Wednesday, February 25, 2009

necrophilia is right out

Over at Newshoggers, Cernig discuss the Reuters report that conditions at Guantanamo had deteriorated since the elections and the guards were trying to get their jollies while they could.

"If one was to use one's imagination, (one) could say that these traumatized, and for lack of a better word barbaric, guards were just basically trying to get their kicks in right now for fear that they won't be able to later," he said.

"Certainly in my experience there have been many, many more reported incidents of abuse since the inauguration,"
Cernig points out that
Reuters also notes that Admiral Patrick Walsh, the author of a recent report saying that Guantanamo Bay is fully in compliance with the Geneva Conventions, looked at 20 allegations of abuse - 14 of which were substantiated. "Fully" now means 25%, when the fox is asked to exonerate its own doings in the henhouse and has no real fear of being held to account.
The report says:
After considerable deliberation and a comprehensive review, it is our judgment that the conditions of confinement in Guantánamo are in conformity with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.1
In our view, there are two components in the scope of the compliance review taken from Common Article 3: the first is the explicit prohibition against specified acts (at any time and at any place). Any substantiated evidence of prohibited acts discovered in the course of the review would have warranted a finding of “non-compliance” with Common Article 3. We found no such evidence.

Additionally, determining conformity with Common Article 3 requires examination of the directive aspect of the Article, this being that “Persons…shall in all circumstances be treated humanely.” This element of the effort demanded that the Review Team examine conditions of detention based upon our experience and professional backgrounds, informed and challenged by outside commentary. As a result of that effort, we find that the conditions of confinement in Guantánamo also meet the directive requirements of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

Common article 3 of the Geneva conventions (pdf) says:
To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time
and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation,
cruel treatment and torture;
(b) taking of hostages;
(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading
(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without
previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording
all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by
civilized peoples.
While Walsh won't discuss the details of the 14 substantiated complaints, the human rights lawyer in the Reuter's article does
He cited beatings, the dislocation of limbs, spraying of pepper spray into closed cells, applying pepper spray to toilet paper and over-forcefeeding detainees who are on hunger strike.... In one case his client had his knee, shoulder and thumb dislocated by a group of guards, Ghappour said.
Which seems to violate Common Article 3. But maybe like Rumsfeld standing on his feet for hours Admiral Patrick Walsh regularly sprays his toilet paper with pepper spray and has his people dislocate his knee shoulder and thumb. You can never tell with these navy folk.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

We are clean!

The US military comprehensively investigated itself and finds after considerable deliberations that this time it really follows the Geneva conventions. It does this time. Really.
After considerable deliberation and a comprehensive review, it is our judgment that the conditions of confinement in Guantánamo are in conformity with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.1


While we conclude that conditions at Guantánamo are in conformity with Common Article 3, from our review, it was apparent that the chain of command responsible for the detention mission at Guantánamo consistently seeks to go beyond a minimalist approach to compliance with Common Article 3, and endeavors to enhance conditions in a manner as humane as possible consistent with security concerns.

In this report, we do not intend to suggest that these recommendations are items that the Department must pursue to satisfy Common Article 3. Rather, they are items that we view as consistent with the approach of the Chain of Command to continually enhance conditions of detainment.

Vice Admiral Sir John Cunningham of the Royal Navy had a completely different perspective:
Well first of all I'd like to apologize for the behaviour of certain of my colleagues you may have seen earlier, but they are from broken homes, circus families and so on and they are in no way representative of the new modern improved British Navy. They are a small vociferous minority; and may I take this opportunity of emphasizing that there is no cannibalism in the British Navy. Absolutely none, and when I say none, I mean there is a certain amount, more than we are prepared to admit, but all new ratings are warned that if they wake up in the morning and find any toothmarks at all anywhere on their bodies, they're to tell me immediately so that I can immediately take every measure to hush the whole thing up. And, finally, necrophilia is right out.

Another view.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Binyam Mohammed's statement

From the Guardian:

I hope you will understand that after everything I have been through I am neither physically nor mentally capable of facing the media on the moment of my arrival back to Britain. Please forgive me if I make a simple statement through my lawyer. I hope to be able to do better in days to come, when I am on the road to recovery.

I have been through an experience that I never thought to encounter in my darkest nightmares. Before this ordeal, "torture" was an abstract word to me. I could never have imagined that I would be its victim. It is still difficult for me to believe that I was abducted, hauled from one country to the next, and tortured in medieval ways – all orchestrated by the United States government.

While I want to recover, and put it all as far in my past as I can, I also know I have an obligation to the people who still remain in those torture chambers. My own despair was greatest when I thought that everyone had abandoned me. I have a duty to make sure that nobody else is forgotten.

