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Judge Denies Guantánamo Prisoner’s Habeas Petition, Ignores Torture in Secret CIA Prisons

8:39 am in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Cross-posted, with permission, from Andy Worthington’s blog

by Andy Worthington

On September 22, in the District Court in Washington D.C., Judge Reggie B. Walton denied the habeas corpus petition of Tawfiq al-Bihani (described in court documents as Toffiq al-Bihani), a Yemeni who was raised in Saudi Arabia, giving the government its 18th victory out of 56 cases decided, with the other 38 having been won by the prisoners.

However, as in the majority of the cases in which the prisoners have lost, there was nothing in the ruling that could be construed as representing the delivery of justice after the eight and a half years that al-Bihani has spent in US custody, as he has been consigned to indefinite detention in Guantánamo, on an apparently legal basis, despite the fact that there is no evidence that he ever took up arms against anyone, or had any contact with anyone involved in preparing, facilitating or supporting acts of international terrorism.

Moreover, in examining his habeas corpus petition, Judge Walton appeared to remain blissfully unaware that, despite being, at most, a lowly foot soldier, al-Bihani was held in a variety of secret CIA prisons in Afghanistan before his transfer to Guantánamo, where he was subjected to torture.

As revealed in the background to al-Bihani’s case, accepted by both al-Bihani and the government, he cut a depressing figure prior to traveling to Afghanistan in the summer of 2000. As Judge Walton explained, “During the time he resided in Saudi Arabia, the petitioner was abusing various drugs, including alcohol, marijuana, hashish, crystal methamphetamine, and depression pills,” Judge Walton also noted, “The petitioner began to ‘increase [his] intake of alcohol and drugs,’ when his fiancee ended their engagement due to her concerns that ‘she would fall out of grace with her father if she married a Yemeni against his wishes.’”

Apparently persuaded to travel to Afghanistan by his brother Mansour, described as “an experienced fighter who fought against the Russians in Chechnya,” and who “had close relationships with senior Chechen fighters and other individuals who were engaged in training men to fight in Chechnya and in other countries,” he traveled to Afghanistan with his brother, where, as Judge Walton concluded, he “received, at a minimum, weapons training” at the al-Farouq training camp, established by the Afghan warlord Abdul Rasul Sayyaf in the early 1990s, but associated with Osama bin Laden in the years before the 9/11 attacks, and also stayed in Afghan guest houses reportedly associated with al-Qaeda.

In authorizing al-Bihani’s ongoing detention, Judge Walton gave weight to al-Bihani’s admission that he “became, and was part of, al-Qaeda at least during the five months period he was training at al-Farouq,” even though he also noted that his training was far from rigorous. “Although he was enrolled at al-Farouq for approximately five months,” Judge Walton explained, “he only ‘received approximately two months of training,’ because he would train for approximately ‘a week or two weeks’ before feigning illness in order to leave and ‘do hashish or tobacco.’” Judge Walton added that al-Bihani “repeated this cycle several times,” and also explained, “Towards the end of his time at al-Farouq, the trainers at the camp informed him that he was ‘not ready physically because [he] keep[s] leaving and going back, — adding that the trainers reportedly “concluded that he was of ‘no use,’ and ‘they kick[ed him] out of the camp.’”

Personally, I find it troubling that an obviously drug-addled, inconsistent and unreliable recruit can nevertheless be regarded as “part of” al-Qaeda, as it tends to render meaningless the supposed threat posed by al-Qaeda if useless recruits can legitimately be held, even when, as with al-Bihani, they had no knowledge of international terrorism, and not even a demonstrable commitment to al-Qaeda’s military activities in Afghanistan.

Judge Walton, however, seemed unconcerned that there appeared to be no basis for concluding that al-Bihani had ever posed a threat to the United States. Proceeding to an explanation of how he was captured, he explained that, in late 2001, having become separated from his brother Mansour (who was “ill” and was transported to Quetta in “a tractor-trailer truck” for those “who appeared sick or injured”), al-Bihani traveled through Pakistan to Iran, “with a group of other men.” Near Zahedan, he was supposed to be reunited with his brother, and with Hamza al-Qa’eity, who ran a guest house in Kabul described by al-Bihani as “one that jihad fighters used as a transition point.” However, as Judge Walton explained, at “the exact time” that al-Qa’eity arrived to pick him up from the house of an Iranian family, where he was staying, the Iranian police — or intelligence services — “descended on the house and apprehended” him — and, presumably, Hamza al-Qa’eity as well.

The hidden story of ten men rendered from Iran to Afghanistan — including Tawfiq al-Bihani

As I mentioned in the introduction to this article, what Judge Walton appeared not to know — or ignored in his ruling — was the fact that, after al-Bihani was subsequently “flown to Afghanistan” and “transferred to United States custody,” he was held in a variety of secret CIA prisons.

