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Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

A report published by the charity Physicians for Human Rights has documented illegal medical experimentation carried out on prisoners detained on suspicion of involvement in terrorism whilst being held in CIA custody[1]. The report, entitled Experiments in Torture: Human Subject Research and Evidence of Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program, outlines numerous instances of illegal testing carried out on prisoners in violation of both medical ethics and international treaties.

Among the experiments performed were tests to analyse how detainees would cope with subjection to prolonged periods of sleep deprivation, and experiments which involved adding a saline solution to the water used to simulate drowning during waterboarding sessions in order to prevent complications related to dilution of the blood.

Members of Physicians for Human Rights spent two years carefully analysing declassified but redacted documents pertaining to the treatment of detainees suspected of terrorism who were taken into custody following the attacks of September 11th 2001. The group has called for a congressional investigation into the allegations contained in its report, and has called on the White House to investigate.

According to the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based non-governmental organisation, such experiments – illegal under the Nuremburg Code and Geneva Conventions – were carried out with complicity on the part of CIA-appointed doctors, psychologists and other medical staff. PHR accuses the US government of having used such professionals to shield itself from criminal liability and charges that the physicians involved were complicit in “the routine practice of torture”. Page 9 of the 30 page report states that the experiments undertaken, “had no direct clinical health care application, nor [were they] in the detainee’s personal interest nor part of their medical management”.

The report observes that the illegal experimentation carried out, “appears to have been used primarily to enable the Bush administration to assess the legality of the tactics, and to inform medical monitoring policy and procedure for future application of the techniques”. Page 10 informs that, “US government lawyers used… observational data collected by health professionals… to inform legal evaluations regarding the risk of inflicting certain levels of harm on the detainee, and to shape policy that would guide further application of the technique on other detainees”.

The report reveals that medical professionals under the authority of the US government observed and analysed the effects of sleep deprivation on more than a dozen prisoners in 48, 96 and 180-hour increments. Scott A. Allen, MD, a PHR medical advisor and lead medical author of the report remarked that, “Any health professional [that] violates their ethical codes by employing their professional expertise to calibrate and study the infliction of harm disgraces the health profession and makes a mockery of the practice of medicine”. He stated that any medical practitioner who participated in “unethical human subject research… should be held to account”[2].

Frank Donaghue, Physicians for Human Rights’ Chief Executive Officer, affirmed that it appears that the CIA violated, “accepted legal and ethical standards put in place since the Second World War”, which are designed to protect detainees from inhumane experimentation. Donaghue described the abuses detailed in the group’s report as “gross violations of human rights law” and “a grave affront to America’s core values”[3].

CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano responded to the allegations on behalf of the agency, stating that PHR’s report is “just wrong”, and that the CIA did not carry out “human subject research on any detainee or group of detainees”[4].

President Barack Obama officially outlawed the practice of waterboarding not long after taking office, but has controversially preserved an undefined number of “black sites” or clandestine prisons situated in countries whose governments collaborate with the United States, and has preserved the practice of rendition whereby those suspected of broadly defined terror offences can be taken to such sites and “interrogated” with no judicial oversight.

Upon releasing four top secret Bush-era memos, which permitted the CIA to use torture against terror suspects, in April of 2009, President Obama guaranteed immunity to those who had been responsible either for encouraging and authorising such acts or for directly carrying them out. Obama called it a time for “reflection, not retribution”[5], and to date not a single member of the Bush administration has been prosecuted despite overwhelming documented evidence that torture was routinely used against people who had not been charged with any crime.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the administration of George W. Bush in 2002 had authorised the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”, including but not limited to: waterboarding, subjecting detainees to extremes of temperature, forced nudity and forcing detainees to maintain stress positions. Such techniques were allowed providing medical staff present ensured prisoners did not endure “severe physical and mental pain”. This arbitrary proviso was widely derided at the time, with critics maintaining that this essentially gave US interrogators, who in many cases were devoid of experience and even basic training, a free hand to administer any type of punishment they saw fit with little interference from the upper echelons of government.

Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Romero, commented that, “President Obama’s assertion that there should not be prosecutions of government officials who may have committed crimes before a thorough investigation has been carried out is simply untenable”, with the ACLU characterising the legal basis for torture as “spurious”.

One memo declassified by the Obama administration, dated 1 August 2002, lists permissible techniques, which include: attention grasp, walling (pushing the detainee into a wall), facial hold, facial slap, cramped confinement, sleep deprivation, food deprivation, wall standing, placing a detainee with a fear of insects in a confined box containing insects, and waterboarding.

