Posts Tagged Bagram

US Prison at Bagram: Guantanamo, But with Less Rights

Amantullah, photo by Alixandra Fazzina

Amantullah, a prisoner at Bagram. Photo by Alixandra Fazzina, from The New Yorker.

Estimates are that the United States has detained many thousands of men since 2011 at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.  Of course, that’s mostly a guess, because they can only be identified when families report them missing.  Tina M. Foster and her colleagues with the International Justice Network (ijnetwork.org) have been fighting for years now, for a very basic right for these prisoners: habeas corpus.

So far, they’ve been unsuccessful at getting any relief, because the Obama administration holds to the Bush regime’s claim that because the prison is in a (U.S. created) war zone, the prisoners cannot be charged or allowed legal defense, presumably until the war is declared ended.

Monday September 16, Tina and colleagues were back in federal court representing three men who are non-Afghans, grabbed by U.S. forces elsewhere and brought to the prison at Bagram.  One was 14 years old, and is still in custody at 19.

Scotusblog captured some of the argument yesterday:

With the U.S. seeking to end its active military involvement in the Afghan war by the end of next year, Swingle repeated the government’s recent claim that it “wants to get out of the detention business” at Bagram.   Some of the lawyers for the detainees, however, argued that there is no assurance that the U.S. military would free any of those it is holding there even after the main U.S. military force had departed.  The U.S. has built a new prison facility on the air base, and that may not be closed down, according to New York attorney Tina M. Foster, who represents three non-Afghan detainees.

Eric L. Lewis, a Washington, D.C., lawyer for a Pakistani national, named Amanatallah, joined Foster in pleading for habeas rights for the Bagram non-Afghan prisoners.   His client, Lewis said, was actually captured by British forces in Iraq, and the U.S. military had no reason to ship him to Afghanistan other than to try to keep him out of reach of U.S. courts.

The third lawyer on the detainee side, John J. Connolly of Baltimore, brought into Tuesday’s discussion a plea for special favorable consideration of the plight of minors who get caught up in the war on terrorism.   His client, Hamidullah, a Pakistani, was only fourteen years old when he was captured.  Government lawyer Swingle, in countering Connolly’s argument, contended that the important fact is that Hamidullah is now nineteen years old, and that is what counts in judging the legality of his detention.

Eric Lewis wrote in The New Yorker, in a piece titled Kafka in Bagram that his client is

a Pakistani citizen, a rice merchant, from a village outside Faisalabad. In 2004, he went on a business trip to Iran (which imports rice from Pakistan) and crossed into Iraq to visit Shia shrines. We know that he disappeared and was not heard from for ten months, when his family learned that he had been detained by British forces in Iraq, handed over to American troops, and then flown to Afghanistan and jailed at Bagram. We know that he was registered originally under the wrong name, suggesting that this may be a case of mistaken identity. We know that, for nine years, he has been prohibited from speaking to a lawyer and permitted only a few telephone calls from his family. He has five children who have not seen him for nine years.

Why was Amanatullah brought to Afghanistan? Rendition of a prisoner from his place of capture to a third country is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, as is rendering someone to a war zone. Surely, there were plenty of places to detain him in Iraq. And there was a well-worn route for prisoners to be sent to Guantánamo Bay. Again, the government will not say.

U.S. attorney Swingle argued that releasing Hamidullah would “encourage others to lie about their age

Connolly refuted the US claim that his client was a soldier at all.  U.S.: Releasing child soldiers would encourage others to lie about age:

John Connolly, an attorney for the detainees, told the panel that because of a lack of information from officials at Bagram, “we have no evidence that [Khan] was a child soldier.”

The only thing Connolly said he knew for sure was that Khan “was a child.”

International law says using a child under the age of 15 as a soldier is a war crime, the attorney said, so the United States can assert jurisdiction in Khan’s case.

The United States should release all detainees under 18 (including those arrested when they were children) in Guantanamo and Bagram; release those men who have never been charged, and allow the others legal representation.

Most essentially, the U.S. should get out of Afghanistan now, not vaguely in 2014, and not in 2024, when the current status of forces agreement matures.

Hamidullah was only two years old when the U.S. began this war and occupation.

Witness Against Torture (witnesstorture.org) protesting at the White House.

Witness Against Torture (witnesstorture.org) protesting at the White House. Photo from The New Yorker

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Occupying, Everywhere, to STOP U.S. Occupations

An irony acutely felt this week:

Tens of thousands of people in the U.S., taking the lead from millions in the Middle East, are “occupying” public spaces, seeking change in the the world as it is, standing up to authority, power, and blowing the ceiling off expectations that the vast disparity in global income “has to” be as it is.  We’ve got to spread these occupations!