I am grateful that in the end I was not simply left to my fate. I am grateful to my lawyers and other staff at Reprieve, and to Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley, who fought for my freedom. I am grateful to the members of the British Foreign Office who worked for my release. And I want to thank people around Britain who wrote to me in Guantánamo Bay to keep my spirits up, as well as to the members of the media who tried to make sure that the world knew what was going on. I know I would not be home in Britain today if it were not for everyone's support. Indeed, I might not be alive at all.

I wish I could say that it is all over, but it is not. There are still 241 Muslim prisoners in Guantánamo. Many have long since been cleared even by the US military, yet cannot go anywhere as they face persecution. For example, Ahmed bel Bacha lived here in Britain, and desperately needs a home. Then there are thousands of other prisoners held by the US elsewhere around the world, with no charges, and without access to their families.

And I have to say, more in sadness than in anger, that many have been complicit in my own horrors over the past seven years. For myself, the very worst moment came when I realised in Morocco that the people who were torturing me were receiving questions and materials from British intelligence. I had met with British intelligence in Pakistan. I had been open with them. Yet the very people who I had hoped would come to my rescue, I later realised, had allied themselves with my abusers.

I am not asking for vengeance; only that the truth should be made known, so that nobody in the future should have to endure what I have endured.

Thank you.

--Binyam Mohamed

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Peace in FATA and PATA?

Two of the top stories in the Pakistani Newspaper The News are about truces between the Pakistani Taleban and the government. In Swat:
The government and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Swat chapter, on Saturday agreed to a permanent ceasefire in the militancy-hit Swat Valley after Maulana Fazlullah accepted the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation, leading the government to announce the reopening of schools and return of the internally-displaced persons.
(This is disputed - sort of - by a story in the New York Times)
and in Bajaur:
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Bajaur chapter, on Saturday offered to renounce militancy and remain peaceful if the ongoing military operation against them was stopped. According to tribesmen, the operation has caused more losses to them than the militants.

The government had launched a full-fledged military operation, involving jet fighters, gunship helicopters and artillery guns, against the militants in Bajaur on August 6, 2008, causing displacement of around half-a-million people. The operation, however, inflicted heavy losses on the militants.
And then there is is this from the Dawn newspaper:

WANA: Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan Chief Baitullah Mehsud has resolved his differences with two rival factions in Waziristan and formed a joint front.

The decision was taken at a meeting attended by Baitullah Mehsud and his rivals Maulvi Mohammad Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur.

Maulvi Nazir from South Waziristan and Hafiz Gul Bahadur from North are said to be in good books of the federal government.

There have been agreements signed before but this smells different. It could be because the US seems to have changed its position on the Pakistani Taleban. Until now they have been mostly indifferent leading to conspiracy theories in Pakistan, especially in military circles, alleging US collusion with the Tehrik-e-Taleban Pakistan (TTP). However, recent weeks have seen Predator attacks in areas where the TTP is supposed to have training camps. That, or the Pakistani army's claims of success in the fighting in Bajaur and Mohmand are actually true and the TTP is feeling the pressure. Or something else. Or nothing.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

..or your lying eyes

From the Daily Times February 19th:

A spokesman for the US embassy in Pakistan told The Times:

“No. No. No. No. No. We unequivocally and emphatically can tell you that there is no basing of US troops in Pakistan,” he said. “There is no basing of US Air Force, Navy, Marines, Army, none, on the record and emphatically. I want that to be very clear. And that is the answer any way you want to put it. There is no base here, no troops billeted. We do not operate here.
From The News on February 18:

Two pictures of an unidentified flying strip in Balochistan — bearing the coordinates 27 degrees 51 minutes North, 65 degrees and 10 minutes East — prove that Pakistani ground was being used, at least until 2006.

Both the pictures are still available on Google Earth, which maps every corner of the world through a satellite and internet users can zoom in to see every detail, even cars parked in front of their drive ways. The pictures on Google Earth are not live but the satellite updates them after every few months.

The first picture of the drones on the Pakistani soil, taken in 2006, has three drones, all Global Hawks. The picture has coordinates and they can be vaguely read as 27 degrees, 51 minutes North; 65 degrees, 10 minutes East. These coordinates place the strip not far from the nearby Jacobabad airbase which is around 28 degrees north, 68 degrees east.

The strip, which is around 2,800 metres long, is close to the town of Wadh in Kharan district which straddles the Sindh-Balochistan border. Also, the grab shows the infrastructure surrounding the airstrip and the V-shaped structure towards the bottom left of the picture is in fact a hanger.

The image shows three Global Hawks on the ground and these are similar to the ones operated by the US defence department. These are high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft and their endurance is such that one is known to have flown from Edwards Air Force Base in Los Angeles County to an airbase in Australia — the flight lasting 22 hours. Also, a Global Hawk set the world endurance record for unmanned flight on March 1, 2001, when it flew for over 30 hours — also flying out from Edwards Air Force Base.

