Archive for March, 2009|Monthly archive page

US Torture: Voices from the Black Sites in New York Review of Books

In Civil Liberties, Guantanamo Bay, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Rendition, Torture on March 30, 2009 at 1:29 pm

In “US Torture: Voices from the Black Sites,” Mark Danner from the New York Review of Books summarizes and excerpts verbatim from the classified document, “ICRC Report on the Treatment of Fourteen “High Value Detainees” in CIA Custody:”

The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

This secret system included prisons on military bases around the world, from Thailand and Afghanistan to Morocco, Poland, and Romania—”at various times,” reportedly, “sites in eight countries”—into which, at one time or another, more than one hundred prisoners…disappeared. The secret internment network of “black sites” had its own air force and its own distinctive “transfer procedures,” which were, according to the writers of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) report, “fairly standardised in most cases”:

The detainee would be photographed, both clothed and naked prior to and again after transfer. A body cavity check (rectal examination) would be carried out and some detainees alleged that a suppository (the type and the effect of such suppositories was unknown by the detainees), was also administered at that moment.

The detainee would be made to wear a diaper and dressed in a tracksuit. Earphones would be placed over his ears, through which music would sometimes be played. He would be blindfolded with at least a cloth tied around the head and black goggles. In addition, some detainees alleged that cotton wool was also taped over their eyes prior to the blindfold and goggles being applied….

The detainee would be shackled by [the] hands and feet and transported to the airport by road and loaded onto a plane. He would usually be transported in a reclined sitting position with his hands shackled in front. The journey times…ranged from one hour to over twenty-four to thirty hours. The detainee was not allowed to go to the toilet and if necessary was obliged to urinate and defecate into the diaper.

1,776 ft. Freedom Tower Going Back to World Trade Center Name

In 9/11 News on March 29, 2009 at 11:16 am

No more Freedom Tower:

The tower — still under construction with a projected completion date of 2013 — no longer has the same architect, design or footprint on the 16-acre site. And this week, the owners of ground zero publicly parted ways with the Freedom Tower name, saying it would be more practical to market the tallest building in New York as the former north tower’s name, One World Trade Center.

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Taliban in Pakistan’s Swat Region Implement Sharia

In Pakistan and Afghanistan, Taliban on March 24, 2009 at 9:34 am

After the Taliban fought the Pakistani army to a standstill — at least, according to Pakistan and the Taliban, who had been partners during the 1990s and even after the 2001 Afghan war — the Taliban has tried to implement Sharia, or Islamic law.  This BBC article gives a surprisingly sympathetic view to this process:

Maulana Rahman is a qazi, or judge, in one of the newly appointed Islamic Sharia courts in Pakistan’s troubled district of Swat. He is addressing about a dozen people standing in front of the bench in the circuit courthouse of Mingora, Swat’s main town. They are led by a tall, fierce looking man who adamantly demands an explanation for the court’s decision. He is a commander in the Swat Taleban who fought Pakistan’s army to a recent standstill.

The Taleban had demanded the implementation of Islamic Sharia law here. The government acceded and these courts are the first step in that direction. 

But the common people in Swat have welcomed the establishment of the courts and have thronged to them. “We believe we will get quick and impartial justice from the Sharia courts,” says Umar Hayat, a local man waiting to file his petition. “In the past, cases used to drag on for years, but now they are settled in days. More importantly, everybody is equal in front of the law.”

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Obama Administration Drops Use of “Enemy Combatant”

In Civil Liberties, Guantanamo Bay on March 14, 2009 at 10:25 am

Described as “dramatic” in its reversal, the Obama administration no longer uses the term “enemy combatant:”

In a dramatic break with the Bush administration, the Justice Department on Friday announced it is doing away with the designation of “enemy combatant,” which allowed the United States to hold suspected terrorists at length without criminal charges.  The announcement says the Justice Department will no longer rely on the the president’s authority as commander in chief, but on authority specifically granted by Congress.  And the government document says that individuals who support al Qaeda or the Taliban are detainable only if the support was “substantial.”

The category of “enemy combatant” had been an important aspect of the Bush administration’s legal construct for dealing with terrorism suspects.

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U.S. Drone Kills 24 Taliban in Pakistan

In Pakistan and Afghanistan, Taliban on March 13, 2009 at 10:10 am

Obama maintains policy of drone attacks within Pakistan:

Missiles fired by an unmanned US drone have killed at least 24 people in Pakistan’s Kurram tribal region near the Afghan border, officials have said. Local officials said the dead were local Taleban and that the toll may rise. Thirty others were injured.

The US does not confirm drone attacks but no other countries have the power to deploy such weapons in the region.  Correspondents say this is the fifth drone attack on Pakistani territory since Barack Obama became US president.

