Friday, January 29, 2010

Torture and murder in the American Empire

Steve Hynd links to the story of the murder of a nine year old by the Blackwater thugs and asks
please read the whole thing slowly and carefully, then ask yourself what the fuck is going on with America.

While you're at it also read this piece by Anand Gopal entitled 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.
What follows are story after story of horrific abuse and a bureaucratic machinery from hell
Night raids are only the first step in the American detention process in Afghanistan. Suspects are usually sent to one among a series of prisons on U.S. military bases around the country. There are officially nine such jails, called Field Detention Sites in military parlance. They are small holding areas, often just a clutch of cells divided by plywood, and are mainly used for prisoner interrogation.

One of those interrogated was a former police officer Noor Agha Sher Khan

The interrogators blindfolded him, taped his mouth shut, and chained him to the ceiling, he alleges. Occasionally they unleashed a dog, which repeatedly bit him. At one point, they removed the blindfold and forced him to kneel on a long wooden bar. “They tied my hands to a pulley [above] and pushed me back and forth as the bar rolled across my shins. I screamed and screamed.” They then pushed him to the ground and forced him to swallow 12 bottles worth of water. “Two people held my mouth open and they poured water down my throat until my stomach was full and I became unconscious. It was as if someone had inflated me.” he says. After he was roused from his torpor, he vomited the water uncontrollably.

This continued for a number of days; sometimes he was hung upside down from the ceiling, and other times blindfolded for extended periods. Eventually, he was sent on to Bagram where the torture ceased. Four months later, he was quietly released, with a letter of apology from U.S. authorities for wrongfully imprisoning him.


Some of those taken to the Field Detention Sites never make it to Bagram, but instead are simply released after authorities deem them to be innocuous. Even then, some allege abuse. Such was the case with Hajji Ehsanullah, snatched one winter night in 2008 from his home in the southern province of Zabul. He was taken to a detention site in Khost Province, some 200 miles away. He returned home 13 days later, his skin scarred by dog bites and with memory difficulties that, according to his doctor, resulted from a blow to the head. U.S. forces had dropped him off at a gas station in Khost after three days of interrogation. It took him ten more days to find his way home.

And some don't survive the initial encounter

In the dust-swept province of Khost one day this past December, U.S. forces launched a night raid on the village of Motai, killing six people and capturing nine, according to nearly a dozen local government authorities and witnesses. Two days later, the bodies of two of those detained—plastic cuffs binding their hands—were found more than a mile from the largest U.S. base in the area.

And then there is Bagram where the Hippocratic oath is considered a tool of "asymmetrical warfare"

The U.S. Special Forces also run a second, secret prison somewhere on Bagram Air Base that the Red Cross still does not have access to. Used primarily for interrogations, it is so feared by prisoners that they have dubbed it the “Black Jail.”

One day two years ago, U.S. forces came to get Noor Muhammad, outside of the town of Kajaki in the southern province of Helmand. Muhammad, a physician, was running a clinic that served all comers—including the Taliban. The soldiers raided his clinic and his home, killing five people (including two patients) and detaining both his father and him. The next day, villagers found the handcuffed corpse of Muhammad’s father, apparently dead from a gunshot.

The soldiers took Muhammad to the Black Jail. “It was a tiny, narrow corridor, with lots of cells on both sides and a big steel gate and bright lights. We didn’t know when it was night and when it was day.” He was held in a concrete, windowless room, in complete solitary confinement. Soldiers regularly dragged him by his neck, and refused him food and water. They accused him of providing medical care to the insurgents, to which he replied, “I am a doctor. It’s my duty to provide care to every human being who comes to my clinic, whether they are Taliban or from the government.”

Eventually, Muhammad was released, but he has since closed his clinic and left his home village. “I am scared of the Americans and the Taliban,” he says. “I’m happy my father is dead, so he doesn’t have to experience this hell.”

In the game of who is the more vicious, the Taliban or us, we seem to be winning.