This information is readily accessible, because I explained in my book The Guantánamo Files that al-Bihani was one of ten men seized in Iran who were flown to Afghanistan and then handed over to US forces. One of these men, Aminullah Tukhi, an Afghan released from Guantánamo in December 2007, explained that six Arabs, two Afghans, an Uzbek and a Tajik had been delivered to the Americans, and I was able to identify six of them — Tukhi, Tawfiq al-Bihani, Walid al-Qadasi, a Yemeni transferred to the custody of his home government in April 2004, Wassam al-Ourdoni, a Jordanian released in April 2004, Rafiq Alhami, a Tunisian released in Slovakia in January this year, and Hussein Almerfedi, a Yemeni who won his habeas petition in July this year. Unaccounted for are the other four men mentioned by Aminullah Tukhi — an Arab, an Afghan, the Uzbek and the Tajik — although it seems possible that one of the disappeared was Hamza al-Qa’eity.

Confirmation that al-Bihani was one of the men came from an unexpected source. Abu Yahya al-Libi, one of four prisoners who escaped from Bagram in July 2005, described, in a post on an obscure French language website, which has since disappeared from the Internet, 12 prisoners who were held with him in Bagram, one of whom was Tawfiq al-Bihani. He also explained how all the men had passed through a network of secret CIA prisons in Afghanistan, where they had endured “hard torture,” and added, in al-Bihani’s case, that he was captured in Iran at the start of 2002, that he had met him in June 2002 in a prison he identified as “Rissat 2,” and that he was taken to another prison in September 2002, after which he never saw him again, and thought that he may have been transferred to Guantánamo.

Al-Libi also explained that Tawfiq al-Bihani thought that his brother Ghaleb, who had also been in Afghanistan, had been killed, but that the Americans had told him that he had been captured — and it later emerged that this was correct. Ghaleb al-Bihani lost his habeas corpus petition in January 2009, on the basis that he was a cook for Arab forces supporting the Taliban, and also had his appeal denied in January this year, consigning him to the same form of court-approved indefinite detention as his brother.

The torture in secret CIA prisons of three men rendered from Iran to Afghanistan

The accounts of three of the men rendered from Iran to Afghanistan are publicly available, and they are, to be blunt, horrific. Al-Ourdoni, a missionary seized with his wife and new-born child, explained after his release that his American captors “put me in jail under circumstances that I can only recall with dread. I lived under unimaginable conditions that cannot be tolerated in a civilized society.” He said that he was first placed in an underground prison for 77 days, and stated, “this room was so dark that we couldn’t distinguish nights and days. There was no window, and we didn’t see the sun once during the whole time.” He added that he was then moved to “prison number three”, where the food was so bad that his weight dropped substantially, and was then held in Bagram for 40 days before being flown to Guantánamo.

In an interview with a UN rapporteur, Walid al-Qadasi provided the following explanation of his treatment, which, like al-Ourdoni’s account, was included in a major UN report on secret detention earlier this year:

He was held in a prison in Kabul. During US custody, officials cut his clothes with scissors, left him naked and took photos of him before giving him Afghan clothes to wear. They then handcuffed his hands behind his back, blindfolded him and started interrogating him. The apparently Egyptian interrogator, accusing him of belonging to al-Qaeda, threatened him with death. He was put in an underground cell measuring approximately two meters by three meters with very small windows. He shared the cell with ten inmates. They had to sleep in shifts due to lack of space and received food only once a day. He spent three months there without ever leaving the cell. After three months, Walid al-Qadasi was transferred to Bagram, where he was interrogated for one month.

In a lawsuit filed in April 2009, Rafiq Alhami stated that, for a year, he was held in three CIA “dark sites,” where “his presence and his existence were unknown to everyone except his United States detainers,” and where, at various times, he was “stripped naked, threatened with dogs, shackled in painful stress positions for hours, punched, kicked and exposed to extremes of heat and cold.” Moreover, at Guantánamo, he told a military review board that one of the prisons was the “Dark Prison” near Kabul, which I have previously described as “a medieval torture dungeon with the addition of ear-splittingly loud music and noise, which was pumped into the cells 24 hours a day,” based on accounts by prisoners who were held there, including the British resident Binyam Mohamed, who described his time there as “the worst days of his captivity” — worse than the 18 months in Morocco, where the CIA’s proxy torturers regularly sliced his genitals with a razorblade.

Alhami told his review board that he was tortured for three months in the “Dark Prison,” where, he said, “I was threatened. I was left out all night in the cold … I spent two months with no water, no shoes, in darkness and in the cold. There was darkness and loud music for two months. I was not allowed to pray … These things are documented. You have them.”

The torture of Tawfiq al-Bihani

However while Judge Walton may not have come across my book, or the inclusion of this information in the UN report on secret detention earlier this year, I can’t understand how he would not have known about al-Bihani’s treatment from his lawyer, George M. Clarke III, because, in the book The Guantánamo Lawyers: Inside a Prison, Outside the Law, published last year, Clarke reproduced a letter from al-Bihani in which he provided a detailed explanation of what had happened to him after he was delivered to Afghanistan from Iran.

In his letter, al-Bihani explained that he was initially held in a vile Afghan prison in Kabul, where he and the other prisoners from Iran were hidden from Red Cross representatives until one of their fellow prisoners informed them of their existence. His first encounters with US agents — he believes they were from the FBI — took place in this prison, and he described his first interrogation as follows:

I was handcuffed behind and they put a hood on my head so that I could not see anything. When I entered the interrogation room, the American guards pushed me down to the ground in a very savage manner. They started to cut my clothing with scissors. They undressed me completely and I was nude. They made me sit on a chair and it was very cold. I was also afraid and terrorized because the guards were aiming their weapons towards me. The interrogator put his personal gun on my forehead threatening to kill me.

