Archive for January, 2011

Jack Tells It Like It Is

January 31, 2011

What is keeping Obama-man from listening to the anger of we the People about Torture. Why will not Holder Prosecute the Guilty. Apparently the Administration is too busy closing in on FBI snatches of activists in Minn and Ill and a few Native Americans. Obama-man, it is as if the world is upside down and you are kicking the people laying on the floor and admiring the felons floating away on Skyboards. Are you afraid to be associated with the commoners. Do you prefer to be with rich crooks? How could I forget you are obligated to defend the super rich.

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The above send from Jack’s mobile device is an eloquent statement of  truth.  Thanks to Jack, who devotes his life to trying to save this country and make it what it can be.

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He Would Not Fight Against Other Muslims.

January 31, 2011

“It should be noted that [Saeed] Hatim’s … disdain for a war in which Muslims were killing other Muslims, was far from unique, and features in many other stories reported in The Guantánamo Files,” is an observation by Andy Worthington about another of the Yemeni foot soldiers still held in the US torture camp in Guantanamo.

From one of the summaries of evidence that passes for part of judicial review of the prisoners still there and reported on Worthington’s website, Hatim “never held a job for more than six months,” relying on his family for support. He went to Afghanistan, not unlike a number of his countrymen, apparently to fight in Chechnya. He “stated he became interested in Russia’s war in Chechnya because he witnessed the oppression on the television,” and “decided to travel there to fight jihad alongside his Muslim brothers.”

Hatim was disappointed with what he found at al-Farouq training center, left it, and ended up near Kabul with a group of Arab fighters, mostly staying at the rear and occasionally delivering food to men on the front lines. This was, of course, in the fighting among the war lords of Afghanistan. It was this war among Muslims that he found disdainful. He had to put off his plans to go to Chechnya to fight the Russians who were persecuting Muslims there, but he did not want to participate in fighting with other Muslims.

It is to be noted, that in none of this is there a hint of his fighting the US or ever wanting to do that. Guantanamo was conceived as an interrogation [read torture] center for the estimated six hundred highest al Qaeda leaders who were suspected of planning the attack on the US.

All of the decision makers in the Bush regime were aware of the fact that Cheney had allowed Musharraf to air lift leaders out of Kunduz as referenced in previous posts. The military personnel actually in charge of the prisoners may not have known that, but US leaders who devised this hellish prison were. Hatim, like all the “foot soldiers” whose stories I am relating here, never was any threat to the US. In fact, many like him from other countries have been released. Only the fact that he is from Yemen keeps him in prison. As Andy says, this is guilt by nationality. You can read Andy’s report here.

How would I like to be imprisoned and tortured because I am a New Yorker or a US citizen? How would you like to be criminalized in any way because of your nationality? What can we do to get Saeed Hatim home to his family and friends?

Tarek Baada: Another Desperate Hunger Striker

January 27, 2011

Tarek Baada is another of the supposed foot soldiers from Yemen who is still held in Guantanamo because Obama will not release anyone from that country.  We also need to remember that the camp at Guantanamo was originally destined as a place to interrogate high level members of Al Qaeda, virtually none of whom were ever captured.  The camp was no doubt always meant to be a place to torture and that is heinous regardless of who might ever have been there.  But Tarek Baada, like the other Yemeni foot soldiers in this group, was never a high level member of Al Qaeda, nor a threat.

In the infamous transcripts of what passes for review of these prisoners, it is related that Baada, who was captured at age 23, had seen videos of the struggle of jihadists in Chechnya and Bosnia and wanted to go to Afghanistan to train to help this effort.  His parents refused, as Andy Worthington reports, so he ostensibly went to Jordon to join missionaries, but went on to Afghanistan in June of 2001.

One report says that after a month of training at al-Farouq, the training was stopped and he and all other the men were sent to a guest house.

In a number of the US transcripts of the illegal proceedings that go on, unknown persons make claims about prisoners.  Andy said when he was here in New York that these might be statements from other prisoners, rendered under torture.  In no real court would such statements ever be permitted and they are another indication of the complete failure of justice for these prisoners.  This is the kind of thing that brutal dictatorships do to people.

