that video and information from the coalition showed that 36 insurgents, who were carrying weapons, were killed. The U.S. troops involved responded to insurgent activity and fired with aircraft and an unmanned Predator drone, the senior military official said.

/snip/

Karzai, who put the death toll at 50 civilians, said in a statement that it is his responsibility to protect Afghans’ lives and property and that he “will take any steps necessary to prevent and stop civilian casualties in his country.”

Note that locals are claiming 65 civilian deaths, while Karzai states that it is 50 civilians who died. The US, however, sticks to its claim that they have video showing that they killed 36 insurgents carrying weapons. Elsewhere in the article, the spokesman claims that those killed were wearing civilian clothes but that “the majority of them” were “civilians engaged in hostilities”.  Later in the article there also is the admission that in this mountainous area, the residents are extremely isolated and don’t want US personnel present.

In the meeting at Karzai’s palace, Petraeus profoundly offended Afghan personnel present when he tried to claim that civilians had deliberately burned their children in order to make the US attack appear worse:

To the shock of President Hamid Karzai’s aides, Gen. David H. Petraeus suggested Sunday at the presidential palace that Afghans caught up in a coalition attack in northeastern Afghanistan might have burned their own children to exaggerate claims of civilian casualties, according to two participants at the meeting.

The Afghans who were present did not respond to Petraeus’ suggestion very well:

“I was dizzy. My head was spinning,” said one participant, referring to Petraeus’s remarks. “This was shocking. Would any father do this to his children? This is really absurd.”

Making matters much worse, top spokesman in Kabul Rear Admiral Gregory J. Smith then provided this statement to the Post:

The U.S. military “did have initial reports that the feet and hands of the children appeared to have been burned,” Smith said. “We have observed increased reporting of children being disciplined by having their hands and feet dipped into boiling water. No one is claiming this is the case in this instance, but it may well be.”

Sadly, it appears that the military has been setting the stage to use this disgusting defense. Just last month, Stars and Stripes carried a story on suspicious burns on Afghan children, using the story to drum up hatred that appears to be a bit more broad than just against the parents who would do this:

He noted that the burn went all the way around one ankle, like a sock — a “circumferential” burn strongly indicating someone had held her leg in boiling liquid and that the child had not been able to recoil from the pain.

“More likely than not,” McCormack said, “this was punishment.”

/snip/

In the space of just three months, McCormack and his medics have treated a dozen Afghan children under 5 suffering from burns that they suspect were caused intentionally, by scalding.

“It’s a disturbing thing to see a 3- to 5-year-old that’s been abused,” McCormack said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

“I despise these people,” said a medic who declined to be named.

It seems that the Stars and Stripes article turns the hatred generated by such child abuse into a generalized hatred against “these people”, which appears to be a broader hatred than just being aimed at the parents who commit the offensive acts.

The profile of the injuries in Konar province also does not match the punishment by burning described in Stars and Stripes. The punishment cases documented all appear to have involved toddlers. The Post article states that the injured civilians were “seven injured people, including a woman and a man, both 22 years old, and five boys and girls 16 or younger”, so the age profile does not match up at all.   Smith then provides a detail that completely destroys his punishment claim, noting that the injuries included “burns and shrapnel wounds”. Is Smith next going to claim that in addition to burning their children, the Afghans are exploding bombs next to them so that they have shrapnel wounds?

Note also that this article provides clues for how one could distinguish intentional burns from burns that might have been sustained in an attack by US forces. It does not appear that either Petraeus or Smith cited evidence that would support intentional burns in the case of the injuries reported in the attack under investigation.

It is even more important to consider that by making such an offensive suggestion about injuries, Petraeus and Smith have removed the focus from the deaths which are being investigated, including the deaths of many children.

It’s really hard to understand how Smith still is employed as a spokesman, given his abject failure during the investigation of the killing of the pregnant women last February by Special Forces troops. From the New York Times on March 15:

On Feb. 12 in a village near Gardez, in Paktia Province, Afghan police special forces paired with American Special Operations forces raided a house late at night looking for two Taliban suspects, and instead killed a local police chief and a district prosecutor when they came out, armed with Kalashnikov rifles, to investigate. Three women who came to their aid, according to interviews with family members and friends, were also killed; one was a pregnant mother of 10, the other a pregnant mother of 6.

/snip/

“The regret is that two innocent males died,” Admiral Smith said. “The women, I’m not sure anyone will ever know how they died.” He added, however, “I don’t know that there are any forensics that show bullet penetrations of the women or blood from the women.” He said they showed signs of puncture and slashing wounds from a knife, and appeared to have died several hours before the arrival of the assault force. In respect for Afghan customs, autopsies are not carried out on civilian victims, he said.

Smith’s big lie was exposed by Jerome Starkey in London’s Times:

US special forces soldiers dug bullets out of their victims’ bodies in the bloody aftermath of a botched night raid, then washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened, Afghan investigators have told The Times.

Starkey’s article did suggest that the Special Forces soldiers were primarily responsible for the attempted cover-up and that they lied to McChrystal, but the behavior of Petraeus and Smith in the current case fits so well with an intentional deflection that the cover-up last year now looks to have been carried out in a very similar high-level fashion.