Hundreds of thousands of U.S. military, support staff and private contractors are “occupying” two countries in the Middle East, in a mission to enforce, with a vengeance, U.S. domination over the region, employing night raids, torture, and terror towards the civilian population.  We’ve got to end those occupations!

We marked the 10th anniversary of the Bush regime’s bombing and invasion of Afghanistan last week, with protests across the U.S. which were in many cases intermingled with the Occupy Wall Street protests, and in all cases influenced by the outpouring of public anger at the system.

Significantly, a protest in Kabul by Afghans demanded the occupiers leave.

Protesters march in Kabul

Watch Reuters video of the protest in Kabul against U.S. occupation

Yesterday, the United Nations released a report on the detention system in Afghanistan, bought, run and paid for by those who occupy the Pentagon. The New York Times reports that it

paints a devastating picture of abuse, citing evidence of “systematic torture” during interrogations by Afghan intelligence and police officials even as American and other Western backers provide training and pay for nearly the entire budget of the Afghan ministries running the detention centers.

Detainees — and we’ve known this since November 2001, when the U.S. first set up operations at an old Afghan prison in Bagram — are hung by their hands and beaten with cables, their genitals twisted until they lose consciousness.  Because of the Obama administration’s successful argument that the prisoners are not entitled to habeas corpus rights, they have no way out.

This is in no way a departure from all the rest of the Bush war crimes begun 10 years ago.  The NY Times, which editorially opposes torture, while supporting the wars in which the U.S. uses it, said today

such widespread use of torture in a detention system supported by American mentors and money raises serious questions about potential complicity of American officials and whether they benefited from information obtained from suspects who had been tortured….There have been a number of instances that raise similar questions in other places, including Uzbekistan, Pakistan and El Salvador, according to a RAND Corporation report in 2006.

This systematic abuse must be working for the United States government.  According to Glenn Greenwald, the Obama administration

unveiled plans for “the construction of Detention Facility in Parwan (DFIP), Bagram, Afghanistan” which includes “detainee housing capability for approximately 2000 detainees.”  It will also feature “guard towers, administrative facility and Vehicle/Personnel Access Control Gates, security surveillance and restricted access systems.”  The announcement provided: ”the estimated cost of the project is between $25,000,000 to $100,000,000.”

This occupation won’t be ended by Obama, or any presidents to follow him, unless people in this country demand it.

Raise your voice!  January 11, 2012, we’ll be back in Washington on the 10th anniversary of the U.S. prison in Guantanamo, marking it with a protest/human chain of 2,200 people.  We’ll stand for the 171 prisoners in Guantanamo, with no way out, and the 2,000 some at Bagram, with no legal standing. Join in!

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Closing Guantanamo Requires Us

Over an intense week protesting the beginning of the 10th year of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo, I continued to learn more.  The situation for the 173 men there is changing, though not towards a just resolution.

After nine years, it got through to me that use of the word “detainees” indicates something impermanent, as if one is “detained” doing an errand.  The men have been imprisoned; they are prisoners.  So we shall call them prisoners and released prisoners.

Many thanks to Andy Worthington for coming to the U.S. last week, speaking and talking with all us involved in trying to end the U.S. regime of indefinite detention, based on torture begun by the Bush regime.  His attention to the cases of 774 men, and grasp of the prison’s history is remarkable.  You can see and support his work here.

Protests last week centered on the demand that Guantanamo be closed, with justice.   A statement still circulating to that effect is here.  Groups in other cities, and 100 fasters around the country, continue to speak out.  World Can’t Wait in Chicago is sponsoring an event January 25 at DePaul University with Dr. M. Cherif Bassiouni, attorney Candace Gorman, and myself.

Thanks to Witness Against Torture, leading an ongoing fast for justice through January 22, two years from the day Barack Obama promised to close Guantanamo.  Thanks to the attorneys who have defended the prisoners, too numerous to name here, and who shared their sense of outrage with us.  And to the Center for Constitutional Rights and Amnesty International for a dramatic and intense protest Tuesday January 11 in front of the White House, and later at the Department of Justice.