Two allegations of this kind were made about  Baada and he denies both of them.  Worthington reports, “an unknown source claimed that he ‘was considered an important man and somebody who was loyal to a senior al-Qaeda member,’ and in the second he was allegedly ‘identified as someone who was close to a high-level al-Qaeda facilitator,’ and that, despite every suggestion to the contrary, he ‘received money and supplies from the facilitator in order to travel to Afghanistan.”’ Colonel Yvonne Bradley, who represented Binyam Muhamed and risked her own career to do so, said that she found the procedures at Guantanamo to be clearly intended to find the prisoners guilty and condemn them, a travesty of US military justice that she could not condone nor participate in.

Also according to Worthington’s report, it is alleged in the transcripts that Baada “ended up about 4 km south of the front line near Kabul.  It was also alleged that, after the fall of Kabul, he fled to Tora Bora, where he was put on guard duty.”

As Baada’s fellow country man Asim Al Khalaqi is reported to have said, all of this is just allegations.  No real evidence is provided to substantiate any charges of these men.

Baada was one of the prisoners who has been most unrelenting in hunger strikes at Guantanamo.  Journalist Sami al-Haj, finally released in 2008, who has told the story of what life for prisoners at Guantanamo is like, and who was on hunger strike for over a year himself, reported that Baada was another.  Al-Haj is a source of details of the unspeakable cruelty of the treatment of the prisoners, including the hunger strikers. You can read Worthington’s report about Sami al-Haj here.

What kind of country treats human beings worse than most of its citizens would treat savage beasts?  What kind of country trains its military personnel to be sadists?  Unfortunately, the US is that kind of country.

The architects of these horrors from the Bush regime have not been held accountable.  Obama continues it.

As I write, I say Tarek’s name and try to see him as a human being worthy of respect and dignity.  He is my brother, just as all the women and men on the planet are my sisters and brothers.  May I never forget that.

His Response to Torture Was Hunger Strikes

January 26, 2011

restraint_chair.jpg  Gruesome chair used to restrain prisoners for force feeding.

Abu Bakr Alahdal, another of the supposed Yemeni “foot soldiers,” may in fact have actually been one, though if so, he should have been given the protections of the Geneva Conventions instead of tortured.  His foot soldier role, furthermore, seems not to have ever been against the US.

He is said to have come to Afghansitan in October 2001 from Pakistan where he had been for several months.  He is said from the latest of the infamous transcripts, according to Andy Worthington, to have “became interested in going to Afghanistan when he heard about how the Taliban had destroyed the idolatrous Buddhist statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. … [he] felt the statues were an affront to Islam and needed to be destroyed, and respected the Taliban for what they did.”

And what exactly does this have to do with aggression against the US?

He apparently got help at a mosque in Yemen which connected him to people among the Taliban, though his contact took him first to a guest house in Kandahar and to another in Kabul where he was more a tourist for a few weeks than anything else.

Ultimately he did make his way to Bagram where, according to Andy, “he served as a fighter for the Taliban Arab forces.  He fell ill and was sent to Kabul to a hospital where he was actually recuperating for several months.  When the “ariel bombardment” began, he decided it would be better to die serving Allah in battle.  He went to Jalalbad and waited to be called to the front lines, but never seems to have been.  He ultimately got to Pakistan, where he was turned in.

It is beyond my ability to state how shameful it is that such a person should have been sent under the worst conditions to an interrogation center intended originally for the leaders of al Qaeda, where interrogation included torture.

Alahdal was one of many prisoners at Guantanamo who went on hunger strike.  He only weighted 99 pounds on arrival and reached 81 pounds at one time.  He was force fed daily, Andy reports, from August 2005 at least until the publicly released weight records ended in December 2005.  At that time he weighed 101 pounds.  Read Andy Worthington’s accounts of these prisoners here.