Al-Bihani explained that he stayed in this prison for around ten weeks, and was then moved to another prison where he was held in solitary confinement for “approximately five months and ten days.” He added that the guards were Afghan, that they handed out “very bad treatment,” and that “The interrogation was also very savage.” He was then moved to a third prison, which appears to have been the “Dark Prison,” and en route US soldiers “started to hit me and strangle me, they would put a rope around my neck and I was about to die.” This is his description of the “Dark Prison”:

This was absolutely the worst prison. It was a very dark prison and there was no light, no bed or a carpet, the floor was semi cement. The restraints on my feet were very tight; they put me into a cell and kept me hanging tied to the wall for almost ten days. […]

The irritating music 24 hours a day was very loud and hard banging on the door. When I used to go for interrogations, I was unable to walk because of the restraints on my legs and tightness on my feet.  Would fall down to the ground and scream that I cannot walk. They would pick me up from the ground and I would walk with them while they were hitting me on the way to the interrogation until I would bleed from my feet. When I would fall to the ground, they would drag me while I am on the ground. Then they would bring me back to the cell and sprinkle cold water on me. Sometimes they would put a weapon on my head threatening to kill me using some provocative statements which I cannot mention in this letter.

After ten days, they brought me down from the hanging position and made me sit on the floor. Then they tied my hands upwards for approximately one month so that I could not lie down on the floor for comfort, therefore I was unable to sleep except for quarter of an hour every day.

After one month and ten days, they removed all my restraints, however I was unable to rest or sleep because of extreme hunger and cold and the loud irritating music and the banging on the door. I stayed in this prison for approximately two months and a half and I had no idea whether it is day or night as it was extremely dark and oppressive conditions.

After this, al-Bihani was moved to Bagram, where, he said, “the treatment was very bad there as well,” and was then flown to Guantánamo.

A bleak conclusion

Beyond a rather obvious question raised by the accounts above — did Tawfiq al-Bihani confess that he was “part of” al-Qaeda (when he so obviously wasn’t) because of the torture to which he was subjected in Afghanistan? — what this apparently overlooked torture account most vividly and balefully demonstrates is how effortlessly the torture of al-Bihani has become irrelevant to his case.

The exposure of torture has derailed other habeas petitions challenged by the government — in, for example, the cases of Mohamed Jawad and Fouad al-Rabiah (who were subsequently released), Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed, an Algerian who is still held, and, less successfully, in the cases of Saeed Hatim and Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman (whose successful petitions are being appealed by the government).

However, in Tawfiq al-Bihani’s case it is difficult to escape the conclusion that, even had Judge Walton known, or chosen to pay attention to these reports, it would not have fundamentally altered his conclusion that this failed recruit was sufficiently involved with al-Qaeda to justify his ongoing detention. That, as I concluded above, already demonstrates that the classification process for determining who may be legally detained is far too loose, but when evidence that al-Bihani was tortured in secret prisons is also removed from the picture, the end result is far bleaker.

Somewhere along the line, questions need to be raised not only regarding the justification for continuing to hold insignificant individuals at Guantánamo who never raised arms against anyone and were not involved in terrorism, but also regarding the ease with which detailed information about the torture of prisoners in a series of secret prisons run by the CIA can be so thoroughly ignored that Judge Walton failed to mention it at all.

Soros’ Foundation Links AFM’s Appendix M to U.S. Torture in Afghanistan

8:23 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Last week, George Soros’s Open Society Foundations (OSF) published an important policy brief, “Confinement Conditions at a U.S. Screening Facility on Bagram Air Base.” The report has been widely described in the press, as in this article by AFP:

The US military is mistreating detainees — and violating its own rules — at a secret prison in Afghanistan, a US think tank said Friday in a report.

The 16-page report by the Open Society Foundation said Afghans call the secret site “Tor Jail,” or “Black Jail,” and that consistent accounts from detainees refer to being kept without adequate shelter or food or other basic rights.

The independent investigation by OSF is consistent with news reports of torture and abuse at secret black sites run by JSOC in Afghanistan, including articles by the New York Times and Washington Post. Last May, BBC reported that they received confirmation on the existence of the black site from a Red Cross spokesman, while Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic described the JOSC black site as being “manned by intelligence operatives and interrogators who work for the DIA’s Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center (DCHC)… [performing] interrogations for a sub-unit of Task Force 714, an elite counter-terrorism brigade.” The spate of news articles led Physicians for Human Rights to opine last May whether it was “possible that officials were relying on Appendix M of the 2006 Army Field Manual on Human Intelligence Collector Operations (AFM),” noting that the “appendix authorizes the use of two of the tactics — sleep deprivation and isolation — allegedly being applied to detainees.”