A closer analysis of the more recent Google Earth picture (labelled ‘2009’) with more or less the same coordinates as the ‘2006’ picture (differing only by a few minutes) suggests that several new structures have been built since 2006.

The hanger has been completely built and has an interesting configuration, much like a clam. An expert who saw this picture suggested that “what appeared to be anti-missile” cannons could be seen deployed around the hangar area and the parking bay section away from the main strip. On the other (western) side of the airstrip (though not seen in the ‘2009’ picture) are also what seems to be living barracks built within what appears to be a perimeter wall or enclosure.
However, a comparison of the ‘2006’ and ‘2009’ pictures clearly shows that the airstrip in question is the same — especially given that the latitude and longitude coordinates are almost identical — differing by a few minutes in both cases.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Deal in Swat

Not that the news coming out of Swat is good - no news coming out of Pakistan right now is good. It is perhaps that it is not as bad as is being reported - or perhaps bad, but in a different kind of way.

Some history. Swat belongs to the Malakand region which is a Provincially Administered Tribal Area (PATA) - as opposed to the now well known Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA). As with FATA the writ of the government is rather weak. Until 1969 it was a princely state with its own separate administration and its own set of rather regressive laws. This was especially true for the laws of inheritance which prevented women from inheriting property. Sharia laws on inheritance extended to Swat in 1976 were a major improvement. Or rather they would have been if they had been implemented. It was not until the mid 1980's that the laws began to be implemented but there was an incredible amount of confusion that meant that even simple inheritance cases would take years to get decided. The situation was a godsend for the Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM) which used the discontent of the population to push for the full implementation of Sharia in the Malakand Agency. In 1994 Benazir Bhutto acquiesed introduced the Nifaz-i-Nizam-i-Shariah regulations. Recall that this was happening in the context of the "Islamization" brought upo by our favorite dictator Zia-ul-Haq. Later, with Nawaz Sharif as prime minister the regulations were updated as the Nizam-i-Adl 1999. In practice nothing much had really changed.
The two regulations provided only for a judicial mechanism, but they changed little in substance. Only the designation of judges was changed to qazis. Those were normal courts working within the ambit of Pakistani laws and the constitution. No convict was ever lashed or his hands chopped off.
According to Dawn nothing much has changed in the new Nizam-i-Adl 2009 regulations:
Dawn has a copy of the last draft that has been seen and approved by President Asif Ali Zardari, who after initial reservations over possible objections from the US finally gave the go-ahead to the ANP government to sign the deal with Sufi Muhammad.The newer version is a further improvement on the older ones. Not only does it provide for an increase in the number of courts, it also provides a timeframe to dispose of criminal and civil cases within four months and six months, respectively.

The only contentious issue of Muawin Qazi or additional judge, which some thought would open the gates of the judiciary to the clergy, has been removed.

As things are, the Pakistan Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code in their existing form will remain enforced in Malakand, unless the Council of Islamic Ideology declares them un-Islamic.
The Pakistan government, and as I understand it, the US government sees the agreement as providing a breathing space for the Pakistanis as well as a wedge to drive between Sufi Mohammed, the leader of TSNM, and his much more powerful and violent son-in-law the leader of the Pakistani Taleban (Tehrik-e-Taleban-e-Pakistan - TTP) Fazlullah. The Pakistani army was not doing that well and the population which is not particularly religious (in the Taleban sense) was turning against them. Before they start celebrating though they might wish to consult their Saul Alinski. The one issue that was exercising the people of Swat was the delay in getting justice. Because of Sufi Mohammed their problem might get resolved. This gives Mohammed and his supporters a cachet that might come to bite the government. In the short term though there is peace in the Swat valley. The schools including the girls schools are set to open. In the long term the prospects don't look too good. But one can always hope. Right?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bigger than Madoff

That's what the Independent says in its headline:

A 'fraud' bigger than Madoff

Senior US soldiers investigated over missing Iraq reconstruction billions

What caught my attention in the headline was the "Senior" US soldier. It has seemed that in the Iraq debacle the only bad apples are of the enlisted variety. The officers are to a man pure as driven snow. But that may be changing (with emphasis on the may).