The voices of the former prisoners — who of course could not be with us at the protest, as they are still considered “enemy combatants” though they were never charged — came through.  Omar Deghayes, who speaks so movingly in the film Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo, sent a message read in front of the White House by Kathy Kelly:

…This past December 19th just marked three years to the day that I tasted freedom again and was released from Guantánamo to the warm embrace of my family and the community who fought so hard for my freedom. But not a day has passed since in which my thoughts and prayers have not remained with the 173 men who continue to languish in Guantánamo, detained without trial, most of them not facing any charge, and entering their tenth year of being separated from their loved ones. 90 of these men have actually been cleared for release long ago…

January 11, 2011 Andy Worthington speaking to protesters & media in front of the White House

Andy Worthington explained to the hundreds of people standing in the street before the White House, what’s happened to the 173 men left.  In a piece that summarize the pace of closure, Guantánamo Forever? makes the case that the Obama administration, as indicated back in May 2009, is making indefinite detention a permanent feature:

…it is reasonable to propose that Guantánamo is now a permanent institution for a variety of reasons. The first concerns a number of cynical moves by lawmakers in recent months, inserting provisions into a military spending bill that are explicitly designed to keep Guantánamo open — a ban on using funds to transfer Guantánamo prisoners to the U.S. mainland to face trials, a ban on using funds to buy or build a prison on the U.S. mainland to hold Guantánamo prisoners, and a ban on the release of any prisoner cleared for release by the President’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force (composed of representatives of government departments and the intelligence agencies) to countries considered dangerous by lawmakers — including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen…

Andy looks further into this situation in Nine Years Later: The Political Prisoners of Guantanamo, showing some of the complex factors behind the paralysis.  An even larger group of prisoners are held in Bagram, at the U.S. air base, in what the U.S. argues is a “war zone” so that the prisoners may not have habeas corpus, echoing the Bush regime of 5 years ago.  Military tribunals, or “commissions” have been widely derided as unjust.  Obama says some of the prisoners are “too dangerous to release” or to try.  Is it that what would come out in court would be too revealing of the illegitimacy of the war on terror?  And concludes

Until these problems are solved and the Guantanamo prisoners are either tried or released, President Obama’s contribution to this bitter legacy of the Bush administration is to be presiding over the unthinkable: a prison where, however the prisoners have been designated, they are almost all held in indefinite detention and are, indeed, political prisoners.

Over the next year, we will experience the ten year anniversaries of 9/11, the PATRIOT Act, the attack on Afghanistan, and the opening of Guantanamo.  We have something to say now, and over the next year, about whether the outrages associated with the Bush years continue along, or are sharply opposed by more and more people.

World Can’t Wait began its Call to Drive Out the Bush Regime in 2005 with:

YOUR GOVERNMENT, on the basis of outrageous lies, is waging a murderous and utterly illegitimate war in Iraq, with other countries in their sights.

YOUR GOVERNMENT is openly torturing people, and justifying it.

YOUR GOVERNMENT puts people in jail on the merest suspicion, refusing them lawyers, and either holding them indefinitely or deporting them in the dead of night.

And we ended it with, “The future is unwritten.  Which one we get is up to us.”

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March 20: STOP these Wars & Torture Now!

Sisters & Brothers:

Seven years after shock and awe in Iraq, and 14 months into the “change you can believe in,” things are going in a terrible direction.

One outrage after another:

Obama’s expansion of the war in Afghanistan to 100,000 troops  is not saving Afghan civilians, but killing them.

His use of secret operations and unmanned drones in 5 countries is not only illegal, unjust, and immoral, but against all of humanity.  Revelations that the president claims the right to assassinate US citizens, and that private contractors are running black ops outside the chain of command.

His defense of the Bush era torture lawyers and war crimes in the name of “executive privilege” is unconscionable.

His refusal to allow more than 600 detainees in Bagram, Afghanistan to be identified, and to be denied habeas corpus rights or lawyers to challenge their detention put the lie to the claim he made a year ago that “we do not torture.”

Yes, the right wing IS breathing down Obama’s neck, questioning the legitimacy of his presidency because he’s Black.  The racist Tea baggers get more press for one convention of 600 than we’ve ever gotten for anti-war marches.  The neo-cons have all the intitiative, and the only promise Obama has kept is the one to spread the illegitmate occupation of Afghanistan.

But we have no skin in the game to save Obama, war president.

And there is no solution to this in Congress so don’t look there.   Changing the face in the White House only made the poison go down easier.

What we need — what only we can do — is make a change in what people in this country will accept being done in our names.  If people have gotten confused about whether the Iraq war is over, tell them, no — it’s becoming a permanent occupation!

If people are listening to the “Dick” Cheneys and John Yoos that torture is necessary to keep us safe, and thinking, maybe they agree, tell them, no — torture and aggressive war are never acceptable.

If kids you know are joining up with the military now because fighting for Obama sounds better than fighting for a president that hated, or because Don’t Ask Don’t Tell might finally be ended, tell them no!  Don’t join up for a military occupation where you will be trained and ordered to commit war crimes!

Want to stop the war?  Stop the recruiters!  Bring the We Are Not Your Soldiers! Tour bringing veterans to tell students the reality of the occupations, and help them resist the recruiters.  If you want to stop the wars, start at your school.  Wearenotyoursoldiers.org!  March with the contingent and sign up to bring the tour to your school.