A secret 2004 US army investigation into allegations of prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib military prison in Baghdad, Iraq, uncovered evidence of sustained and repeated mistreatment of prisoners held in US custody. The report revealed a damning catalogue of inhumane behaviour which included the following abuses[6]:

  • Sodomising a male detainee with a chemical light and possibly a broomstick
  • Threatening detainees with a charged 9mm pistol
  • A male military police guard having sex with a female detainee
  • Using military working dogs, without muzzles, to intimidate and frighten detainees; in at least one case biting a detainee and causing severe injury
  • Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid onto detainees
  • Beating detainees with a broom handle and chair
  • Pouring cold water on naked detainees
  • Punching, slapping & kicking detainees
  • Allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall of his cell
  • Threatening male detainees with rape
  • Jumping on detainees’ naked feet
  • Videotaping and photographing naked male and female detainees
  • Forcibly arranging detainees in numerous sexually explicit positions in order to photograph them
  • Forcing detainees to strip naked and depriving them of clothing for days at a time
  • Forcing naked male detainees to wear women’s underwear
  • Forcing groups of naked male detainees to masturbate themselves while being photographed & videotaped
  • Arranging naked male detainees in a pile and jumping on them
  • Positioning a naked male detainee on an MRE box with a sandbag on his head, and attaching wires to his fingers, toes and penis and electrically shocking him
  • Placing a dog chain around a naked male detainee and having a female soldier pose for a photo
  • Taking photographs of dead Iraqi detainees

The report´s author, Major General Antonio Taguba, later confirmed that photographic evidence from Abu Ghraib which the Obama administration declined to release depicts “sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube”. Taguba described the photographs as providing categoric evidence of “torture, abuse, rape and every indecency.” “The mere description of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it”, he added[7].

Senior figures in the Bush administration came in for heavy criticism as it emerged that abuses amounting to torture were widespread both in Iraq and at US-controlled detention facilities in other countries. US Justice Department official John Yoo drew consternation from anti-torture advocates when he endorsed the sexual torture of terror suspects’ children in front of their parents as an acceptable method of extracting a confession[8].

Douglass Cassel, professor at Notre Dame Law School, quizzed Yoo in December of 2005 about an August 2002 memo he had authored, asking, “If the president deems that he’s got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person’s child, there is no law that can stop him?” “No treaty”, replied Yoo, who in addition to writing many of the memos which cemented the practice of “enhanced interrogation” as accepted policy also wrote extensively in favour of domestic surveillance and wiretapping of citizens of the United States without warrants. Cassel pressed the South Korea-born attorney further, “Also no law by Congress. That is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo.” “I think it depends on why the President feels he needs to do that,” was Yoo’s now infamous response.

Tom Kavanagh


[1] Experiments in Torture: Human Subject Research and Evidence of Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program, http://phrtorturepapers.org/?dl_id=9

[2] Evidence Indicates that the Bush Administration Conducted Experiments and Research on Detainees to Design Torture Techniques and Create Legal Cover, http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/library/news-2010-06-07.html

[3] Evidence Indicates that the Bush Administration Conducted Experiments and Research on Detainees to Design Torture Techniques and Create Legal Cover, http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/library/news-2010-06-07.html

[4] Physicians group accuses CIA of testing torture techniques on detainees, http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-torture-20100608,0,1471800.story

[5] Obama releases Bush torture memos – Insects, sleep deprivation and waterboarding among approved techniques by the Bush administration, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/16/torture-memos-bush-administration

[6] Article 15-6 Investigation of the 800th Military Police Brigade, http://www.npr.org/iraq/2004/prison_abuse_report.pdf

[7] Abu Ghraib abuse photos ‘show rape’, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/5395830/Abu-Ghraib-abuse-photos-show-rape.html

[8] Meek, mild and menacing, http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/blumenthal/2006/01/12/alito_bush/

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a meeting of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee in Washington D.C. on Tuesday evening that the call from the international community for Israel to temporarily freeze settlement construction in territory it has been illegally occupying since 1967 was an “illogical and unreasonable demand”.[1] Netanyahu’s comments came after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had called on the Zionist state to make “difficult but necessary choices”, a reference to Israeli plans to construct around 1,600 new homes in illegally occupied East Jerusalem which were announced during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s recent visit to the country.

Clinton used her appearance at AIPAC to underscore her “rock solid” dedication to “Israel’s security”, saying that this is “more than a policy position for me. It is a personal commitment that will never waver”. She went on to say, however, that Israel’s continuing settlement expansion “undermines mutual trust” between the two nations.[2] Such tame chastisement came less than 24 hours after Netanyahu had told his cabinet that, “As far as we are concerned, building in Jerusalem is like building in Tel Aviv”.

According to international law, however, there is a clear distinction. Israel has resisted repeated United Nations Security Council resolutions to withdraw from all territory it occupied in 1967, and has continuously expanded illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which have more than doubled in size since the failed Oslo peace accords of 1993. The total number of inhabitants of Jewish-only settlements in illegally occupied territory currently stands at over 650,000.

Despite the fact that the construction of settlements in territory acquired by war is roundly condemned by the international community and the practice is forbidden by international law, the BBC insists on including the concession that “Israel disputes this” whenever settlements’ legal status is mentioned, further clouding the issue and giving the illusion of legitimate contention where there is none.