In an article for The Seminal, also posted last May, I noted that the Chief for Research for the DCHC’s Behavioral Science Program, psychologist Susan Brandon, was a primary organizer of a CIA/American Psychological Assocation/Rand Corporation workshop on “deception” in July 2003. This workshop asked questions about how to use sensory overload techniques and truth drugs to “overwhelm the senses” of prisoners, in order to detect deception. Scott Horton also picked up the connection between Brandon and the torture reports from Afghanistan. In a major investigative report at Truthout last week, Jason Leopold and I reported that changes in a DOD directive on human subjects experimentation protections signed by Paul Wolfowitz in March 2002 were implicated in “a top-secret Special Access Program at the Guantanamo Bay prison, which experimented on ways to glean information from unwilling subjects and to achieve ‘deception detection.’”

There is most likely much more to the detention story in Afghanistan than we know thus far, but the new OSF report is a welcome corroboration of most unwelcome and brutal facts about U.S. prisoner abuse and counterinsurgency practice in Afghanistan. But whether it’s AFP, AP, Reuters, BBC, or even Aljazeera, with only one exception, no press article on the OSF report indicated that as one of the OSF report’s “main findings” the abuse in the Bagram secret prison derives from the use of the Army Field Manual’s Appendix M. Appendix M is a portion of AFM dealing with prisoners who are held in other than Prisoner of War status. Appendix M techniques, concentrating on isolation, sleep and sensory deprivation, use of fear techniques, and ambiguous “prohibitions” on “extreme” environmental manipulations, amount to torture and/or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and they are in use today. Only my fellow psychologist and anti-torture activist, Stephen Soldz, noted this most salient finding of the OSF investigation.

A link to the Army Field Manual, with its Appendix M, can be downloaded in PDF format here.

Jonathan Horowitz, author of the OSF report (PDF), described how he determined the use of Appendix M techniques:

The interviewees consistently described being held in a location where they were interrogated and held in small single person cells that prohibited verbal and visual communication with other detainees. This strongly suggests that the detainees were “screened” and subjected to interrogation methods described in Appendix M of the U.S. Army’s Human Intelligence Collector Operations Field Manual 2-22.3, which allows detaining authorities to physically separate detainees from other detainees and the outside world for the purposes of intelligence gathering—a technique known as “separation.”

Horowitz’s mention of Appendix M is not incidental. It is mentioned on fifteen different occasions in the text of the report’s 16 pages. OSF is very specific about its concerns regarding the current Army Field Manual on interrogation:

Despite the government’s insistence that Appendix M meets the minimum requirements for the protection of detainees under international law, analysts from the Open Society Foundations have expressed concerns with Field Manual 2-22.3 prior to this research, especially with regard to its authorization of sleep deprivation, refusing to classify stress positions as torture, and the deletion of key policy statements that, prior to the 2006 update of the manual, had informed interrogators that “[e]xperience shows that the use of prohibited techniques is not necessary to gain the cooperation of interrogation sources.”14 As this report demonstrates, additional concerns with the Field Manual 2-22.3 are warranted….

Field Manual 2-22.3 states, “[w]hile using legitimate interrogation techniques, certain applications of approaches and techniques may approach the line between permissible actions and prohibited actions. It may often be difficult to determine where permissible actions end and prohibited actions begin.”

The report notes that the totality of conditions and interrogation abuses at the Tor (or “Black”) prison at Bagram call into question whether fair assessment of enemy status can be made by the new-fangled Detainee Review Boards, meaning God knows how many innocent people are being picked up and held as prisoners, awaiting the day that a viable Afghan court system can supposedly try these “insurgents”.

The Detainee Review Boards taking place at the DFIP [Detention Facility in Parwan] prohibit the submission of information and evidence obtained through the use of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. If detainees are being held in conditions at an interrogation facility that rises to this level of abuse, the information obtained from those detainees should be rejected by the Detainee Review Boards.

I have been writing on the serious, indeed criminal, problems with the Army Field Manual since the new version was introduced in September 2006. I wrote a major piece on the problems with it for AlterNet in January 2009, and have followed up with reporting at Firedoglake (see here and here, for example; also coverage at this site by Emptywheel/Marcy Wheeler and bmaz).

But this kind of exposure, and the work of others, like Matthew Alexander, Stephen Rickard, Physicians for Human Rights and Center for Constitutional Rights, among other, has not been enough to fix the centrality of the use of Appendix M torture in the general political consciousness of the population. This can be largely attributed to the massive silence by politicians on this issue, and the assurances of the Obama administration that the AFM and Appendix M are safe, legal, and humane. So when a complacent and cowardly press and blogosphere are faced with the truth of the situation emanating from an establishment source such as the Open Society Foundations, what do they do? They ignore the truth.

Such is America in 2010, lost, rudderless, obsessed with trivia, as a monstrous war/intelligence/surveillance apparatus lurches on to either conquest or disaster (or maybe both) in its overseas campaigns, oblivious to how many are killed (the U.S. claims it doesn’t keep track of the killed in Afghanistan), maimed, displaced, lives destroyed and national ideals trampled.

It’s time the campaign against Appendix M went mainstream.