Only we can reverse this dynamic.  The future is unwritten. Which one we get is up to us.  The world STILL can’t wait!

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Changing the Dynamic Because The World Can’t Wait

World Can’t Wait activists are intensely committed to stopping the “Bush” program.  Though we didn’t succeed in our collective efforts to drive out the Bush regime, we set a standard, on principle, for challenging the government not to carry out crimes in our names.

But having principles is only a start.  We want to stop the crimes.

Let me follow out one example.  We’re paying the price for not having forced Bush and Cheney from office in disgrace once the Abu Ghraib abuse became public. We were all against the shocking memos of the Bush legal torture team; the snarling Cheney refrain that water-boarding is a “no-brainer” and keeps “us” safe; the branding of every Muslim as a “terrorist”.  Torture opponents had the moral high ground during the Bush years.

Yet, we’ve allowed Bush to say, first, “We don’t torture;” then to get away with the legal cover-up.  And now the message from the neo-cons is open: “We must and will torture.”  14 months post-Bush, the Cheney approach sets the agenda, despite President Obama’s promises, and intentions, to shut down Guantanamo.

Obama himself is committed to indefinite detention, hence his refusal to allow habeas rights for detainees in U.S. detention in Bagram, and his defense of former Bush policies and CIA agents on the basis of “executive privilege”.  He’s a breath away from restoring military commissions as opposed to civilian courts, as the venue for trying Guantanamo detainees.

The most essential element to turning this climate and direction around, and getting back the moral high ground and political initiative, is a protest movement, coming from the people and the campuses.  The people who hoped that Obama would listen to us have been deeply discouraged and demobilized.  I would argue that he follows “national security” imperatives first, though he wraps the war-fighting in Nobel peace platitudes.

But for him to have to listen to the people’s demands, it’s imperative that the voices who oppose what was done under Bush back the demand to end the “global war on terror” with visible protest.  This is what World Can’t Wait is building.

You can join in and support this resistance now.

Arrow Sustain World Can’t Wait’s work!  Help spread this national movement.

ArrowJoin in protest Saturday March 20, marking the 7th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq.  Washington DC, noon, The White House, or other cities nationwide.

Arrow Become a War Crimes Watcher; help bring the Bush era war criminals to justice by protesting wherever they appear publicly.

Arrow Get involved with the We Are Not Your Soldiers Tour, bringing Iraq & Afghanistan war veterans into high schools to help students resist recruiters.

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Cheney Accuses Guantanamo Lawyers of Crimes

It’s outrageous enough that Obama’s Justice Department has declined to pursue criminal, or even professional misconduct charges, on Bush White House lawyers who cooked up “legal” justification for torture, indefinite detention, secret rendition, and the whole nasty suite of “legal” means by which the United States became a pariah.

Eric Holder hasn’t gone to court yet against the Bush crimes; in fact, he defends the Bush administration in cases involving detainee abuse on the basis of executive privilege, “national security” and the need for CIA agents not to have to fear prosecution.

But now we have “Dick” Cheney’s daughter, Liz, and her Keep America Safe neo-cons on a tear against attorneys who came into the Justice Department after defending Guantanamo detainees.  Calling them the “al Queda 7″, Cheney joined with Fox News and Republican Senator Chuck Grassley in asserting that the attorneys “support terrorists” and are dangerous.  Keep America Safe ran an ad with creepy background music and an Investors Business Daily headline, “Department of Jihad.”

These are attorneys who won major cases in the U.S. Supreme Court during the Bush years.  One is Neal Katyal who argued Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, challenging the legality of President Bush’s military commissions.  Ironically, this is the same Neal Katyal who just argued for the government against habeas corpus rights for detainees held at Bagram, on the grounds of national security.

A lot of Bush-ite conservatives, even, are alarmed at the tone of the Cheney attack, which must be why the story has finally made the New York Times today.

But the Cheney group loves a different sort of attorney; the ones who made torture acceptable in the eyes of the CIA under VP Cheney.

Global “warriors on terror” John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Stephen Bradbury came out looking very bad in the Office of Professional Responsibility Report released on February 19.  Looking through the 600+ page report, one can only imagine what’s on the large number of redacted pages, presumably blacked out to cover for the the White House “principals” who commissioned the torture memos.

I attended a briefing by the Alliance for Justice, “After the OPR Report” where attorneys Scott Horton, David Cole, Bill Yeomans and Michael Frisch took apart the report, and spoke to how justice could be served on the torturers.  (It won’t happen through U.S. courts, said Horton, but because a Spanish citizen was tortured in Guantanamo, Spain is proceeding with war crimes prosecutions of Bush officials).