It has become a predictable pattern: Taliban forces ambush American convoys as they pass through the village, and then retreat into the thick fruit orchards that cover the area. The Americans then return at night to pick up suspects. In the last two years, 16 people have been taken and 10 killed in night raids in this single village of about 300, according to villagers. In the same period, they say, the insurgents killed one local and did not take anyone hostage.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Even the liberal New Republic

The Moor Next Door, who should be daily required reading, rips Jonathan Chait and Marty Peretz a new one. The whole post is worth reading. He ends with a question.

The question remains: why can Marty Peretz, in all his bigotry and foolishness, sit at the helm of the so-called flagship publication of the American left? How can he spend his days writing bitterly ignorant blog posts while American liberals look on without raising any fuss? That sounds like it turns on Peretz his own demand that Muslims, regardless of profession, place, age or whether they live in a free state or a dictatorship, protest every bombing or beheading in Pakistan or some other warzone (because they protested cartoons); but it does not. Liberal bloggers do take him on; liberal writers do too. And they do it quite well. They accuse him of racism or of being a neoconservative in the guise of a liberal. The latter charge is of no particular concern here, but one must draw the conclusion that Peretz gets away with his racism because he can.

He can write five times a day on why the President must call terrorist acts acts of “Muslim terrorism” and why Americans should not think that the sliver of Muslims engaged in violent radicalism represent the essential Islamic tradition because he is the editor-in-chief and as such has underlings to look the other way and to defend him if need be. He can make warnings about minor matters in the vein of Sir Anthony Eden crying out about Nasser because a good many are willing to let him rant so long as they can sit in another room, that quirky old man. He has the ear of Al Gore and other powerful liberals. “But how can that be?” the little American Ait-Brownskin asks. “Because the possibilities of conversation are always broader than the inconvinent truth of Martin Peretz’s bigotry,” replies Baba Ait-Brownskin.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Nope, nothing to see, but maybe we should

Another week and still no coverage in the corporate media about the death by torture interrogation of three human beings. Dahlia Lithwick of Slate tries to understand why.
Some torture stories are just too horrible to contemplate, while others are too complicated to understand. But Scott Horton's devastating new exposé of the possible murders of three prisoners at Guantanamo in 2006 is neither: It's simply too terrible to allow to be true. Which is why it has been mostly ignored this week in the mainstream American media and paid little attention by the usual crew of torture apologists on the right. The fact that three Guantanamo prisoners—none of whom had any links to terrorism and two of whom had already been cleared for release—may have been killed there and the deaths covered up, should be front-page news. That brand-new evidence of this possible atrocity from military guards was given only the most cursory investigation by the Obama administration should warrant some kind of blowback. But changing what we allow ourselves to believe about torture would change the way we have reconciled ourselves to torture. Nobody in this country is prepared to do that. So we have opted to ignore it.
and why it shouldn't
As Richard Schragger wrote in Slate in 2006:

Military lawyers are not only concerned about how the enemy will treat our troops. They are also concerned about how our troops will treat the enemy—and not just because that treatment might be morally offensive and/or strategically unwise. As one of my colleagues—himself a JAG officer—put it, the Geneva Conventions are so honored by military lawyers because they protect our own troops' humanity. The conventions prevent higher-ups from ordering subordinates to engage in repugnant acts, and they offer soldiers on the ground some basis for differentiating legal acts of killing and destruction from criminal acts of killing and destruction.

I think about this every time I hear someone—usually on a comment thread—claim that if he had just 15 minutes, KSM, and a lobster fork, he'd get himself a confession. We don't want that guy in the military, and frankly, neither does the military. Our soldiers object to torture not because they want to pamper terrorists but because they want to protect us from our own worst selves. The third big lie the media have perpetrated on the American public as we cheerfully debate the "ticking time bomb" scenario and the possible efficacy of torture is that our soldiers remain unaffected when asked to participate in such abuse, or to lie about it after the fact.