Aside from their outright illegality, settlements are routinely constructed in strategic areas which give their inhabitants preferential access to scarce supplies of water and arable land to the detriment of the impoverished Palestinian communities who live on their margins. A network of roads and highways administered by Israel cuts through the West Bank, in many cases isolating Palestinian villages from one another and making travel between towns just a few miles apart unfeasible.

Settlements in East Jerusalem have been constructed so as to “ring-fence” the portion of the city under illegitimate occupation, with Israel claiming the whole of Jerusalem as its “eternal and indivisible” capital. The location of such settlements makes any transfer of sovereignty over East Jerusalem to a Palestinian government under a future peace deal practically impossible should the current inhabitants be allowed to remain where they are. The dominant forces within the international community have steadfastly refused to take collective action against Israel’s repeated and flagrant violations of internationally accepted practice in refusing to withdraw from territory it acquired following the 1967 war, and have thus undermined any genuine prospect of peace between the two sides.

British arms sales to Israel skyrocketed under Tony Blair’s stewardship and currently stand at their highest ever level. The prospect of a potential future Conservative government bringing pressure to bear on the Zionist state looks remote to say the least: a Channel 4 programme entitled Dispatches: Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby, screened in late 2009, found that roughly 80% of Tory MPs are members of Conservative Friends for Israel. The United States currently sends Israel, a nation with a population of just over 7 million, around US$3 billion in foreign aid annually, more than to any other single country and more than to every country in Sub-Saharan Africa combined.

Speaking at AIPAC on Tuesday, Netanyahu said that illegal settlements in East Jerusalem were an “inextricable” part of Israel and would remain so under any subsequent peace deal. Incredibly, he went on to state that their construction, “in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.”[3] President Barack Obama appeared to agree with Netanyahu’s position in September of 2009, when he dropped an official demand for Israel to cease illegal settlement construction.[4] Even more bizarrely, this humiliating capitulation was reported by CNN as if it were a major step in bringing the two sides together.

Quite how Obama and the United States manage to retain any credibility whatsoever as neutral peace brokers in this conflict is a testament to the power of the mainstream media upon which the majority of Americans and Britons rely for information about world affairs. Obama, who had won glowing praise from the Israeli press for a now infamous performance at AIPAC prior to his victory at the polls in late 2008, effectively extinguished any faint hopes of positive action from Washington on the matter when he appointed former IDF volunteer Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff shortly after being elected. Emanuel is widely acknowledged to be one of the most potent figures in Obama’s administration, and it is against this backdrop that any call by the United States’ government for peace talks to resume can be discarded as fading rhetoric.

Clinton at AIPAC: Iran threatened once again

Speaking on behalf of the planet’s foremost nuclear power, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the latest contribution to the burgeoning collection of threats targeted at Iran by political figures from the United States and Israel, calling for “sanctions that bite” against the Persian nation and stating that the United States is “determined to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons”. Clinton was greeted by applause from the 7,500-strong audience, comprised of members of arguably Washington’s most powerful political lobby representing the interests of a foreign nation, no less than 25 times during Monday’s speech. She called Iran’s mythical quest to procure nuclear weaponry “unacceptable to the United States, unacceptable to Israel and unacceptable to the region and the international community”.

Russia and China have hitherto resisted proceeding with sanctions against Iran, while the U.S. began a programme of sanctions during the presidency of Secretary Clinton’s husband Bill which were dutifully extended by President Obama shortly after the latter took office early in 2009.

The double standard underpinning the frequently recited mantra that Iran is not entitled to obtain nuclear armaments and should be considered a pariah if it wishes to do so is palpable: not only does the U.S. have the world’s most formidable nuclear arsenal; it stands apart from the other members of the coveted nuclear club, having used such weapons to devastating effect against the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

In addition, Israel is believed to have several hundred nuclear warheads and senior Israeli politicians have been repeatedly threatening military action against Iran in recent years. Israel allowed “cursory inspections” of its nuclear facilities once a year between 1962 and 1969, going to great lengths to conceal underground areas of its sites which contained incriminating evidence of the country’s clandestine nuclear weapons programme.[5]

When covertly taken photographs and information regarding Israel’s secret nuclear weapons facilities were released to The Sunday Times in October 1986, Israeli whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu was kidnapped in Rome before being flown to Israel where he served years in prison, spending longer in solitary confinement than any known prisoner in modern history. Iran, meanwhile, denies categorically that it is seeking to enrich uranium for the purpose of weapon development and maintains that its intentions are purely peaceful.