Petraeus and Smith are trying to portray Afghan citizens as generally barbaric and medieval as they invoke rare, isolated events to make an offensive suggestion to deflect blame for barbaric acts by our own troops.  There really is no good reason that either of these men should continue to wear the uniform of our country.

Petraeus’ Absolutely Relentless Killing Machine Fails Despite Claims of Success

6:28 am in Afghanistan by Jim White

General David Petraeus and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke speak in Afghanistan on October 26. (photo: ISAFMedia on Flickr)

Despite a propaganda buildup that began last weekend, with both General David Petraeus and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen making claims of regaining momentum against the Taliban in the Kandahar offensive, Wednesday’s Washington Post destroys those claims with the headline that “U.S. military campaign to topple resilient Taliban hasn’t succeeded“.   As if the destruction of Petraeus’ propaganda offensive by the Post is not enough on its own, BBC chimes in Wednesday, as well, with a fresh quote from Mikhail Gorbachev that victory in Afghanistan is impossible.

Last weekend’s spin began with a Reuters article published on Friday, where Rasmussen was given the opportunity to speak:

“The insurgency is under pressure, under pressure like never before in Afghanistan. Our aim for this year was to regain momentum,” Rasmussen said. “Now we have it.”

The article then went on to explain the means by which NATO claimed to be regaining momentum:

Tarak Barkawi, a defense expert at Britain’s Cambridge University, said the stepped up activity, driven by U.S. and NATO commander General David Petraeus, aimed to put pressure on the insurgents while encouraging them to seek reconciliation.

He said the strategy had been backed by a big increase in special forces activity, and in the use of unnmanned aircraft to target insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas.

“Petraeus is fighting a much more kinetic war. He’s let loose the airstrikes a bit more; there’s a huge special forces war going that’s largely outside of media coverage,” he said.

“They have set up a killing machine that is absolutely relentless in the pressure it’s putting on the insurgents. They are clearly now killing off various commanders in the Taliban hierarchies, which is inflicting some serious pain.”

Petraeus himself then grabbed the spotlight in the Washington Post on Saturday:

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said allied forces are in the “final stages” of a large operation to clear insurgent fighters from key regions just west of Kandahar, the country’s second-largest city and principal focus of the coalition’s military campaign against the Taliban.

Petraeus, speaking in an interview at NATO headquarters in Kabul, said the operation in the Zhari and Panjwai districts, which began a month ago and involves thousands of U.S., Afghan and Canadian troops, is proceeding “more rapidly than was anticipated.” Military officials and Afghan leaders have reported increasing stability in large swaths of the area that had been firmly in the grip of insurgents a few weeks ago, although they acknowledge that they remain contested by pockets of Taliban holdouts.

The progress in Kandahar City’s western fringe is shaping up to be an important part of the case Petraeus plans to make, during crucial assessments of the mission this fall by NATO and the White House, that international and Afghan forces have regained the momentum after years of losing ground to the Taliban.

Petraeus was no doubt very pleased with himself for having planted the concept that momentum was now back on his side in Afghanistan, so he must be quite upset with today’s Post article pointing out that this “momentum” is meaningless:

An intense military campaign aimed at crippling the Taliban has so far failed to inflict more than fleeting setbacks on the insurgency or put meaningful pressure on its leaders to seek peace, according to U.S. military and intelligence officials citing the latest assessments of the war in Afghanistan.

Escalated airstrikes and special operations raids have disrupted Taliban movements and damaged local cells. But officials said that insurgents have been adept at absorbing the blows and that they appear confident that they can outlast an American troop buildup set to subside beginning next July.

“The insurgency seems to be maintaining its resilience,” said a senior Defense Department official involved in assessments of the war. Taliban elements have consistently shown an ability to “reestablish and rejuvenate,” often within days of [sic] routed by U.S. forces, the official said, adding that if there is a sign that momentum has shifted, “I don’t see it.”

Clearly, the “senior Defense Department official involved in assessments of the war” not only isn’t on the same page as Petraeus and Rasmussen, but is flinging their “momentum” claim back in their faces, with an “I don’t see it”. That’s going to leave a mark.

BBC piles onto the pushback against Petraeus, trotting out Mikhail Gorbachev, who has a bit of experience with losing wars in Afghanistan, to offer some advice to Petraeus and the US:

The former leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, has warned Nato that victory in Afghanistan is impossible.

Mr Gorbachev said that the US had no alternative but to withdraw its forces if it wanted to avoid another Vietnam.

/snip/

“Victory is impossible in Afghanistan. Obama is right to pull the troops out. No matter how difficult it will be,” Mr Gorbachev said in an interview with the BBC’s Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg.

The picture at the top of this post represents the competing forces at play as the December White House assessment of Afghanistan nears. Will Obama double down on the “relentless killing machine” and the “huge special forces war going that’s largely outside of media coverage” with Petraeus, or will Richard Holbrooke, the special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan appointed by Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, be given a larger role in diplomatic efforts to end the war and withdraw the troops because victory is impossible? Stay tuned as the various factions in these discussions continue to jockey for position prior to the December assessment.