War Criminal Kissinger Top Speaker at State Department Conference

3:36 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

There was also a deficiency in imagination likely to circumscribe the value of any study by Kissinger of Kissinger. Asked about his role in the Cambodian war, in which an estimated five hundred thousand people died, he’d said, "I may have a lack of imagination, but I fail to see the moral issue involved." — Joseph Heller, Good as Gold (Kissinger’s original quote is from William Shawcross’s Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon, and the Destruction of Cambodia)

Fred Branfman has a great article up over at AlterNet pillorying the State Department’s invitation to Henry Kissinger to address a conference on "the American Experience in Southeast Asia, 1946-1975." The conference was scheduled for September 29-30 at the George C. Marshall Conference Center at the U.S. Department of State. Along with bona fide war criminal Kissinger, the other invitees included current Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard C. Holbrooke, and Former Deputy Secretary of State, and Former Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte.

It was only last April here at The Seminal/Firedoglake that I reported on the declassification of a 1976 State Department cable from Henry Kissinger to "his assistant secretary of state for Inter-American affairs, Harry Shlaudeman, to cancel a formal demarche to the Uruguayan government, protesting the assassinations and other activities of Operation Condor." Only five days later, former Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier and his assistant Ronnie Moffat were assassinated on the streets of Washington, D.C. by a CIA-supported Chilean secret police killer.

But, as the Obama administration rehabilitation of the odious Kissinger demonstrates, memory is short in Washington, even when there is blood on the streets… unless that blood can be turned in for demagogic currency, as is the case with the deaths on 9/11. To have Kissinger honored as an authority on the Indochinese War is an obscenity of the first order. Branfman recalls some of the essential history:  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

Why is the NY Times Underplaying Account of Task Force 373′s Extrajudicial Killings?

12:05 am in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Unfortunately, I don’t have time to examine the question posed in the title of this piece as carefully as I’d like, but even the quickly posted Wikipedia entry on Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) Task Force 373 notes that there is a large discrepancy between the amount of targets on TF373′s "kill/capture" list as reported by the major media.

The figures are drawn from the extraordinary release of previously classified Afghan war reports by Wikileaks, and now searchable at the latter’s website.

Task Force 373 is alternately described by the New York Times as "a secret commando unit"; as "an undisclosed ‘black’ unit of special forces" by the UK Guardian; and "an elite American unit…. which operates in Afghanistan outside of the ISAF mandate" by Spiegel Online. These three news sources were partners with Wikileaks in the release of the documents, and had special access to the material prior to their public posting.

By all accounts, Task Force 373 seems to be a kidnapping and death squad, run by the Americans, but housed at a German base in Afghanistan. The very secret unit, unknown even to other ISAF forces, works off a "kill or capture" list known as JPEL, which stands for "Joint Prioritized Effects List." From this bland name springs an operations force that, according to the UK Guardian, has "more than 2,000 senior figures from the Taliban and al-Qaida" on its seize or kill list. Most of the world press has reported this same or similar figure, though Spiegel only says the figure is "large":

The list of targeted individuals is arranged according to process number and priority level. Depending on the case, the commandos are sometimes given the option to arrest or kill their prey. Nowhere in the available documents is that list printed in full, but a total of 84 reports about JPEL operations can be filtered out of the thousands of documents. It is not possible to work out from the documents exactly how many JPEL targets there are in Afghanistan, but the four-digit process numbers are enough to suggest that the total number of targets is large.

It was the four-digit process numbers that the Guardian used to determine their figure. Simply put, they counted.

The pursuit of these "high value targets" is evidently embedded deep in coalition tactics. The Jpel list assigns an individual serial number to each of those targeted for kill or capture and by October 2009 this had reached 2,058.

But however they did it, the New York Times came up with a much different and drastically lower number.

Secret commando units like Task Force 373 — a classified group of Army and Navy special operatives — work from a “capture/kill list” of about 70 top insurgent commanders. These missions, which have been stepped up under the Obama administration, claim notable successes, but have sometimes gone wrong, killing civilians and stoking Afghan resentment.

The dramatically lower of numbers reported may be a fudged way of looking at figures. They say "top insurgent commanders", and this may be a subset of the total of 2000 or more. But the Times never reports the larger number, or even that it runs into the four digits. The import of this is to underplay the amount of killings. It’s unlikely there are 2000 or more "top insurgent commanders." So, who is the U.S. seizing or killing?

Operation Phoenix Redux

The Guardian article by Nick Davies reports much more than the single paragraph the New York Times dedicates to the story, emphasizing the legal, moral and political ramifications of the Task Force’s actions.

The United Nations’ special rapporteur for human rights, Professor Philip Alston, went to Afghanistan in May 2008 to investigate rumours of extrajudicial killings. He warned that international forces were neither transparent nor accountable and that Afghans who attempted to find out who had killed their loved ones "often come away empty-handed, frustrated and bitter".

Now, for the first time, the leaked war logs reveal details of deadly missions by TF 373 and other units hunting down Jpel targets that were previously hidden behind a screen of misinformation. They raise fundamental questions about the legality of the killings and of the long-term imprisonment without trial, and also pragmatically about the impact of a tactic which is inherently likely to kill, injure and alienate the innocent bystanders whose support the coalition craves.