American federal investigators are now starting an inquiry into the actions of senior US officers involved in the programme to rebuild Iraq, according to The New York Times, which cites interviews with senior government officials and court documents. Court records reveal that, in January, investigators subpoenaed the bank records of Colonel Anthony B Bell, now retired from the US Army, but who was previously responsible for contracting for the reconstruction effort in 2003 and 2004. Two federal officials are cited by the paper as saying that investigators are also looking at the activities of Lieutenant-Colonel Ronald W Hirtle of the US Air Force, who was senior contracting officer in Baghdad in 2004. It is not clear what specific evidence exists against the two men, who have both said they have nothing to hide.
Some might remember Dale Stoffel. His murder in 2004 received some press but as with most stories of corruption of US officials in Iraq the story disappeared. It seems its back again.
In the expanded inquiry by federal agencies, the evidence of a small-time US businessman called Dale C Stoffel who was murdered after leaving the US base at Taiji north of Baghdad in 2004 is being re-examined. Before he was killed, Mr Stoffel, an arms dealer and contractor, was granted limited immunity from prosecution after he had provided information that a network of bribery – linking companies and US officials awarding contracts – existed within the US-run Green Zone in Baghdad. He said bribes of tens of thousands of dollars were regularly delivered in pizza boxes sent to US contracting officers.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

News conference

Dennis Perrin on the Obama news conference:
As ice begins to melt and becomes early morning fog, online liberals are naturally gushing about their new, exciting prez. "Can I just say how refreshing it is to have a president who not only speaks the English language and doesn't filibuster with repetitive nonsense, but one who actually understands what he's talking about?" fawned Digby. "Whatever one thinks of anything else, this, at least, is a tremendous relief."

Comments across the libsphere echoed the same sentiments. Obama may be in the pocket of private interests, has already killed civilians in the Near East with plans for more bloodshed, is playing three-card Monte with torture and rendition, but holy jeebus, he sure do talk good! Some liberals are so easily pacified. Small wonder why Obama's inner-circle doesn't give a fuck what they think. When their leash is yanked, most libs will meekly follow, whatever their disappointment in or confusion about their masters.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Crime for thee but not for me

Unlike Bill Clinton who rushed back to Arkansas to execute a mentally disabled man or George W. Bush who made fun of a condemned woman asking him for clemency, Barrack Obama arrived at the White House without any direct responsibility for killing people. It took all of four days to change that. Within four days of taking office Obama ordered missile strikes into Pakistan. The second of these strikes resulted in the death of a family with three children, the youngest a girl five years of age. By doing so Obama accomplished at least two things. He committed a war crime - that of attacking a country that the US is not at war with. And he became directly responsible for killing children. By itself maybe the attack is not that remarkable. The most powerful nation on earth now kills innocents with contemptuous ease and regularity. What was perhaps more disheartening was the equanimity with which the same liberals who had protested vigorously against the violation of international law under Bush received this news. Mostly, it was not worthy of comment, and certainly not of distraction from the ongoing celebration of ourselves for electing Barack Obama president. To point out that Barack Obama had become a killer of children was so gauche as to be beyond the pale. That he will continue on the path of more murder, more slaughter in Afghanistan is accepted and the statement by his defense secretary Robert Gates dropping the facade of democracy promotion, though continuing with the slaughter, is seen as some kind of victory. As if it mattered to those girls that their death was not in the service of democracy but in the service of ... well it is not clear what it was in the service of, but I am sure it involved Hope and Change (TM).

That racists and right wing bigots view people who don't dress like us or live like us as less than human is conventionally accepted. However, the devaluation of the lives and humanity of the brown and the black and the foreign has also been a persistent, if less often voiced, part of the liberal American view of the world. And this lethal condescension is not unique to our liberals. Richard Seymour, the author of "The Liberal Defense of Murder" who blogs at Lenin's Tomb, writes in a recent essay in the Guardian
In every country whose rulers have opted for empire, there has developed among the intellectual classes a powerful pro-imperial consensus, with liberals and leftwingers its most vociferous defenders.

Liberal imperialists have resisted explicitly racist arguments for domination, instead justifying empire as a humane venture delivering progress. Even so, implicit in such a stance was the belief that other peoples were inferior.
This belief becomes lethal when considering the "cost" of imperial adventures. The fifty people in a wedding party killed by a US bomb are important only insofar as they are a useful club with which to beat the Bush administration. That these were human beings with lives and loves is an understanding so far from the picture as to be nonexistent. With the coming of the Obama administration these people will also lose their value as clubs. And because they have been dehumanised more will be killed with ease. Ask most anyone how many people were killed in the Vietnam War. Like as not the answer will be 58,000 or thereabouts. Think upon the question and the answer.

Liberals came around to opposing the Iraq war in large numbers only when it became clear the beating we were taking in world opinion. The initial military victory was cheered on in most liberal venues - at least if the liberal New York Times and NPR are any indication. The slaughter in Falluja may have caused a slight discomfort but the effect did not last very long. My fear is that by the time the inhumanity that is sure to be practiced - after all our enemies are less than human - in this, the "right" war, leads to a further slide of US power and prestige many many more will have died. One's heart bleeds for what has happened and what will happen. But not, it seems, of bleeding heart liberals.

Commenting on the strikes the Guardian says
The strikes will help Obama portray himself as a leader who, though ready to shift the balance of American power towards diplomacy, is not afraid of military action.
Well, that makes it alright then.