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Five Gitmo Detainees (Proudly) Confess to Plotting 9/11

In 9/11 News, Guantanamo Bay on March 10, 2009 at 8:23 am

From the New York Times:

The five detainees at Guantánamo Bay charged with planning the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have filed a document with the military commission at the United States naval base there expressing pride at their accomplishment and accepting full responsibility for the killing of nearly 3,000 people. 

The document, which may be released publicly on Tuesday, uses the Arabic term for a consultative assembly in describing the five men as the “9/11 Shura Council,” and it says their actions were an offering to God, according to excerpts of the document that were read to a reporter by a government official who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.  The document is titled “The Islamic Response to the Government’s Nine Accusations,” the military judge at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp said in a separate filing, obtained by The New York Times, that describes the detainees’ document.  The document was filed on behalf of the five men, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who has described himself as the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.

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Obama on What to Do with Captured Suspects in War on Terror

In Civil Liberties, Guantanamo Bay, Rendition, Torture on March 9, 2009 at 9:16 pm

Obama’s policies on enemy combatants may not be as far from that of Bush as some would like:

Mr. Obama also left open the option for American operatives to capture terrorism suspects abroad even without the cooperation of a country where they were found. “There could be situations — and I emphasize ‘could be’ because we haven’t made a determination yet — where, let’s say that we have a well-known Al Qaeda operative that doesn’t surface very often, appears in a third country with whom we don’t have an extradition relationship or would not be willing to prosecute, but we think is a very dangerous person… I think we still have to think about how do we deal with that kind of scenario,” he added. The president went on to say that “we don’t torture” and that “we ultimately provide anybody that we’re detaining an opportunity through habeas corpus to answer to charges.”

Mr. Obama signaled that those on the left seeking a wholesale reversal of Mr. Bush’s detainee policy might be disappointed. Mr. Obama said that by the time he got into office, the Bush administration had taken “steps to correct certain policies and procedures after those first couple of years” after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Aides later said Mr. Obama did not mean to suggest that everybody held by American forces would be granted habeas corpus or the right to challenge their detention. In a court filing last month, the Obama administration agreed with the Bush administration position that 600 prisoners in a cavernous prison on the American air base at Bagram in Afghanistan have no right to seek their release in court.

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Talking to the Taliban

In Pakistan and Afghanistan, Taliban on March 9, 2009 at 9:11 pm

Talking to moderates within the Taliban?  Though this did not work before 9/11, there is some resurgence of this idea in the Obama administration:

President Obama says the United States is open to reaching out to some moderate voices in the Taliban, but critics say that’s not the right approach.  In an interview published in the New York Times this weekend, Obama said some military leaders believe that part of the success in Iraq has come from reaching out to Sunni militants there.

The president said while the situation in Afghanistan is much more complex, there may be some comparable opportunities in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“I don’t want to prejudge the review that’s currently taking place. If you talk to Gen. [David] Petraeus, I think he would argue that part of the success in Iraq involved reaching out to people that we would consider to be Islamic fundamentalists, but who were willing to work with us because they had been completely alienated by the tactics of al Qaeda in Iraq,” he told the Times. Asked if the United States is winning the war in Afghanistan, Obama said “no.”

Given that remark, Gary Berntsen, a former CIA officer who led CIA forces in Afghanistan after 9/11, said Monday that it could be difficult to get members of the Taliban to work with the United States.  “If you keep saying the Taliban are winning, what incentive is there now for individuals who are fighting against us to come over to us,” he said on CNN’s “American Morning.”

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Financing bin Laden

In Official History on March 6, 2009 at 4:31 pm

After bin Laden left the Sudan, he had almost nothing left of his personal fortune.  How, financially speaking, did he keep al Qaeda running?  From a September 2004 report:

Recent investigations into al-Qaida — including one by the Sept. 11 commission — have substantially altered the commonly held view that Osama bin Laden’s inheritance and massive fortune are being used to finance his international terror operations.

“The CIA now estimates that it costs al-Qaida about $30 million per year to sustain its activities before 9/11 and that this money was raised almost entirely through donations,” the report said.

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January 2009 Justice Dept. Memo from Bush Administration Reverses Its Previous Legal Arguments

In Civil Liberties, Rendition, Torture on March 5, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Five days before Obama is sworn in, the Justice Department from the Bush Administration issued a memo that reversed its long standing arguments regarding international law, treatment of detainees, and other facets of the War on Terror:

In its final days, the George W. Bush administration issued a Justice Department opinion dramatically reversing most of the legal arguments that governed its war on terrorism – from interrogations to electronic surveillance.  On Monday, the Obama Justice Department declassified a Jan. 15 memo from Steven G. Bradbury, the outgoing principal deputy assistant attorney general, repudiating the interpretations of the Office of Legal Counsel from 2001 to 2003 regarding the president’s wartime authorities.

“The opinions addressed herein were issued in the wake of the atrocities of 9/11, when policymakers, fearing that additional catastrophic terrorist attacks were imminent, strived to employ all lawful means to protect the nation,” Mr. Bradbury wrote.

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