Demonstrators from the group "World Can't Wait" hold a mock waterboarding torture of a prisioner in Times Square 11 January 2008 to mark the sixth year anniversary of when the United States opened the camps at Guantanamo. Waterboarding is a form of torture that consists of immobilizing a person on his or her back, with the head inclined downward, and pouring water over the face and into the breathing passages. TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Internal CIA documents recently released give even more detail about the how the waterboarding was done to at least 3 detainees in Guantanamo, based on an authorizing memo drafted by one Stephen Bradbury (see above.) “Dick” Cheney famously smirked that water-boarding was a “no-brainer” and is still on the hustings arguing for it.

Mark Benjamin writes in Salon, Waterboarding for dummies, on the new documents, and relates it detail the practices the CIA used.

The CIA’s waterboarding regimen was so excruciating, the memos show, that agency officials found themselves grappling with an unexpected development: detainees simply gave up and tried to let themselves drown. “In our limited experience, extensive sustained use of the waterboard can introduce new risks,” the CIA’s Office of Medical Services wrote in its 2003 memo. “Most seriously, for reasons of physical fatigue or psychological resignation, the subject may simply give up, allowing excessive filling of the airways and loss of consciousness.”

One must ask, where are the investigations of health professionals in relation to these releases?  The principal role of CIA Medical Services seems to have been keeping detainees alive to be tortured longer.

Speaking to the levels of irony in this story, Liliana Segura says today on Alternet:

The broader, unfortunate reality is that many Bush-era conservatives have found little to complain about with Obama’s DOJ and so may be more inclined to defend it. Reports that the administration may do a major league flip-flop on its decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his cohorts in civilian courts are only the latest potential example of Bush-era policies that the Obama’s Justice Department has kept in place, from warrantless wiretapping to denying habeas corpus rights to prisoners at Bagram, to its embrace of preventive detention for prisoners at Guantanamo. Were Obama’s record a real departure from that of the Bush administration, these conservatives may well have little to say against an ad like Liz Cheney’s.

But it’s the ideological defenders of torture in the name of “keeping America safe” — really keeping America on top through global empire — who refuse to rename or back down on the “war on terror” begun 9 years ago.  Remember Cheney himself saying this would be a war to last “generations?”

They will not accept civilian trials for anyone held in Guantanamo, won’t let it be closed,won’t allow people who provided legal defense to anyone there — never mind the Bush administration itself released most of the detainees because they had nothing to do with al Queda or attacking the U.S.

Who says they aren’t fascist?

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Why the U.S. is Losing Afghanistan

As people who follow World Can’t Wait know, we’ve been opposed to Barack Obama’s plans to expand the US occupation of Afghanistan since the 2008 campaign began.  Now that Obama has expanded the US occupying forces beyond 150,000 (not including all the contractors outside the US military) and is pressuring European allies to send more troops, how is the occupation going?

Reminders:  Obama kept Bush’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has promoted the expansion into Afghanistan.  He’s expanded Bush’s quiet drone war, and is now has two unmanned drone programs (run by the military and the CIA), making far more attacks than Bush ever did.  The administration endorsed the “election” of Hamid Karzai over widespread, incontrovertible evidence of massive fraud in it.

So how is all that working?  I had a chance to hear Anand Gopal speak Monday night, at a Brooklyn for Peace event.  I hope his talk will be broadcast, but in the meantime, I’ll report from my notes.

Anand Gopal gave us important information with “America’s Secret Afghan Prisons,”  a piece based on 24 interviews with detainees and families of those held at Bagram Air Force Base, called “Obama’s Gitmo.”  See a ten minute interview by Russia Today (who surely has an interest in counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan) with Gopal.

Gopal stated that the Taliban had virtually been removed from Afghanistan in 2001-02 with the US invasion, relatively easily.    Now, they once again dominate 1/2 of the country.

The main reason for this he cited was the civilian casualties caused by US/NATO attacks.  He said that the Taliban also kills civilians, directly or indirectly, but that the civilian population thinks the US occupation is what’s responsible for the deaths.  There have been major protests in all the cities, and every time that a group of civilians are killed by NATO or US forces, with American flags and effigies of Obama burned.  People are very angry.

Another reason the US occupation will fail, Gopal said, is that they are supporting the “corrupt and predatory” Karzai government, which is viewed as the enemy by much of the country.  During the 1990′s civil war, the Northern Alliance, and other warlord groups now allied with Karzai were responsible for horrific treatment of women.  In areas they controlled, girls not married by the age of 12 were raped,

When the people protested the treatment of women, so bad that in 2003 hundreds of women drowned themselves rather than be raped by the Northern Alliance, the Karzai government did nothing, because Karzai needs the warlords to hold onto power. Because people in the country are preyed upon by the warlords, get no help from the Karzai government or the U.S. government, they have turned increasingly to the Taliban, despite the crimes against people they have committed.