Tom Kavanagh


[1] Benjamin Netanyahu says Mid-East talks face new delay, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8583589.stm

[2] Hillary Clinton warns Israel faces ‘difficult’ choices, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8579766.stm

[3] Netanyahu reaffirms ‘right to build’ in Jerusalem, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8582190.stm

[4] Obama drops demand that Israel freeze settlements, http://edition.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/09/22/us.mideast/index.html

[5] Israel’s Nuclear Weapons, http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/cpc-pubs/farr.htm

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The assassination of senior Hamas official, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh on the 19th January in a Dubai hotel room has sparked an international row with Israel at its centre.  Al-Mabhouh had been linked by Israel to the abduction and murder of two Israeli soldiers in 1989, he is also a prominent member of the militant party which continues to hold political control in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has refused to confirm or deny accusations of Mossad’s involvement, stressing his country’s “policy of ambiguity” regarding Special Forces operations.[1] Several of the false passports linked to the assassination squad by Dubai police are registered with individuals currently residing in the Israeli state.  This, together with Israel’s significant motivation, has led the chief of police in Dubai to assert his 99% certainty of Israeli involvement, and to demand an Interpol warrant for the arrest of Mossad chief, Meir Dagan.[2]

In an interview with the Qatar based media source, Al-Jazeera last year, al-Mabhouh  confessed to the 1989 murders and stated that, “To the Israelis, my hands are stained with blood, but to God? This is what matters.”[3] Analysts argue that although this was a probable cause of the official’s death in playing against Israel’s pride, more important are accusations of his role in the arms smuggling. These centre on links with the state of Iran and the use of tunnels to transport tactical equipment (most importantly rockets) into the Gaza Strip. International speculation on this latter subject has always been intense, with many questioning the strength of relations between the Shi’te state and the militant Sunni party.

Although the row with Arab states has inevitably focused on the operation of Israeli forces on their home soil, many Western governments having also professed anger at the logistical details of the assassination.[4] The use of forged passports from several European countries by the squad has led to demands for explanations from Israel and appears to continue Israel’s notable habit of making life difficult for its friends.

6 British passports, as well as 5 from Ireland and a further few from France and Germany have already been linked to the investigation. The UK passports in particular appear to have been clones, replicating the identity of British citizens currently resident in the Jewish state. British Foreign Secretary David Milliband and his European counterparts have already lodged their stern disapproval and demanded answers from Israel.[5]

Despite the international furor, official and civilian responses in Israel have however been fairly relaxed. Although recognizing that Israel was almost certainly responsible, most press sources have expressed their certainty that the scandal will blow over. The columnist Eitan Haber, of Israel’s largest newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, described al-Mabhouh as a “master terrorist” and that Israel had achieved its objectives in eliminating him; he predicted that the foreign headlines would “be gone in a day or two.”[6]

After revelations by the UK’s “Daily Mail”, Israeli opinion has become particularly impatient with the international reproach it has been receiving.  In a special expose on the incident, the paper quoted an unnamed diplomatic source as reportedly confirming that Britain had received advance warning of the use of its passports, and that Israel would simply receive a “slap on the wrist.”[7]

Despite the international press headlines there is considerable evidence that media and government are merely completing the necessary overtures, and that Israeli conviction of the incident “blowing over” is indeed correct. Despite expressing their concern and condemnation, diplomatic comments have been significantly vague. The UK’s Gordon Brown has demanded, “a full investigation into this,” but conceded that, “it is necessary for us to accumulate that evidence before we can make statements.” The characteristic technique of using “proper procedures and channels” will likely yield the desired time for both parties.

The format of international press coverage is perhaps best represented by the “NY Daily News”, which features a poll in which readers can express their opinion out of two available options:

“Take our Poll: Hamas big executed

What do you think of the assassination of Hamas guerrilla Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai?

  • It’s a disgrace: The hit ignored international laws.
  • It’s great: That’s one less terrorist to worry about.”

It is significant that neither option questions the guilt of al-Mabhouh, but rather the procedure of the operation. Indeed the paper pertinently adds that, “Much of the European uproar is because the killers used British, Irish and other European passports,” rather than because they murdered an official in the government of a foreign state.[8]

With the near universal condemnation of Hamas in official circles there has been predictably little comment on this model of the extra-judicial killing of a foreign official. Investigation into the murder has, however, implicated the involvement of two Palestinian individuals who are former officers of the Palestinian security services. Their current employment is with a private security firm owned by Mohammed Dahlan; a senior member of Hamas’ rival, Fatah.[9] Dahlan was a former strongman in the Gaza Strip and was given assistance by both Israel and the U.S. in an attempt to topple the Hamas government following their election victory. After  the 2007 failed coup attempt, Dahlan, along with other Fatah members, was  expelled from the territory and has since established himself in the West Bank. The logistics of this operation would appear to implicate Fatah once again in assisting Israel with its security concerns.