The Guardian story documents some of the cases of killings of women and children, and notes that there is also likely a British version of Task Force 373 operating in Afghanistan as well. The parallels with Vietnam are extraordinary, where U.S. counterinsurgency amounted to a large degree to a capture, torture and assassination program known to us today as Operation Phoenix.

It was only a few weeks ago that I noted (based on an observation in a Guardian story by Ian Cobain and Owen Bowcott) that documents released in Britain in the Binyam Mohammed et al. suit had referenced what sounded like extrajudicial killings associated with the rendition program. "Is it clear that detention, rather than killing, is the objective of the operation?" asks a protocol for MI6 operatives working with the U.S. on rendition operations.

Now we have evidence of massive killings underway by secretive U.S. forces, and of plenty of deaths of civilians who get in the way. But the U.S. press has mostly deep-sixed this aspect of the Wikileaks Afghan logs. A story by CNN makes no mention of how many people might be on TF373′s target list, but does add a word of dissent:

“You have people going in with a kill list and the public accountability simply doesn’t exist,” said Sarah Knuckey, director of the Project on Extrajudicial Executions at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at the New York University School of Law.

Marc Ambinder on Task Force 373

Mainstream bloggers appear to be taking the lead of the major U.S. press. Take Marc Ambinder’s story on the release at The Atlantic, and his own reference to TF373:

The task forces themselves — well, there’s TF 373, the Joint Special Operations Command task force for Afghanistan, which has since morphed into something else. The structure is different today. There are, however, references to the activities of Task Force 2-2, a multi-element special operations element that has — and I emphasize has — the authority to basically self-task, to take bad guys off of the JPEL list (the joint prioritized effects list) and decide whether to capture or kill them based on the situation at hand.

There are several incidents in which 2-2 and other 373 elements killed civilians and saw those killings covered up or obscured in official press releases.

Ambinder’s link is to the same Guardian story on TF373 that I have quoted here, so I’ll give him that. But the failure to report the extent of the targets, and the reference to "take bad guys off the JPEL list" makes them sound, well, sort of innocuous, basically good guys. His view that the TF is "basically self-task" is belied by the Guardian’s coverage, which reports, "The process of choosing targets reaches high into the military command." Additionally, the idea that there have only been "several incidents" underplays the extent of damage done by the secret U.S. death squad.

Consider this "incident", reported by Speigel Online:

The documents don’t just reveal the existence and activities of the Taliban hunters, they also show why these special units cause so much anger in the Afghan population. Mistakes made by special units are kept secret. One particularly sensitive report of a TF 373 operation dated June 17, 2007 is classified so secret that details of the mission must not be passed on to other ISAF forces. On this day the soldiers appear to have committed a particularly fatal error. The aim of the mission seems to have been to kill the prominent al-Qaida official Abu Laith. The unit had spent weeks watching a Koran school in which the Americans believed the al-Qaida man and several aides were living. But the five rockets they launched from a mobile rocket launcher ended up killing the wrong people.

Instead of the finding the top terrorist, the troops found the bodies of six dead children in the rubble of the completely destroyed school.

The Guardian reports, "The logs reveal that TF 373 has also killed civilian men, women and children and even Afghan police officers who have strayed into its path."

It is a sign of how debased our society has become that reports of "targeted killings" and assassinations are met with little outrage in the press or by the public. Perhaps this is because we use terms that will not offend as much. Indeed, in the title of this very piece I use the term "extrajudicial killings" rather than "death squads" (which I do clearly use in the text) because I fear that this reality will be so discordant to readers that they will shun the article, perhaps too psychologically defended to accept the terrible truth about the government they have and the country they live in.

Let us say, too, that the mainstream press plays a major role in this. The downsizing of the figure of killings — really murders — by the Special Operations task force, as reported by the New York Times, or underplayed by major bloggers such as Marc Ambinder, lulls the population into believing the terror wrought by the U.S. military in Afghanistan is really not so bad. But it is bad. It is a war crime, and Julian Assange, who orchestrated the release of the documents upon which this story is based is correct in saying that they give evidence of war crimes. I’m reminded of recent stories that have cited the Harvard study (PDF) that showed how the media dropped using the word "torture" after Abu Ghraib.

One wonders what kind of schizoid state exists at the New York Times. One minute their ed board calls President Obama’s forcible deportation of an Algerian Guantanamo prisoner back to a country where he feared persecution, torture, or death "an act of cruelty that seems to defy explanation.” The next minute, the editorial news staff is minimizing the number of targets on a U.S. military task force hit list. I’ll let them figure that one out for themselves.

As for the rest of us, we need to step up the demand that U.S. and NATO forces pull out of Afghanistan.

ICRC Confirms Existence of Second Secret Prison at Bagram, BBC Reports Torture

8:42 am in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Hilary Anderson at BBC has been following the Bagram prison story closely. Today, she reports that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has confirmed the existence of a second prison site at Bagram. The presence of a second site has long been suspected, a prison the Afghans call Tor Prison, or the "Black" Prison.

The US military says the main prison, now called the Detention Facility in Parwan, is the only detention facility on the base.

However, it has said it will look into the abuse allegations made to the BBC.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that since August 2009 US authorities have been notifying it of names of detained people in a separate structure at Bagram.