Another reason for the U.S. lack of success in “winning hearts and minds” of the Afghan people Gopal cited is the “lack of reconstruction.”  He said that 85% of the billions marked for reconstruction goes to US contractors.   Of the remaining 15% much goes to the warlords.  He said the major Kabul-Kandahar highway built by the Bush regime a few years ago is falling apart from shoddy construction.

Gopal said the only solution for the people of Afghanistan is the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

The Toronto Star reported Sunday February 7 in Afghans flee ahead of planned NATO offensive

Mohammad Hakim, a 55-year-old tribal leader in Marjah, said fear has risen over the past two weeks and he knows at least 20 families who had left. He himself planned to take his wife, nine sons, four daughters and grandchildren to live with relatives in Lashkar Gah.

“Everybody is worried that they’ll get caught in the middle when this operation starts,” he said in a telephone interview.

Hakim said he was worried about the length of the operation.

“I can stay for one or two weeks,” he said. “But if I have to leave my agriculture land for months and months, then how will I feed my family?”


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Victim of the War of Terror: Dr. Aafia Siddiqui

Note: On February 4, Dr. Siddiqui was found guilty of all charges.  This was not justice.  See a piece by Petra Bartosiewicz who was in court for its duration.

The U.S. government’s case against Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani who holds an advanced degree from MIT in neuroscience, will go to the jury Monday in federal court here in New York City.  I’ve been in the courtroom, and several times in the overflow room with dozens of supporters and reporters.

Dr. Aafiai Siddiqui

Dr. Aafia Siddiqui in Afghan custody July 17, 2008

Even when we are only watching the trial through cameras in the overflow rooms, we are forced to give ID to enter, all to bolster the impression that Dr. Siddiqui is a dangerous terrorist, and that we are dangerous for caring what happens to her.  Everyone entering the courthouse goes through airport style security screening, but to go into her trial, one must be searched again.

Petra Bartosiewicz wrote for Time magazine in A Pakistani on Trial – With No Pakistani Reporters:

Although Siddiqui is not charged with any terrorism-related crime,security concerns are paramount though the procedures seem to be unevenly enforced. During the lunch break on the first day of the Siddiqui trial a group of Muslim men praying in the waiting areas outside the courtroom were afterwards asked to leave the floor. That prevented them from securing a place in line for the afternoon session. Several Muslim women in hijabs were also given similar instructions, but others in the same area, dressed in business attire, including this reporter, were permitted to stay. On the second day of the trial metal detectors were posted outside the courtroom and individuals were asked for photo identification and their names and addresses were logged by court security officers. At the close of proceedings on Thursday defense attorney Charles Swift protested the practice. “The suggestion is that the gallery may be a threat,” said Swift, calling the measure “highly prejudicial.”

Judge for yourself whether the New York Daily News, which calls Siddiqui “Lady al Queda” (absent any evidence produced at trial), or The Washington Post which headlines “Government: Let al-Qaida-linked scientist testify” is part of the prosecutor’s team.

Petra, who is writing a book on US terrorist prosecutions, has been in the trial every day, blogging and linked at CagePrisoners.com. Her article in November 2009 Harper’s The intelligence factory: How America makes its enemies disappear is a deeply researched piece going behind the US government’s public case against Siddiqui, and, more broadly, the existence of a network of secret detentions and prisons the US operates.  On Aafia Siddiqui:

When I first read the U.S. government’s complaint against Aafia Siddiqui, who is awaiting trial in a Brooklyn detention center on charges of attempting to murder a group of U.S. Army officers and FBI agents in Afghanistan, the case it described was so impossibly convoluted—and yet so absurdly incriminating—that I simply assumed she was innocent. According to the complaint, on the evening of July 17, 2008, several local policemen discovered Siddiqui and a young boy loitering about a public square in Ghazni. She was carrying instructions for creating “weapons involving biological material,” descriptions of U.S. “military assets,” and numerous unnamed “chemical substances in gel and liquid form that were sealed in bottles and glass jars.” Siddiqui, an MIT-trained neuroscientist who lived in the United States for eleven years, had vanished from her hometown in Pakistan in 2003, along with all three of her children, two of whom were U.S. citizens.