Chris Bowles


[1] http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2010/02/20102219289545873.html

[2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/feb/18/dubai-assassination-forged-british-passports

[3] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/2010/02/21/2010-02-21_no_remorse_in_israel_over_guerrillas_death.html

[4] http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2010/02/20102219289545873.html

[5] http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/02/18/2822956.htm

[6] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/2010/02/21/2010-02-21_no_remorse_in_israel_over_guerrillas_death.html

[7] http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/136085

[8] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/2010/02/21/2010-02-21_no_remorse_in_israel_over_guerrillas_death.html

[9] http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1151245.html

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai has unilaterally taken over the country’s Electoral Complaints Commission, declaring himself the right to appoint all five panel members.  The move comes four months after the commission ordered a rerun of last August’s presidential election in the wake of widespread electoral fraud, with estimates that Karzai had received around one million unsubstantiated votes in order to claim victory against rival Abdullah Abdullah.[i]

This run-off, however, did not materialise, with Abdullah Abdullah withdrawing days before the vote, leading to the second round of voting being abruptly cancelled. Abdullah stated that his “demands for a fraud-free election had not been met”, and that a repeat of the August debacle “might not restore the faith of the people in (the) democratic process.”[ii] The August elections had been marked by voter intimidation and ballot stuffing in Karzai’s favour on the part of election monitors. The governor and other election officials in the northern state of Balkh, for example, noted “voter coercion” and intimidation, “particularly” on the part of election monitors.[iii]

Ballot-stuffing was also a common complaint, with both Karzai and Abdullah facing accusations over huge voting irregularities. The BBC uncovered election cards being sold openly in some cities, and candidates offering thousands of dollars worth of bribes in exchange for votes. The Bareez tribe in the southern city of Kandahar alleged that nearly 30,000 votes had been switched from Abdullah to Karzai, with the president’s brother Ahmed Wali maintaining that the claim was “baseless”.[iv] Ahmed Wali Karzai is himself a controversial figure who does little to bolster the reputation of his brother’s regime internationally, with voluminous evidence linking him to the heroin trade in the war-torn nation.[v]

Prior to Hamid Karzai’s overhaul, the ECC had been dominated by the United Nations, with three of its panel being directly appointed by the UN. Western diplomats were quick to register their outrage at the Afghan President’s decision. The head of the United Nations in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, reportedly struck a deal in private with the Afghan head of state prior to the announcement that the President would determine the five-strong commission, to the effect that at least two foreigners would be part of the panel. This would still leave Karzai-appointees in a dominant position, holding the remaining three out of five seats. The President already controls Afghanistan’s Independent Elections Commission, which was considered to have favoured the incumbent during the August election and was accordingly criticised by Abdullah Abdullah.

Karzai’s announcement comes during a parliamentary recess, with the Afghan parliament not due to reconvene until Saturday 27 February. Abdullah Abdullah was critical of the move to seize power of the ECC, calling it a “step backwards”, and affirming that Karzai’s actions “could seriously jeopardise the efforts being made on the military front”. President Obama announced the deployment of an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan in December of 2009[vi], following the deployment of an extra 17,000 troops in February of last year.[vii]

This significant increase in foreign troops comes at a time when confidence in Afghanistan’s fledgling government is dwindling, with the Karzai regime perceived by many both in and outside of the devastated nation to be riddled with corruption and showing no sign of improvement. Consequently, public opinion in the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries which have troops stationed in Afghanistan has turned sharply against the war, with rising death tolls both among the Afghan civilian population and foreign occupying forces and the obvious shortcomings of Karzai’s government. The number of British troops killed in Afghanistan reached 256 in early February 2010, surpassing the number of dead in the Falklands’ war of 1982, as three British troops were killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Helmand province.[viii]

Meanwhile, the Afghan cabinet voiced its condemnation of the killing of 27 civilians in the south of the country following a NATO airstrike in an area under Dutch military control in the border region between the provinces of Uruzgan and Dai Kondi.[ix] A cabinet statement affirmed that “The repeated killing of civilians by NATO forces is unjustifiable… We strongly condemn it.”[x]

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary stated that the victims of the airstrike were all civilians.  He said that two Land Cruisers and a pickup truck containing a total of 42 people came under attack from the air as they approached the Khotal Chowza mountain pass that connects the two provinces.

Tom Kavanagh


[i] Hamid Karzai takes control of Afghanistan election watchdog, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/feb/22/karzai-afghanistan-electoral-complaints-commission

[ii] Abdullah pulls out of Afghan vote, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8336388.stm

[iii] Accusations Of Vote Fraud Multiply in Afghanistan, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/27/AR2009082704199.html

[iv] Afghan poll: Main fraud allegations, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8244125.stm

[v][v] Reports link Karzai’s brother to heroin trade, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/04/world/asia/04iht-05afghan.16689186.html

[vi] Barack Obama’s war: the final push in Afghanistan, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/dec/01/barack-obama-speech-afghanistan-war

[vii] Obama approves Afghanistan troop increase, http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/02/17/obama.troops/index.html

[viii] Afghanistan death toll exceeds Falklands as three UK soldiers die, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/feb/08/uk-soldiers-killed-afghanistan

[ix] Afghanistan slams US-led forces over civilian deaths, http://www.presstv.com/detail.aspx?id=119233&sectionid=351020403

[x] NATO Airstrike Kills Afghan Civilians, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/23/world/asia/23afghan.html

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In the last hours of 2009 a US judge dismissed all charges against 5 Blackwater employees held in connection with the Nisoor Square masacre in September 2007. The case centred on claims that guards from the private security firm shot at random at unarmed civilians as their convoy passed a junction, killing 17 and injuring dozens more. The firm, which has changed its operating name to Xe services, argues that their employees we’re responding to an ambush by insurgents.