Obama Tortures, Too

Last month, BBC reported on conditions at the main Parwan facility. The scenes as described were right out of the iconography of Guantanamo. Prisoners in handcuffs and leg shackles, "moved around in wheelchairs" with blackout goggles and headphones "to block out all sound." This was the treatment for a prison population that even the U.S. military admits is far and away not made up of serious terrorists. Meanwhile, the number held at Bagram has swelled to approximately 800 prisoners.

But we don’t know how many are in the other, "the Black Hole." We don’t know because the U.S. still insists that no second prison exists. Prisoners held at Tor, according to investigations by BBC, are tossed into cold concrete cells, where the light is kept on 24 hours. Noise machines fill their cells with constant sound, and prisoners are sleep deprived as a matter of policy, with each cell monitored by a camera, so the authorities will know when someone is falling asleep and come to wake them.

Prisoners are beaten and abused. According to BBC’s article last month, one prisoner was "made to dance to music by American soldiers every time he wanted to use the toilet."

Both the Washington Post and the New York Times reported late last year on conditions at the black-site prison, believed to be run by U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Each of these reports noted that prisoners were subjected to abuse. One prisoner, a 42-year-old farmer named Hamidullah told the New York Times about his stay in the Tor prison, June through October 2009:

I can’t remember the number of days I spent there because it’s hard to tell days from nights in the black jail, but I think every day they came twice to ask questions.

They took me to their own room to ask the questions. They beat up other people in the black jail, but not me. But the problem was that they didn’t let me sleep. There was shouting noise so you couldn’t sleep….

The black jail was the most dangerous and fearful place. It is a place where everybody is afraid. In the black jail, they can do anything to detainees.

Together with the BBC investigation and the ICRC confirmation, we can see that the military is lying through their teeth when they claim there is no second Bagram facility, or that no abuse takes place at Bagram. (For more on Bagram and the issue of indefinite detention, see this recent diary by Jim White.)

The presence of sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, brutality, isolation and the like at the U.S. prison complex has not been a matter of protest among U.S. progressives, many of whom still support the administration of President Barack Obama. Many liberals have been in denial over the poor record of President Obama on the issue of torture and detention policies. The President began his administration with a big series of presidential orders that supposedly ended the Bush administration’s policy of torturing prisoners, and shut down the CIA’s black site prisons.

But as we know now, not all the black site prisons were shut down. Nor was the torture ended. Whether it’s beatings and forced-feedings at Guantanamo, or the kinds of torture described at Bagram, it’s obvious that torture has not been rooted out of U.S. military-intelligence operations. In fact, by way of the Obama administration’s recent approval of the Bush-era Army Field Manual on interrogations, with its infamous Appendix M, which allows for much of the kind of torture practiced at Bagram, the White House has institutionalized a level of torture that was introduced by the previous administration, but which has been studied and devised over the last fifty or sixty years.

Furthermore, in a June 2009 Air Force document reported on last July, it was noted that the personnel responsible for some of the torture program deriving from the SERE schools were still allowed "psychological oversight of battlefield interrogation and detention." Are SERE psychologists involved in the Special Operations at torture at Tor and Parwan? Given the close relationship between SERE’s parent group, the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, and JSOC, I think there’s a high possibility of just such involvement.

A question hangs heavily over the U.S. political scene: how long will denial exist among liberals and progressives over the persistence of an aggressive military policy and the concomitant crimes against humanity that come with it? How long will the supporters of Barack Obama maintain their studied indifference to the crimes against humanity done in their name? The shine is off this new president, and underneath it all we can discern the same old game of lies covering for crimes. Enough is enough.

Women Dying and Torture Run Amuck In Afghanistan

7:12 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

This report was originally published on Truthout.org.

Two reports coming out of Afghanistan illustrate the depth of hypocrisy and subterfuge characterizing the US/NATO intervention in that country. One could cite a myriad of such examples, so immoral and wrong as the US war there.

In the first report, a 2009 human rights assessment prepared by Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department, obtained by The Canadian Press and reported at CBC News, revealed a skyrocketing suicide rate among Afghan women:

"Self-immolation is being used by increasing numbers of Afghan women to escape their dire circumstances and women constitute the majority of Afghan suicides," said the report, completed in November 2009….

The director of a burn unit at a hospital in the relatively peaceful province of Herat reported that in 2008 more than 80 women attempted suicide by setting themselves on fire, many of them in the early 20s.

It’s not as if the plight of Afghan women under the US-backed Karzai government hasn’t gotten some attention. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) recorded 184 cases of self-immolation by Afghani women in 2007, versus 106 in 2006. In Herat alone, in the first six months of 2008, 47 women, desperate from an escape from a life of domestic servitude, violence, rape, injustice, and other crimes, set themselves on fire and ended up in the emergency room of the local hospital. Ninety percent died from their serious burns.

The police and judiciary do not launch any formal investigations to determine the causes and motivations of suicide and self-burning by women, according to the AIHRC.

As a result, men who force and provoke women to self-immolation and other forms of suicide remain immune from all legal and penal repercussions.