The complaint does not address where she was those five years or why she suddenly decided to emerge into a public square outside Pakistan and far from the United States, nor does it address why she would do so in the company of her American son. Various reports had her married to a high-level Al Qaeda operative, running diamonds out of Liberia for Osama bin Laden, and abetting the entry of terrorists into the United States. But those reports were countered by rumors that Siddiqui actually had spent the previous five years in the maw of the U.S. intelligence system—that she was a ghost prisoner, kidnapped by Pakistani spies, held in secret detention at a U.S. military prison, interrogated until she could provide no further intelligence, then spat back into the world in the manner most likely to render her story implausible. These dueling narratives of terrorist intrigue and imperial overreach were only further confounded when Siddiqui finally appeared before a judge in a Manhattan courtroom on August 5. Now, two weeks after her capture, she was bandaged and doubled over in a wheelchair, barely able to speak, because—somehow—she had been shot in the stomach by one of the very soldiers she stands accused of attempting to murder.

Dr. Siddiqui, whose brother Mohammed and many supporters are following the trial closely, is not on trial for terrorism charges, but for, as the government puts it, what happened in the “3 minutes” inside the Afghani police building on July 18, 2008.  She denied, on cross examination last week, picking up a gun, or shooting it.

From what I can observe, and have read, Dr. Siddiqui is deeply traumatized and has reason to be distrustful of the courts, the military, the FBI, who questioned her without introduction while she was in hospital recovering from the gunshot wounds.  She said, several times in court — and was removed for breaking the rule because she did so — that she was held in a secret prison, and her children were disappeared, and that she was tortured.

I saw reporters snicker at that.  Isn’t that a delusional idea, that a Pakistani could be held in a secret prison?  Remember George W. Bush, and Barack Obama as well: “We do not torture.”  She must be crazy, and guilty, to assert such a thing.

Then comes this piece by Anand Gopal, reporting for The Nation this week, Obama’s Secret Prisons:

Sometime in the last few years, Pashtun villagers in Afghanistan’s rugged heartland began to lose faith in the American project. Many of them can point to the precise moment of this transformation, and it usually took place in the dead of the night, when most of the country was fast asleep. In the secretive U.S. detentions process, suspects are usually nabbed in the darkness and then sent to one of a number of detention areas on military bases, often on the slightest suspicion and without the knowledge of their families.

This process has become even more feared and hated in Afghanistan than coalition airstrikes. The night raids and detentions, little known or understood outside of these Pashtun villages, are slowly turning Afghans against the very forces they greeted as liberators just a few years ago.

Andy Worthington reports on a new report from the United Nations, UN Secret Detention Report Asks, “Where Are the CIA Ghost Prisoners?”
concluding:

“While the report spreads its net wide, the US administration’s response to its findings about the Bush administration’s legacy of “disappeared” prisoners, and its focus on the gray areas of Obama’s current policies, is particularly anticipated. So far, however, there has been silence from US officials, and only the British, moaning about “unsubstantiated and irresponsible” claims, have so far dared to challenge their well-chronicled complicity in the secret detention policies underpinning the whole of the war on terror, which do not appear to have been thoroughly banished, one year after Barack Obama took office.”

How delusional are Dr. Siddiqui’s claims that she was tortured in a secret prison?

Dr. Siddiqui was found, disoriented, in Grazni Afghanistan, having disappeared from her home in Pakistan five years earlier.  No one has said where she was.  Pakistani human rights organizations, and some at the trial, have urged me to mention, and look into the disappearance of thousands of Pakistanis at the hands of the secret police, ISI, who are paid many millions by the US government to be part of the so-called “war on terror”.

These disappearances and deaths, this police state, are the responsibility of the US government, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton, by funding, by political support and pressure to do the dirty work that amounts to the “war on terror” while the US chooses to say “we do not torture.”

But this is an administration which has dramatically the use of unmanned drones to target alleged “terrorists,” thereby killing hundreds of civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and now Yemen and Somalia.  A poll last year in Pakistan, by al Jazeera found only 9% of adults supporting the drone attacks, because of concerns that they are killing innocent civilians.

Sebastain Abbot in the Huffington Post:

“The U.S. government doesn’t even suggest what the proportion of innocent people to legitimate targets is,” said Michael Walzer, a renowned American scholar on the ethics of warfare. “It’s a moral mistake, but it’s a PR mistake as well.”

As part of this “war on terror”, the US prosecutors have produced no physical evidence that Dr. Siddiqui held or fired a gun on July 18, 2008.  As Dr Siddiqui said, “I walked towards the curtain. I was shot and I was shot again. I fainted.”

I don’t expect justice for Dr. Aafia Siddiqui this week.  Even if she were to be found not guilty on all charges — which the evidence supports — what will her future be?  Where are her children?  Will she get back the lost years and be able to tell her story?