The case has acted as a focusing point for Iraqi resentment at the presence and immunity of private security contractors within the country. Many civilians claim that their behaviour has long been conducted with a disregard for Iraqi sovereignty, and that this recent victory for Blackwater’s defence highlights the impression that they are able to operate free from prosecution. Five of the six men charged in the case have been released while the fate of a sixth remains unclear due to his guilty plea.

Blackwater is one of the largest and most controversial of the private contractors operating with the Coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although it has been formerly banned from Iraq by the national government, expectations that private staff will soon comprise 50% of armed forces capacity in Afghanistan will likely lead to further growth of its operations. The practice of contracting private firms for security and the protection of expatriates was hugely accelerated after 9/11, but has since seen employees embroiled in numerous cases regarding human rights and improper conduct.

During the Abu Ghraib investigations it was found that more than a third of the guards involved in abuse were employees of Blackwater. Following the Nisoor Square masacre, a 2007 House of Representatives report on the conduct of the company found several more issues. This House Oversight and Government Reform Committee found that between 2005 and 2007 there had been 195 reported incidents in which employees had fired weapons. Despite its legal remit to use only defensive force in the protection of State Department officials, it was found that in 80% of the cases Blackwater guards had fired first (often from a moving vehicle). Their reputation for over-zealous force was not assisted by further revelations that 122 people from their 800 strong operating capacity in Iraq had been fired from employment, due mostly to weapons-related incidents and substance abuse. Xe Services claims this figure represents its firm commitment to the highest standards within its workforce.

In the case brought by the Justice Department against the 6 employees, the judge dismissed the case on the grounds of improper practice, claiming that their prosecution was, “contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility”. District Judge Ricardo Urbina pointed to flaws in the collection and presentation of evidence. Sworn testimonies were collected from all 6 of the accused under specific terms from the State Department. These were obtained after threatening the men’s employment if they chose not to co-operate and under the formal understanding that they could not be used in legal proceedings. As government contractors, the guards were obligated to give an immediate report to State Department officials, but since the Constitution prevents the government from requiring a defendant to testify against himself, these statements could not be used in a prosecution.

It was on these grounds that Urbina dismissed the case, citing the fact that the testimonies had been used to obtain warrants, been presented to the jury, and had been leaked to witnesses. He was able to crush the case before trial without any reference to its merits from a criminal perspective. Although the Justice Department has 90-days from the date of dismissal to appeal the decision, they are unlikely to seek this. Due to the fact that the indictments sought by the department were so heavily dependent on information gained from the forced testimonies, it will prove difficult to pursue their case without them.

Iraqis and many human rights organisations have accused the U.S. justice system of deliberately avoiding an opportunity to secure accountability in its operations. Many argue that this ‘surprise’ action by Judge Urbina is reflective of the U.S.’s wish to avoid bringing its actions into public focus.

However the flaws in the Justice Department’s case have led others to question the practice of the prosecution. The errors made in the collection and handling of evidence should have meant that Urbina’s decision on December 31st came as no surpise. These errors, unacceptable under even normal legal practice, become more pronounced after claims that prosecutors ignored advice from senior department lawyers. These officials in the “taint team” warned the prosecution about the serious legal issues in their case, yet to no avail. Attorney Kenneth C. Kohl, who led the prosecution, has over 20 years experience and would have been expected to have foreseen the issues arising from the accuser’s testimonies.

Critiques of the Justice Department case claim that prosecution lawyers knowingly and deliberately sabotaged their own case in order to protect a politically sensitive issue from gaining legal examination. In his final assessment of the case, Judge Urbina himself provides perhaps the most damning indictment from this perspective:

“The only conclusion the court can draw from this evidence is that Kohl and the rest of the trial team purposefully flouted the advice of the taint team when obtaining the substance of the defendants’ compelled statements, and in so doing, knowingly endangered the viability of the prosecution.”

 

 

Chris Bowles

 

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The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad met with Brazilian head of state Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brasilia on Monday as the two leaders were poised to sign new agreements boosting trade and cooperation and securing Iran’s burgeoning status within the region. The two nations are expected to sign accords on biotechnology, farming and energy, and may discuss co-operation on the construction of nuclear power facilities. Tehran hopes these agreements can boost bilateral trade between the two nations from $2 billion to $15 billion annually1.