Reports from prisoners of the force feeding are torture in themselves.  Having had myself a number of carefully administered surgical and medical procedures at one time, I have said that if they were not administered to save my life and as kindly as they could be, they would have been torture.  The prisoners at Guantanamo were not kindly treated and suffered badly from the force feeding.

This young man, who wanted to live in a real Islamic country according to his lights did nothing to merit having his protections under the Geneva Conventions abrogated.  And again, no one, no human being regardless of what they ever do, should be tortured.

Protesting FBI Supoenas

January 26, 2011

StopFBI, World Can’t Wait, Veterans for Peace, Answer Coalition and others protested outside the FBI building in New York and other cities.  Protesters braved nasty weather to show support for the activists whose homes and offices were raided in September.

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It was my  job in September to hold that sign facing Broadway, but illness kept me home this time.  I am grateful to those who showed up to support the people who have been subpoenaed to testify at a grand jury and have refused.  At those hearings they would not be represented by a lawyer and they risk being jailed for contempt of court if they do not testify.

Maureen Murphy, one of those subpoenaed wrote today:

“I have been summoned to appear before a federal grand jury in Chicago on January 25. But I will not testify, even at the risk of being put in jail for contempt of court, because I believe that our most fundamental rights as citizens are at stake.

“I am one of 23 anti-war, labor and solidarity activists in Chicago and throughout the Midwest who are facing a grand jury as part of an investigation into ‘material support for foreign terrorist organizations.’ No crime has been identified. No arrests have been made. And when it raided several prominent organizers’ homes and offices on Sept. 24, the FBI acknowledged that there is no immediate threat to the American public.

“The activists who have been ensnared in this fishing net work with different groups to end the US wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, to end US military aid for Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and US military aid to Colombia, which has a shocking record of repression and human rights abuses. All of us have publicly and peacefully dedicated our lives to social justice and advocating for more just and less deadly US foreign policy.”

She concludes:

“The grand jury has been scrapped in virtually all countries and more than half the states in this country. There is a long American history of abusing grand juries to launch inquisitions into domestic political movements, from the pre-Civil War abolitionist movement to labor activists advocating for an eight-hour work day to the anti-war movement during the Vietnam years.

“We have done nothing wrong and risk being jailed because we have exercised our rights to free speech, to organize and hold our government accountable. It is a dark day for America when people face jail for exercising the rights that we hold so dear.”

You can read the full article here.   You can also read Bonnie’s report on this blog about a meeting she attended at which others of this group of activists spoke.

Please note, even in this evening photograph, the green hat of the legal observer who was at this protest.  Once more, I am grateful for these lawyers who observe protest to help insure first amendment rights are respected.

An Intelligent and Eloquent Man of Integrity

January 25, 2011

Intelligent, eloquent, having great integrity.  Are those words that leap to mind in the context of prisoners at the US torture camp at Guantanamo?  Here is the story of Asim Thahit Abdullah Al Khalaqi, a man whom those descriptions fit well.

David Gilson wrote in Mother Jones on July 11, 2006 about the infamous CSRT (combat status review tribunals), those one time hearings without lawyers before panels of US officers who were to determine if prisoners really were “enemy combatants” that undefined term that the Bush regime lawyers made up though it is not recognized in either US or international law, to deny people protections under the Geneva Conventions, and imprison and torture them.

The prisoners could respond directly to the accusations made against them in these hearings, though they had no access to lawyers and could not even examine government claims which were often secret.  The US Supreme Court later ruled that these tribunals violated US law and the Geneva Conventions, which was a major step in getting legal counsel and some legal protections for these prisoners.

Gilson researched the CSRT transcripts which were released under the Freedom of Information Act and found this exchange between Asim Al Khalaqi and the tribunal:

Al Khalaqi: Are these evidence or accusations?

Tribunal President: They are in the form of both….

Al Khalaqi: I’m sorry, I just don’t understand. How does it fit the two pictures or definitions? For example, if I say this table is the chair and the chair is the table and they are the same thing, does that make sense?