And I don’t expect an end to the illegitimate “war OF terror” until people living in the United States reject the dangerous direction their government is taking, against the interests of humanity.

See Aafia Siddiqui and the ongoing war on terror by Sadia Ahsanuddin on Connie Nash’s blog, One Heart for Peace.

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Tweeting to #closegitmo

War Criminals Watch is joining with the ACLU, Amnesty International, many other organizations, artists and musicians like Tom Morello and Trent Reznor to “flood Twitter” and Facebook today, Thursday, January 21st with messages to #closegitmo. YOU can help, by spreading the word now, and tweeting messages tomorrow about Guantanamo, torture, habeas corpus rights, and more – using the hashtag #closegitmo. You can also “donate” your Facebook status for the day with this message. We want to dominate the social networking discussion on Thursday with the message that torture and the prison at Guantanamo still continue, but must be stopped.

Follow us on Twitter at worldcantwait, and go to the link below to find an image to use for the day on as your Twitter or Facebook avatar. Check out the stream of tweets about closing Guantanamo here.

Thursday January 21st – more than a year since Obama promised Guantanamo would be closed, join us in flooding twitter and facebook with the message to #closegitmo. Use this image for the day as your avatar.

#closegitmo avatar

Sample tweets:

People have been tortured to death at Guantanamo. Read Scott Horton in Harpers: http://tinyurl.com/yleps6f #closegitmo

“How I fought to survive Guantánamo” the former detainee Omar Deghayes http://tinyurl.com/ybolnth #closegitmo

Take action to #closegitmo. We want to know what you think. More than 800 people have taken this survey http://tinyurl.com/ydtp9ju

The Guantanamo Files: the stories of the human beings tortured in our names.  http://tinyurl.com/6nezl5 #closegitmo

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Protesting Torture @ Obama’s House

The Fast for Justice led by Witness Against Torture began today, on the 8th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo, with 50 people here in Washington, and another 75 around the U.S.  Fasters marched in orange jumpsuits in front of the White House, and then performed guerrila theater.  “Bush Justice” turned into “Obama Justice.”  Guanatanmo became Bagram, and Guantanamo, Illinois.

Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei from the Center for Constitutional Rights, told of visiting her clients several times with good news.  In June 2008, she told them U.S. courts were allowing them to file suit.  In November 2008, a new president who campaigned on closing Guantanamo was elected.  In January 2009, he made an Executive Order closing Guantanamo.  Some of her clients have been cleared for release, meaning that the U.S. government has no intention finds they do not need to be held further.

Close Guantanamo Signs

Close Guantanamo Protest Jan 11 2010

Yet her clients are still sitting in Guantanamo.  What is good news worth?

A reporter asked if the Guantanamo lawyers are angry at the delays.  “We are increasingly disillusioned, and angry too” she said.

Attorney Steve Truitt stood holding a sign with his

Jan 11 2010 Guantanamo Detainee's Attorney at White House protest

Steve Truitt holding the name of his Guantanamo client Hani Abdullah

client’s name, Hani Abdullah, a Yemeni.  He can complete corporate deals, but not get this client sprung.

It’s a messed up situation, as a high school student visiting the scene from Maryland told me.  Last night, together with the people about to fast, we watched Andy Worthington’s film about the lives of the detainees.  The room was silent for awhile after it ended, as the weight of the injustice and years of detention settled.   But then we got to talking.  A friend and playwright, along to participate in all this, remarked on two things I noticed about Omar Deghayes’ comments in the film.  At one point he described that the guards, after four or five months would mostly come to understand the injustice of the prison.  But then, they would get rotated out, and they would get another round of them who had to be once again educated.

The other thing Omar said that hits everyone who watches is that it’s not the loss of his eye, his broken ribs, the sexual humilitation and degradation that is the worst.  It was losing the years of his son’s young life, the joy of seeing him as so innocent, that he will never get back.

Omar was at the press conference this afternoon, via live video conference.   You can also see a Q&A with him and Moazzam Begg, another released detainee in October, discussing those still remaining in Guantanamo.

Last night Clare from Ithaca raised the point that even if Guantanamo is moved to Illinois, there already is torture in US prisons, in the Special Housing Units, where total isolation and sensory deprivation is practiced on people who live in America.

I was glad to say that the guerilla posters which appeared today on bus shelters in the San Francisco area made the connection, saying “Shut Down Guantanamo…Bagram…Pelican Bay.  Torture is a War Crime!”

Witness Against Torture posted a report on the Jan 11 activities.  Respect to them for a very effective and moving day yesterday, and to Center for Constitutional Rights for bringing the voices of the released detainees and lawyers for the detainees!

Witness Against Torture in the News:

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