In addition to signing trade deals with the Iranian head of state, Lula reiterated his support for Iran’s nuclear program, saying, “Brazil has a model of nuclear energy development recognised by the United Nations and we know about the controversy surrounding the same development by Iran. Brazil defends Iran’s right to develop uranium for peaceful purposes, just as Brazil has been doing. It is simple. That which we defend for ourselves, we defend for others.”2

Such reciprocity when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program is unlikely to sit well with Washington or Tel Aviv, both of which have been categorical in their opposition to Tehran’s desire to pursue a policy of uranium enrichment, claiming that Iran intends to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies outright that it intends to develop nuclear armanents. The United States has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal and Israel is the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons, although it allows no international inspection of its nuclear facilities and has never publicly acknowledged possessing such arms.

Israel has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran, citing fears that the Persian state is attempting to acquire nuclear weapons behind closed doors. In early November 2009 Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon stated on Sky News that Israel is “not bluffing” in its threats to “take military action” against what he called “Iran’s contentious nuclear program”3. Ahmadinejad has frequently been misquoted with regards to statements he has made about Israel, with the most notorious example being the wide circulation of reports he had called for the Zionist state to be “wiped off the map” in October 2005. The Iranian President had in fact quoted the late Ayatollah Khomeini, with an accurate translation of his words being, “The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time”4. Mainstream news outlets immediately reported a skewed translation of Ahmadinejad’s words which has served as evidence of the Iranian President’s desire to attack Israel ever since, with The New York Times and other sources stating that, “Iran’s conservative new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said Wednesday that Israel must be “wiped off the map””.5

In July of 2008, Pullitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh reported that at a meeting he attended in then-Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, the use of false flag operations to provoke a war with Iran was discussed in Cheney’s presence. Hersh reported, “There was a dozen ideas proffered about how to trigger a war. The one that interested me the most was why don’t we build — we in our shipyard — build four or five boats that look like Iranian PT boats. Put Navy seals on them with a lot of arms. And next time one of our boats goes to the Straits of Hormuz, start a shoot-up.” Hersh says the idea was eventually rejected “because you can’t have Americans killing Americans”6.

As Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with Lula in the Brazilian capital, protests were held in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo in what The Guardian labelled a denunciation of the Iranian President’s “record on human rights, homosexuality and Israel”. The Iranian government severely cracked down on domestic dissent this summer and outlawed protests as riots erupted in Tehran following Ahmadinejad’s disputed election victory. Ahmadinejad, who enjoys widespread support among Iran’s poor, has repeatedly accused the U.S. and Britain of meddling in Iran’s internal affairs.

In October, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Mohammad Ali Jafari accused British and American intelligence services of involvement in a suicide bombing targeted against the Revolutionary Guard leadership which killed 42. General Jafari claimed that his security officials had documents linking Britain and the United States to Jundullah, the militant group which claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing on Sunday 18th October7. “Behind this scene are the American and British intelligence apparatus, and there will have to be retaliatory measures to punish them”, said Jafari.

Such suspicions are certainly not without historical precedent. In 1952, following a unanimous vote in the Iranian parliament to nationalise the country’s vast oil reserves under President Mohammed Mossadeq, British intelligence (S.I.S.) launched a covert operation with the C.I.A in order to topple him and protect the interests of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company – now BP. British and American intelligence services staged bombings in Iran targeted against religious leaders which were then blamed on Iranian agents posing as Communists loyal to Mossadeq in an ultimately successful bid to turn the country’s religious establishment against the government8. Mossadeq was then replaced by the Shah whose brutal regime ruled with an iron fist before being deposed by the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Despite stating publicly that he wishes to “extend a hand” to Iran, in March U.S. President Barack Obama renewed sanctions against the Persian state which have been in place since 1995, when they were introduced by the administration of Bill Clinton. These sanctions prohibit American companies from investing in or trading with Iran. Obama defended this policy of isolation, stating that, “The actions and policies of the government of Iran are contrary to the interests of the United States in the region and pose a continuing and unusual and extraordinary threat”9.


Ahmadinejad was in Brazil on the first leg of a tour which the Iranian government hopes will strengthen the Persian state’s standing in a continent where it has numerous allies in the form of left-wing governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. The Iranian President will subsequently make visits to Caracas and La Paz, where he will meet with Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales respectively, both of whom have also voiced support for Iran’s right to develop nuclear technology for non-military purposes. Iran has been making steady diplomatic inroads into Latin America in recent years, provoking concern in Washington, which has traditionally regarded the region as its “backyard”.

Tom Kavanagh

1Brazilian protests greet Ahmadinejad at start of South American tour, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/23/ahmadinejad-brazil-protests-iran

2Lula destaca apoio ao Irã no desenvolvimento de urânio para fins pacíficos, http://noticias.uol.com.br/ultnot/internacional/2009/11/23/ult1859u1903.jhtm

3Israel threat to attack Iran is not a bluff, deputy FM says, http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1126394.html

4“Wiped Off The Map” – The Rumor of the Century, http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=4527

5Wipe Israel ‘off the map’ Iranian says, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/26/world/africa/26iht-iran.html

6EXCLUSIVE: To Provoke War, Cheney Considered Proposal To Dress Up Navy Seals As Iranians And Shoot At Them,http://thinkprogress.org/2008/07/31/cheney-proposal-for-iran-war/