Tribunal President: No, that doesn’t make sense. But this process makes sense to me and hopefully it will make sense to you, because you’re the one who’s going to have to provide us with evidence and tell us that you did or did not do these things as listed on the summary of evidence.

Al Khalaqi: So I just answer the accusations. But I’m going to call it accusations. I’m not going to call it evidence.

Tribunal President: Very well, you can call it as you wish.

After years of torture and abuse, Al Khalaqi still had the personal integrity and courage to make a dignified statement of a logical point of great importance.  Though real evidence in these cases has never been forthcoming, it appears that Al Khalaqi was a missionary from Yemen who went to work in Pakistan and then in Afghanistan.  It is known that there were many such.  He was picked up at the Pakistan border after the US invasion and turned over to the US, as so many were.

Ultimately, Al Kalaqi was cleared by a real court for release under the Bush regime, but Obama has refused to release him along with many other prisoners from Yemen.

Failing to execute a court order is a serious offence.   Being a missionary is not.  Al Khalaqi, who was cleared by a court for release remains in prison.  Obama is still in the White House.  Bush and others of his regime who were responsible for these abuses originally are free.

Ann Wright Reports on Afghanistan

January 23, 2011

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Ann Wright working to close Guantanamo

“The change that I noticed and that was talked about the most by Afghans was the huge increase in U.S. military bases—now over 400. We saw the construction of a huge base just north of Kabul. The high wall on the front side of it stretches over two miles and encloses a large training area. In the shadow of the wall, just across the road in an internal displacement camp, are tens of thousands of Afghans who have fled the fighting in the South and East of the country. They are living in abject misery in small dirt hovels, with no water or sewage and only a few sticks of wood each day to cook a tiny meal. Yet across the road are hundreds of millions—if not billions—of dollars spent on infrastructure for military training and operations. Villas built with the huge profits from the multi-million dollar U.S. logistics contracts to support our military presence are rented back to the international community contractors and non-governmental agencies for $10,000 to $15,000 per month. Yet most Afghans live in poverty.”

This was reported by Ann Wright the former Department of State officer who opened the US embassy in Kabul which had been closed for a decade after the invasion by the US.  Also a retired Colonel in the US Army, Ann was one of three State Department officers who resigned in protest of the illegal US invasion of Iraq.  She has worked since to stop US aggression, torture, and injustice.  I met her at Camp Casey, of which she was Commander and which would really not have existed without her organizational skills and commitment.

In this interview with the Maui Times upon her return from a fact finding tour of Afghanistan, Ann also reported that a US embassy even larger than the gigantic one in Baghdad, Iraq, is also under construction.

She also reported that many Afghans with whom she spoke said “They believe that as long as the U.S. military is in Afghanistan there will be many who will fight against the U.S.—just as they did against the Soviet soldiers—and will destroy the schools, clinics and roads that the United States has built.”

Ann continued:

“No matter what our political leaders tell us about the rationale for the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, the United States is the latest invader and occupier [in a historic string of them]. Most Afghans in the countryside haven’t even heard of the events of September 11 or al-Qaeda training bases. What they see is another foreign military force in their country killing Afghans.”

You can read the full interview here.

Why is the US still there?  Why do we allow this regime, like its predecessor to continue to spend trillions of dollars of our money on this occupation?  When are we going to demand an end?

Read more about Ann here and here and here.

Unconvincing Allegations

January 23, 2011

The story of Fayiz Suleiman, also from Yemen and alleged to be another of the “foot soldiers,” is murky.  Andy Worthington reports that “Suleiman maintained that ‘he had no military service and he had no desire to serve in such a capacity,’ stated that he was ‘never trained on the use of weapons,’ and ‘denied any connection with al-Qaeda or the Taliban.'”

It is alleged that he worked in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for an al-Qaeda operative and traveled from Yemen to Kabul at some unspecified date.  He is alleged by some unidentified source to have made poisons in Kandahar and that he was a member of an Arab fighting group; allegations which Worthington says are “unconvincing.”

He was seized with other Arabs in December 2001 when he crossed the border into Pakistan and was transferred to the US and ultimately taken to Guantanamo.