To delve into the statistics only reveals a more doleful picture: almost 90 percent (!) of Afghan women have been victims of violence, 60 percent of all marriages are forced. The US-backed regime has made some token moves to assist women, such as creating police task forces staffed by women officers. But the female officers aren’t allowed to do any outreach. Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai infamously supported a law that allows for spousal rape. (Afghanistan is not alone in this, however, as Bahrain, too, "offers women no protection from spousal rape.")

US/NATO-Backed Afghan Regime Practices Torture

As the US plans to transfer administrative control of its Bagram detention facility to the Afghanistan government, a separate scandal links the Afghan government to the torture and murder of a prisoner in its custody. According to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), Afghan citizen Abdul Basir was tortured while in custody of Afghani security forces last December, and killed when he was pushed or thrown out a window. His family was told he committed suicide. But HRW has posted pictures of the tortured marks on Basir’s body.

It wasn’t easy to try and get an investigation of Basir’s death in Afghanistan – from this brave new government ("elected" by massive fraud) that has guaranteed justice and due process to the Bagram prisoners, once they get their hands on them. According to HRW’s report on Basir’s death:

An NDS official told family members that Basir’s father, Zalmai, signed a statement confirming that Basir had committed suicide and that an autopsy was not required. The family told Human Rights Watch that NDS officials told them that if they buried the body, Basir’s brothers and father would be released.

However, concerned that the marks on Basir’s body may have been signs of torture, the family took the body to the Forensic Department of the Health Ministry where an autopsy was carried out. The findings have not been made public. The family reported that security agency officials later came to the house where the body was held and gave them a message to bury the body. When the family tried to take the body to parliament, they said, agency vehicles blocked their way.

While the Afghan defense ministry assures the world press that "all international conventions on prisoners’ rights would be implemented" once it gets control of Bagram, the many reports of arbitrary arrest, torture, and other ill-treatment by Afghan security forces suggest otherwise. In fact, there is nothing very trustworthy about either the Afghan government or its US/NATO backers, who have averted their eyes from anything that would besmirch the credentials of their war purposes in Afghanistan.

This leads the leaders of the Western alliance to some pretty strange places. Take Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Talking to interviewers for the French-language television network TVA about the many reports that prisoners captured by Canadian forces and turned over to Afghani authorities were tortured, even killed, Harper said:

"We are speaking here of a problem among Afghans. It’s not a problem between Canadians and Afghans. We’re speaking of problems between the government of Afghanistan and the situation in Afghanistan. We are trying to do what’s possible to improve that situation, but it’s not in our control."

For Harper, the system of transferring prisoners to the Afghans "works very well," though he admits there are "problems from time to time." As an example of some of these problems, read the over 40 redacted emails (PDF) sent from former Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin to then-Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay alleging the torture of detainees transferred by Canadians to Afghan prisons.

While trumpeted as a blow against the idea of turning Bagram into a second Guantanamo, the likelihood is that things will not get any better for the 700 plus prisoners at the US facility there. Nor does it speak to the ongoing management by Special Operations forces of a black site prison, also on the Bagram Air Base. US Special Operations forces are granted special privileges to hold prisoners in indefinite detention. Evidence of torture at the SO black site prison, published in both The New York Times and The Washington Post last November, has not produced any follow-up in terms of Congressional hearings or further investigations. Instead, the handover of the Department of Defense’s primary Bagram detention site appears likely to even further reduce oversight and investigation into the plight of prisoners there, once under Afghan jurisdiction, as the promises of the Afghanistan government are not to be trusted.

Meanwhile, the propaganda from Washington continues unabated. "Surge turning tide against Taliban, says McChrystal," blared ABC news on Monday. But no amount of propaganda is going to fill up the moral bog that is the US war in Afghanistan. Whether its targeted assassinations, leading to rounds and never-ending rounds of assassination and bombings, as at Khost, or the counterinsurgency attacks that target school-age children, as at Ghazi Khan, the campaign in Afghanistan has nowhere to go but down.

Even its vaunted aim of improving the lives of Afghan women is proven to be a lie. As a statement by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) reported recently:

The US "War on terrorism" removed the Taliban regime in October 2001, but it has not removed religious fundamentalism which is the main cause of all our miseries. In fact, by reinstalling the warlords in power in Afghanistan, the US administration is replacing one fundamentalist regime with another. The US government and Mr. Karzai mostly rely on Northern Alliance criminal leaders who are as brutal and misogynist as the Taliban….

Last month, Malalai Joya, a former member of the Afghan parliament, told Michelle Goldberg of the Daily Beast that the situation for Afghan women is every bit as bad under Karzai as it was under the Taliban. Joya is also concerned that civilian casualties are fueling popular support for the Taliban.

Thus far, no significant antiwar movement has emerged to seriously challenge the Obama administration’s prosecution of the Afghanistan war. Meanwhile, the administration has clearly expanded its military operations to Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. But support by the US electorate of this war policy appears shaky at best, as the population suffers under an unemployment rate approaching 20 percent, and an array of service cutbacks in many US states.

Whether protests against the economy will be linked to the bellicose policies of the Obama administration in its own version of Bush’s "war on terror" remains to be seen. But one doesn’t have to look very far to see that the premises of prosecuting a democratic, human rights war is no more tenable under Obama than it was under Bush.

This article has also been posted at The Public Record and AlterNet.