8New York Times Special Report: The C.I.A. in Iran, http://www.nytimes.com/library/world/mideast/041600iran-cia-index.html

9Obama renews US sanctions on Iran, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7941031.stm

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The recent suspension of senior military analyst, Marc Garlasco, from the organisation Human Rights Watch, has come after mounting pressure due to his ‘Nazi’ interests. The hobby practiced by the former civilian employee of the Pentagon included the collection of German and American WWII memorabilia, as well as written publications on the subject and the wearing of uniforms. His extra-curricular habits were exposed by the pro-Israel blog group, Mere Rhetoric.[1]

The investigators had discovered that he posted on collector sites under the pseudonym, “Flak88”, making comments as to his excitement at certain Nazi SS uniforms. As an analyst working primarily on the Arab-Israeli conflict, his interest in Nazi history has been inevitably explosive. He defended his hobby, arguing that he has never attempted to keep it hidden and that it merely stemmed from his family’s history in Germany.[2] Garlasco’s grandfather had been conscripted into the Nazi army during the war, and he attributes his interest in the subject and its history as stemming from a desire to know more about his own family history. Declining to be interviewed, Garlasco instead submitted an essay to the Huffington Post in which he maintained that the Nazi’s were the, “worst war criminals of all time”, and that his interest in their history was not suggestive of sympathies towards them.[3]

Although initially defending their employee, Human Rights Watch on Monday night took the decision to suspend him following further investigation. Another employee, Helena Cobban (academic, activist and researcher), provides her own opinion on her blog. She likens the out-of-work practices of Garlasco to an employee entrusted in child protection keeping underage pornographic material.[4] She argues that there is a clear conflict of interest which emanates from his activities, and that whilst there should be freedom in private life, this does not extend to activities which damage the reputation of the organisation. It is this which has caused those at Human Rights Watch such genuine concern. The incrimination of NGO’s working on the Arab-Israeli conflict of holding particular personal biases is a powerful tool in damaging credibility. Past examples of Aipac’s pressure in the American academic field have revealed the significance of well placed reports and accusations.

Without defending any of Garlasco’s actions, there are many who have argued that the focus on his case by Mere Rhetoric and NGO Monitor is part of a well calculated attack on opposition activities since the new Israeli administration. The victory of Benyamin Netanyahu and the right has been followed by tension within Israel, as their policies clash with those NGO’s which have been critical of the Jewish state. Netanyahu’s policy director, Ron Derner, has unequivocally stated that, “we are going to dedicate time and manpower to combating these groups; we are not going to be sitting ducks in a pond for the human rights groups to shoot at us with impunity.”[5] Many therefore argue that this latest revelation is merely an attempt to distract attention from the work which these organisations have been carrying out.

The attacks made against the academic rigour of Human Rights Watch would certainly not be the first against an organisation documenting the conflict in the Levant. The Israeli based human rights group B’Tselem has suffered considerable attacks on its credibility since the January invasion into Gaza. NGO Monitor, a pro-Israeli group with a self-professed interest in monitoring the analytical and statistical merits of NGO’s in the conflict, has produced scathing criticisms of B’Tselem. They argue that the group’s links with the U.S. and its desire to open a Washington office has demonstrated its tendency for, “circumventing Israeli democracy.”[6] The group fails to explain however, how these links could jeopardise its research. These accusations ofcourse also ignore the enormous U.S. presence of the lobbying group Aipac, and the influence which it has in both political and academic circles.

Both groups have come under fire heavily for their reporting and analysis of the January invasion. Their accounts and investigations into civilian casualties, as well as the use of unsavoury tactics such as phosphorous shells, has damaged the international credibility of the Israeli military’s operations regarding the Palestinians. Netanyahu’s new government has been faced with the considerable task of countering this opposition.

Yaron Ezrahi, a professor of political science at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, claims that his supporters, “work day and night to demonize any individual or organization that raises questions about the military practices of Israel.”[7] In the case of B’Tselem this has largely been confined to questioning the rigour of techniques and the credibility of witnesses.[8] However, the case of Marc Garlasco provides an opportunity to more deeply discredit the work of these NGO’s. Cobban describes the discovery of his extra-curricular interests, which initiate well-toned responses to Nazi and Holocaust outrages, as a, “deus ex machina gift,” in diverting and stifling the opposition.[9]

Chris Bowles


[1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/sep/15/garlasco-analyst-nazi-memorabilia

[2] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8256284.stm

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/15/world/middleeast/15nazi.html

[4] http://justworldnews.org/archives/003787.html

[5] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/15/world/middleeast/15nazi.html

[6] http://www.ngo-monitor.org/article.php?id=1567

[7] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/15/world/middleeast/15nazi.html

[8] http://jta.org/news/article/2009/09/09/1007723/idf-btselem-gaza-report-not-based-on-facts

[9] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/15/world/middleeast/15nazi.html

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