One transcript of information, according to Worthington, says that Suleiman “‘identified himself as a trained imam in Jeddah,’ and stated that various sheikhs ‘would frequent his facility to solicit money for other countries and to address jihad.’ He added that the majority of the sheikhs’ talks ‘focused on Chechnya.'”

The “unconvincing allegations” are still enough under US justice (sic) to keep this poor man in the hell of Guantanamo.

If there is credible evidence of his having attacked the US, he should be tried under the Geneva Conventioons.  If there is none, and there must be none or it would have surely been produced, he should be freed.

Can you imagine being captured in a time of chaos and bombing when you are trying to flee for your life, then imprisoned for a nearly a decade and tortured?  This is a human being, not some faceless villain.

Fayiz Suleiman was captured at age 27 and has lost a decade of his life.

Cleared for Release by Courts, but Not Freed by Obama

January 22, 2011

Muhammad bin Salem is another of the supposed Yemeni foot soldiers who has been cleared for release but remains in Guantanamo.

Twenty-seven years of age when captured, his circumstances revealed in the CSRT (Combatant Status Review Tribunal, part of the bogus system contrived by the US for these prisoners) are also bizarre.  It was alleged that he traveled from Yemen to Afghanistan in July 2001 and was given military training.  He was never accused of actually fighting against the Taliban much less the US.  He is supposed to have served as a cook in a rest and relaxation facility for troops at Bagram.  He was captured by Pakistani forces when he retreated from Bagram to Pakistan after the US invasion.

Michael Ratner, head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, speaks eloquently about the implications of the Obama regime’s refusal to free these prisoners whom the courts have cleared.  He calls it “executive detention,” which defies the authority of the courts and the Constitutional system of checks and balances.  Hear Ratner discuss these issues here.

He says that because the executive has assumed the power to hold these prisoners without charge and despite judicial rulings that they be set free, the same procedure can certainly be used in the US against us.  These actions deeply affect our US institutions.  This returns the US to the Middle Ages before habeas corpus writs, when the king could do no wrong.  If he put someone in prison, there they stayed.  If he decided to execute people, they were killed.  This is a return to a very primitive and lawless society.

In the case of Muhammad bin Salem and others similarly cleared by the courts but not released by Obama, this is horrendous.  These people have been tortured, separated from family and friends for years.  This continuing brutal treatment reflects, in Ratner’s words ” the inside the beltway national security establishment’s idea that we don’t care about the people in Guantanamo.”

Emma and I are saying as clearly as we can that we care about the people in Guantanamo.  We demand that they be freed now or, if there is evidence of wrong doing, tried in US courts with legal protections.

Will The US Be Held Accountable for Torture?

January 22, 2011

Maybe

Two recent stories appeared that give some reason to hope so.

Lawyer and Harper’s author Scott Horton’s  January18, 2011 article says this:

“Now Australian authorities announce that they believe that [Mamdouh Habib, Egyptian born Australian citizen’s] claims of torture at the hands of Egyptian police are credible and that Habib was transferred to Egypt from Pakistan through a CIA renditions process. They also state that Australian intelligence figures might have been complicit in the rendition to torture and may have been present or close by as he was tortured.”

The brief article concludes:

“With Gillard’s announcement, Australia now joins Britain, Germany, Poland, Spain, and Italy among the nations now conducting formal investigations into CIA renditions operations on their soil or involving their government personnel. Torture allegations figure prominently in each case.”

Read the complete article here.

Andy Worthington published an article today which begins:

“For those seeking accountability for the senior Bush administration officials and lawyers who established a global torture program in the ‘War on Terror,’ involving extraordinary rendition and torture in a variety of secret prisons, the news that the Polish Prosecutor has today accepted the claims of Abu Zubaydah, a former CIA ‘ghost prisoner,’ that he was a victim of extraordinary rendition and secret detention in Poland is enormously significant.”

Read the complete article here.

It may be that the world is finally going to stop enabling and supporting US torture.