I have no reason to doubt the investigative work of Horton or Denbeaux's team and every reason to believe the Obama administration's investigation of Hickman's story was less than exhaustive. But above and beyond the implausible narrative constructed by NCIS and the bizarre throat autopsies on the deceased, four military guards at Guantanamo felt compelled to come forward and report their concerns about prisoner abuse, and nobody seems to think it warrants any discussion. Members of the military deserve our honor and respect. And one of the ways we can show that is by paying attention when soldiers raise questions about the honor of the military. Even if we've learned to sleep at night despite the fact we have tortured, we should spare one toss or turn for those soldiers who cannot.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Still nothing to see

From Daniel Luban at LobeLog

It is not terribly surprising that the leading apologists for the Bush-Cheney torture regime — the likes of Marc Thiessen, Thomas Joscelyn, and so on — have refused to respond to Horton’s piece. What is more surprising, however, is that the major U.S. papers have paid little attention as well. After remaining silent all day, the New York Times and Washington Post finally posted an AP wire story on the revelations this evening, but it is nowhere to be found on their main pages. The Los Angeles Times still appears to have nothing whatsoever on the story.

By contrast, the major British papers (with the exception of Rupert Murdoch’s Times) have all followed up on Horton’s piece. It is by now a depressingly familiar pattern that the British media exhibit far more interest in the abuses of the Bush/Blair years than their American counterparts. Still, one would think that a possible triple homicide of detainees in U.S. custody, and the subsequent cover-up by both the Bush and Obama administrations, would merit some U.S. news coverage — even given the almost exclusive focus on Haiti and Massachusetts at the moment.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Nothing to see here

The reaction of the corporate media, such as the New York Times, to Scott Horton's story of the possible death by torture of prisoners at Guantanamo has been - silence. The only corporate news show which has reported on the Horton expose is Countdown with Keith Olbermann

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Today, Horton covers the continuing coverup - also known as the official response.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Asymmetrical Warfare and Murder

Scott Horton has an investigative piece following up on the Seton Hall report which exposed the apparent murder of three prisoners at Guantanamo. The death of these prisoners, the youngest of whom was 17 at the time of his arrest, were labeled as suicides by the US government. Rear Admiral Harry Harris carried away it seems by his own creativity declared these "suicides" to be an act of asymmetrical warfare. The government in the form of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service "investigated" the deaths and came up with a report that is so totally ludicrous that it defies belief.
According to the NCIS, each prisoner had fashioned a noose from torn sheets and T-shirts and tied it to the top of his cell’s eight-foot-high steel-mesh wall. Each prisoner was able somehow to bind his own hands, and, in at least one case, his own feet, then stuff more rags deep down into his own throat. We are then asked to believe that each prisoner, even as he was choking on those rags, climbed up on his washbasin, slipped his head through the noose, tightened it, and leapt from the washbasin to hang until he asphyxiated. The NCIS report also proposes that the three prisoners, who were held in non-adjoining cells, carried out each of these actions almost simultaneously.
According to Horton's report it seems the three died as a result of extensive torture. After the Seton Hall report was published Seargent Joe Hickman who was selected “NCO of the Quarter” and was given a commendation medal for his service at Guantanamo came forward with report of a torture center in Guantanamo. In particular he had witnessed what was the beginnings of the coverup on the night the three men had been killed. He had been ordered not to talk about what he saw but felt that "silence was just wrong." With lawyers from the Seton Hall team he met with the Justice department and recounted what he knew. However, it seems that the Justice department has been involved in the coverup from the very beginning. Horton names names and calls out individuals. His report is well worth reading - if for nothing else than understanding the crimes that are being committed in our names.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

History of Muslims and Islamic thought

There is an interesting series on early Muslim history at 3quarksdaily by Namit Arora. I am posting the links here so I don't lose them. The series seems to be well worth reading if you are interested in a brief history of early Muslims and the development of Islamic thought.
1. Part 1: The rise of Islam.
2. Part 2: The golden age.
3. Part 3: The path of reason.
4. Part 4: The mystic tide.
5. Part 5: Epilogue